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By Jason Guss
We've all been there—standing over a four-footer really matters. Could be for that a birdie. Could be to win a weekend match. Could even be to keep your team from going backward in a scramble. No matter the scenario, there are only two outcomes. Why do some golfers always seem to make these while others always seem to miss? You might think it’s mettle. I disagree. I’ll give you my opinion on what’s probably going on in a second, but before I do, we need to get one nasty bit out of the way.
Do you have the yips? If you’re not sure, you probably don’t. Skip to the next paragraph and forget I mentioned it. If you think you might, there’s a good chance a neurological issue is at hand, and that’s surely the reason you struggle with clutch putts. Your nervous system is making it very difficult to control the putterface. There’s not enough space on this page to explain what’s going on. But if you think you’ve got the yips, try changing your grip, your putter, your pre-shot routine, whatever makes the experience seem new. That might circumvent a nervous tick—but no guarantees.
For the rest of you, here’s your pep talk: You’re not choking. You’re simply getting the read wrong; or your aim is off—or both. It’s a theory, but one supported by mathematics. Any idea how many four-footers were missed on the PGA Tour last year? Try 1,742 (8 percent). Think those guys are yipping it or are choking? Rory McIlroy, the tour’s Player of the Year, missed 15 four-footers. Jordan Spieth missed 10. And he’s a guy I definitely want putting for me with a match on the line.
Double-checking your aim and read is your best chance at holing out. I can’t help you with the read; I’d have to see it. But for aim, remember to set your putterhead down first before stepping in to make the stroke (your eyes can deceive you when you aim the putter standing to the side of your line). Then just stick to your routine and make a smooth, relaxed stroke. That’s how putt in the clutch.