Match play is, by its nature, an aggressive format. That’s why it’s so much fun to watch. Shots that you would never ordinarily see – through trees and bushes, firing at pins you couldn’t find with Google Maps – are a routine part of a format where making birdie helps you a lot more than making double bogey hurts.
But some of the most aggressive shots this week at the Accenture Match Play Championship came on the greens. If you paid close attention the guys who made it to the final four, Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar almost never left a putt short. Kuchar was especially impressive. He built a 4-up lead on Mahan on Sunday by hitting putts in the back of the hole. Mahan mounted an aggressive back-nine change by doing the same thing. Every putt he hit looked like it was either going to hit the back of the hole or run at least four feet past.
That is the beauty of match play. You are either putting to win a point or halve a hole. Score is irrelevant. In stroke play, you will see players lagging putts a couple of feet short all the time, because they are concerned about making a score. In match play, the adage “never up, never in” applies.
Poulter is fantastic in match-play events for this very reason. He always hits putts so that the ball either goes in the back of the hole or runs three feet past. As he explained to a group of PGA members at this year’s Teaching and Coaching Summit, “I make 100 percent of my putts from three feet, so I’m very comfortable running a putt three feet past the hole.”
The amateur golfer could learn a lot from that mindset, not because amateurs make 100 percent of their three-footers, but because most amateurs pay far less attention to the speed of a putt than they do to line. If the average amateur forgot about line entirely and focused on nothing more than hitting every putt to the hole and no more than three feet past the hole, scores would go down dramatically.
The other reason amateurs should take a more aggressive approach on the greens is the fact that amateurs under-read break. If I asked my average student to read the break of a 15-foot putt assuming that the ball dies in the front of the hole, he or she will under-read that break by as much as 40 to 50 percent. But a putt that is going fast enough to run a couple of feet beyond the hole won’t break as much. Suddenly, the student’s read isn’t so far off after all.
Ultimately it breaks down the first rule in putting: Speed is more important than line. See your putts hitting the back of the hole, just as you saw Matt Kuchar’s putts powering into the cup in Tucson. If you do that more consistently, you will find your scores going down.
Patrick Nuber is the 2011 Colorado Section PGA Teacher of the Year