Making the Odds Work FOR You

This past weekend I played in a golf scramble in Wilmington, Ohio, hosted by Kerry Steed, owner of nationally recognized “Generation’s Pizzeria.”

A scramble is a team format based on each player executing a shot.  But, instead of the players playing their own ball, the team chooses the best shot and all players play their next shot from that point.  The process is repeated until the ball goes into the hole and one score for the team is recorded.

On one hole late in the round, our team had to choose between a downhill and an uphill putt. The lengths were similar and the amount of break was minimal for each. The rationale favoring the uphill choice was that “pros prefer uphill putts.” While this may be true, here are some thoughts about that perspective:

  • Professional golf is usually an individual competition (i.e. they play their own ball.)
  • This preference is a generalization, a rule of thumb, and not a hard and fast rule.
  • Pros have a more consistent putting stroke, especially when they need to strike the ball harder (as you would expect with an uphill putt.)
  • Pros “read the greens” better and have better distance control.
  • Pros have more skill and confidence in making come-back putts after going past the hole.

Based on years of watching, playing, and studying golf, here’s my Uphill vs. Downhill scorecard in the context of a scramble format, where you are trying to make every putt (not just get it close) and you have multiple chances to do it.

  • Uphill putts come up short more often than downhill putts. (Downhill 1, Uphill 0)
  • Firmer putts reduce the bend in a breaking putt. This is one reason uphill putts are preferred. (Downhill 1, Uphill 1)
  • Amateur golfers are short on their putts more often than pros. (Downhill 2, Uphill 1)
  • The harder an amateur strokes the ball, the more likely he/she will push or pull the ball away from its intended target. (Downhill 3, Uphill 1)
  • A putt that is short, NEVER goes in. Some putts that start offline go in anyway if they have enough juice to get to the hole. (Downhill 4, Uphill 1)

It’s true that the severity of the bend or steepness of the slope can change the Uphill/Downhill scorecard.  A severely breaking putt of any length is probably the most challenging kind to make.  In our case, there was very little break to negotiate.

Finishing the story, the members of our team agreed on the uphill putt AND as my analysis predicts, only two attempts of four got the ball to the hole or beyond.  None went in.  20/20 hindsight seems to be saying that we would have been better off with the uphill putt ONLY IF the green had a severe slope.

“These greens are so fast I have to hold my putter over the ball and hit it with the shadow.”— Sam Snead

But, with four attempts (plus some ‘do-overs’ that we purchased), I believe we would have increased our odds, with very little extra risk, by choosing the downhill putt and getting every attempt to the hole.

The lesson is that any expert advice can be helpful if considered in the context of one’s specific circumstances. Generalized advice from experts isn’t automatically good for everyone, every time. That is, the “why, who, where, and when” factors are just as important as “what and how.”  Also, remember what baseball legend and philosopher Yogi Berra said, “90% of short putts don’t go in.”

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