Its also the most fleeting. A lot of people were great putters when they were younger, then suddenly lost it when they turned 40. Ben Hogan comes to mind. Tom Watson was one of the worlds all-time great putters 20 years ago, but then ' well, you know what has happened. Name them ' Arnold Palmer. Nancy Lopez. Tom Kite. Nick Faldo. Maybe even Beth Daniel or Craig Stadler.
Its a mystery why the putting stroke leaves you. They say its nerves, but that simplifies it way too much. The truth is, no one really knows. But for Daniel and Stadler, the weekend brought back a glorious old friend. They looked up and who do you think was standing there? Why it was the Old Roller, and for at least a week he decided to come calling. Happy days are here again!
Daniel had to make an eight-footer on the last hole to become the oldest woman to win an LPGA Tour event. Shes 46 and change, and the woman she beat was another Golden Oldie, Juli Inkster at 43.
Stadler did it in the third major of the Champions Tour season - the Ford Senior Players Championship. He has been looking for the lost putting stroke since the mid-80s, going through just about every imaginable way of propelling the ball to the hole. Now hes using the Calcavecchia Claw, and whatdoya know, he suddenly saw the ball dropping all over the place. Winning, he realized once again, is really a lot of fun.
Daniel and Inkster played a par-5 when she nipped her old buddy. Both laid up on the second shot and hit a short iron in. Inkster had 15 feet for birdie, but left it just short. Daniel had eight feet ' she remembered it as six feet, but whats 24 inches - and just poured it in using the long-handle putter.
I tell you what, its pretty cool to stand over a six-footer and just tell yourself, Lets get it over with right now. Lets just knock this thing in the hole and no sudden-death playoff, Daniel said.
And I did. It was a tough putt, it was probably a six-inch break, kind of a speed putt. But I hit a great putt.
Stadler hit a lot of great putts at Ford. He had started the year on the regular tour until he turned 50 just last month. He had missed the cut in five of the eight regular-tour tournaments he played this year, but he hit 50 and suddenly it was out there in front of him like a great big Easter egg ' his putting stroke.
Most of the guys out here on the Champions Tour have all went through the same thing, he said. We were all terrific putters when we were young.
To be truthful, the only one who is still that way is (Ben) Crenshaw. Hes wonderful, has been, never changes.
You all go through your cycles and obviously Watsons been through times, Tom Kite ' Lietzke is pretty consistent. But I started probably in the early 90s. I didnt get very comfortable with the putter I have been through everything.
Asked again later when was the last time he felt this good about his putting, Stadler admitted that it was probably the early 80s. Then he reversed himself again, saying he had putted it very well in 1980, 81, 82.
But, hey, its not something that you like to remember. Only that earlier in life, he could remember making them from all over the green. Lousy putter/good ball-striker, or lousy ball-striker/good putter. Its very seldom that you are favored with both, unless your name is Tiger Woods.
Early in life, I got to be such a lousy driver of the ball, I usually was hitting it every which way and making putts, Stadler said. I tell you, its a lot more fun to hit it awful and putt well, than to hit it 10 feet every hole and miss.
Daniel began searching for an antidote for poor putting about 10 years ago. And she certainly didnt think the long putter was the way out of her misery, at least not at first.
Yeah, it took a long time, she remembers.
Gary Koch saw me at one of my first attempts at putting with a long putter and I was pitiful, admits Daniel. And Gary and (instructor) Jim Ferree both told me to give it up, that I had no chance if ever putting with a long putter.
But my teacher, Mike McGetrick, convinced me to use it and I said, You know what, if you want me to use it, you have to come teach me how to use it, because I have no clue.
So we spent a lot of time and I actually practiced for months with the short putter and the long putter. Finally I used it for the first time in the Chick-fil-A Championship in April of 2000. I carried two putters, the long and the short putter. Because I didnt know what was going to happen under pressure.
I have never gone back since, and I actually wish I had gone to it earlier. It made a huge difference in my putting.
Oh, and the difference it makes you feel as a golfer - one day you feel like a plumber; the next day you feel like a Crenshaw.
Its nice to get over a putt from four feet and think that youve got a chance to make it, laughed Stadler. Its been the other way ' trust me.