That was the quote from professional golfer Ernie Els after the 19-time winner on the PGA tour six-putted the first hole Thursday at The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA.
When I saw the story on ESPN.com this morning, my heart sank in sympathy for Els, whose victories include four major championships.
Almost all golfers can identify with Els and feel his pain because almost all of us — golfers, that is — have been there and done something like that.
I have four putted many, many times, including missing from a foot — as Els did once on Thursday. I’ve come up short from 18 inches — hard to imagine, but true; I’ve missed wide right and wide left; and I’ve struck the ball too hard and watched it hit the back of the cup and pop over. I don’t know specifically if I have ever six-putted, but probably.
Most golfers are subject, at one time or another, to what we call “the yips,” that is, a failure of nerves. With me, the yips are not the exception; they’re the rule. Many times before I take the putter back on a short putt, the “snakes” have me envisioning a jerky little putt where an aberrant electrical impulse overrides thoughts of a smooth, confident stroke.
And, then, when the ball goes astray, it’s like another thing Els said after his losing battle with the snakes: “It’s hard to explain. I can’t explain it.”
Els ended up recording a score of “9” on the first hole, a Par 4. So, after one hole, he was already five strokes over par. Somehow, he pulled himself together, though, and ended up shooting an 80 for the round, which is just eight strokes over par. Nevertheless, he shot himself out of contention and will undoubtedly end up missing the cut after today’s second round. (Players who end up a certain number of strokes behind the leaders after the second day’s play are eliminated from the last two days of competition.)
Here, in more gruesome detail, is how Els’ first-hold implosion unfolded. (By the way, you can Google it and see the video, but as one website I saw warned, “It’s not for the faint of heart.”)
It started after Els was on the green in three, just three feet away from recording a par 4. From that short distance, his tentative, jerky putts started sliding by the hole, back and forth. After four of the errant strokes, Els weakly raised an arm and dropped it in exasperation. A couple of times he looked at his caddy, who stood by helplessly. At one point, the caddy moved closer to him and appeared to say something…No doubt something encouraging.
But encouragement — if that’s what it was — didn’t help because Els missed once more and then nonchalantly tried to one-hand the ball in from 11 inches. Naturally, it lipped out. After another drop of the hand, he reached over the cup and tapped in the loathsome white object from a few inches away.
Like I said, I’ve been missing short putts for a long time. I’m just a bad putter who experiences welcome and fleeting periods of good putting. In times past, I would always hope that my golfing companions, or competitors, would concede putts withing a couple of feet. It’s a mannerly tradition in golf for players to tell their companions, “That’s good, pick it up” on very short putts.
For the last few years, however, I have been putting virtually everything. I’m doing that because I know how hard it is to just get the ball in the hole, from anywhere, and I want to play by the rules and know that my final score isn’t clouded by any possible misses on “given” putts.
My best score last year was a 77 on a par 71 course in Pleasant Hill — a course I play regularly. Playing by myself, I putted everything out. The last putt was from two feet or less. I nervously stepped away from it at least once before putting, thinking how important it was and how I needed to be sure to make a smooth stroke.
After it went in, I breathed deeply and smiled. I still have the scorecard in the trunk of the car. On that day, I beat the snakes.