Once upon a time, a Living Legend walked the Tees, Fairways & Greens of Golf Courses around the world, and made all previous and future Golf Short Game Genius look like merely robust competence. His name? Severiano Ballesteros Sota. Seve.
Like no-one before or since, or probably ever, Seve had the ability to create the shot for the moment. Imagination? How about seeing the Impossible then doing it. Courage? A Matador might have more, but I doubt it. Instinct? It had to be, as how else can you explain his ability to see and feel his way out of the jails his tee-ball could put him in. His match with Tom Lehman in the 1995 Ryder Cup was the most amazing example of repeatedly getting out from jail imaginable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9gXnqUCKOI&feature=related
On the Putting Green, Seve had the ability to make you think he was able to will the ball into the hole. Tom Watson had it. Johnny Miller had it. Jack Nicklaus certainly had it. Arnold Palmer probably invented it. But Seve had something extra… almost a magical sense that after the ball was struck, it still listened to his putter, and the master who wielded it. Actually… it did. I think I know why.
Seve had a secret in putting. I’ve known this secret since seeing it twice… in 1979 (Inverness), and confirmed it in 1985 (Oakland Hills). I’m not sure anyone else in the world knows it. I’m not sure anyone in the world will believe it, if I tell it. As the Master himself has now departed from this world, there is no longer any way to prove it. All I know is, after watching him in a one-hour putting session over thirty years ago, and then seeing the same thing twice afterwards, I’m convinced that it may be the simplest example of brilliant putting improvisation imaginable. In fact, the more I test it myself, the more respect I have for the man who came up with it.
I only brought up the subject of what I saw that day one other time. In 1987, at a Putting Clinic being put on by Fred Griffin at the Grand Cypress Golf Academy, I asked Fred the question of if he knew what Ballesteros did on the green (I described it). Fred immediately replied… “Ladies and Gentlemen, you have just heard from one of our very knowledgeable members, and now I ask you to forget what you just heard, as it is far too creative for us to get into at this time.” That was the end of that.
It deals with the problem of short, but Seve’rely breaking, short putts.
I first saw this at Inverness in Toledo at the 1979 US Open. I watched Seve in a long putting session at the practice putting green behind the clubhouse, next to the parking lot. I next saw him do it on the practice green six years later, at Oakland Hills. During that week, I saw him do it on the course as well, as I followed him watching him play.
The first time I saw it, I was shocked. I was about 40 feet away from Seve as he hit a number of short right-to-left breakers, then left-to-rights, but even at 40 feet away, it was obvious what he was doing… What did he do?
First… he slightly opened (at setup) his putter-face on putts that went left, and closed (hooded) the face on putts that went right. Then, his stroke ever so slightly worked the ball against the break… in effect, sliding the ball against the break… cutting it ever so slightly on the left break, and hooking it ever so slightly on the right breakers. He also slightly shaded the ball position on the face to accomodate this… barely toward the toe on left breaks, and heel on right breaks.
In this way, he actually (slightly) reduced the amount of break on his short putts. More importantly, it made the break take place “later”… not early in the roll.
The ball broke less, because he made it break less. The less a short putt breaks, the more likely you make the putt. Break is the biggest reason short putts are so tough. Your line and speed are critical… but if the ball breaks early, the chances of making the putt drop significantly.
Watch the eagle putt in this video (hole #13 at Augusta, Sunday, 1986) at the 1:33 sec spot for a small clue as to his genius here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVsi6AsmcEk (use Full Screen in the toolbox in lower right… makes this easier to see).
If you have any doubts as to his so-subtle yet angel-like hand skill… watch this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvbWNaQjA9o (0:43 sec mark… trick putt).
This (physically) simple but (mentally) challenging technique was something only a genius should attempt… but fact is, it increases the make % on short putts. Of course, it complicates the reading of the green slightly, or in other words, makes correct reading of break even more important. But if you read it correctly, cancelling some of the break with technique is an effective way of increasing short putt makes.
What made the technique even more challenging, was the conventional putters of the time. Seve had a silky smooth pendulum shoulder stroke, with a small but evident hand action that added just the right “touch” and “strike effect” to each putt… as needed. Seve adapted his technique to the tool he was using. This is the essence of Genius as a shotmaker / putter. Adapting… Improvising…
None of us normal human beings will ever be able to do this as well. Admiration for his Genius makes you want to emulate it, if you study it… it used to be possible to at least study his techniques… then he was taken away. Hard as it was to bear him being off the Tour, having him gone is really difficult to bear… but he’s with the One Who Made All Things.
For that reason, we recommend using God’s Laws. Geometry… Physics… Classical Mechanics… Statistics & Probability… plus Innovative Thinking & Common Sense. Those never change. They’re always on your side… with us. You don’t need to be a Genius on the Greens… you instead rely on the Genius of Pythagoras, Galileo, Newton, Pascal, Edison, & Ford. Their Genius was in revealing God’s Laws… The source of all Truth. Seve took the tools available at his time, and got out of them all that was ever possible. Even if he only had a Three-Iron to practice with. Look what he did with that.
God Bless You, Seve…