Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 19, 2020

A Tale Of Two Putts

The 6-iron approach shot flies on a straight line toward the left side of the green. It lands just short of the putting surface, skips up onto it, and rolls to a stop midway between the front edge and the back fringe. Since the shot was taken from a position in the right-hand rough after the golfer’s drive faded just into the taller grass, he’s not unhappy with the result. Still, it leaves him with an interesting putt.

The layout at Candia Woods, a fifteen-minute drive east of Manchester and twice that far west of the New Hampshire seacoast, has been around for more than half a century. For much of that time, until new ownership took over, it suffered from what might charitably be called benign neglect, with just enough maintenance and conditioning to attract players looking for an inexpensive round. All that is ancient history now, with management that keeps the course in prime condition throughout the short New England golf season. Special attention is always paid to the greens, which are usually the fastest of any public course in the region.

What no amount of maintenance can do is change the layout’s pedestrian routing. There are many parallel holes, with the front nine featuring six in a row that run back and forth, first up and then down a hillside, separated only by rows of trees. The 2nd hole is the first of this bunch. It’s a medium length par-4, with a drive up the slope to a plateau, followed by a straight shot into the green. That’s where the golfer now stands, on the upper shelf of a two-tiered putting surface. There’s a sharp drop-off from this higher left portion down to the lower right side, which is where the pin is located today, and there’s also a considerable slope from the back of the green down to its front.

While those factors combine to increase the difficulty of the golfer’s putt, this is not his first time at Candia Woods. Over the years he’s played the course countless times and putted from the upper side of the 2nd green down to the lower on plenty of occasions. He knows he must aim far left of the hole, because both the slope down the ridge and the general pitch of the green will cause the putt to break dramatically to the right. He also needs to hit the putt with just enough speed to reach the crest of the drop-off. After that, gravity will be more than enough to get the ball to the hole.

With that in mind the golfer steps up and takes his stroke. The line is nowhere near the needed one, and the ball is traveling much too fast. It reaches the ridge a yard or more to the right of where it should and still moving at a good clip. Catching the slope, the ball makes a near U-turn and, never scaring the hole, races down the hill, finally coming to a stop at the very edge of the green, a dozen or more feet past the cup. The golfer’s only solace is that he is alone; at least no one witnessed such a woeful effort.

His next stroke turns away from the hole, and a solid chance at par has turned into a three-putt bogey. As he makes his way to the 3rd tee the golfer recalls the old Peanuts cartoon, showing Charlie Brown and Snoopy on a golf course. As the beagle misses a putt, his thought balloon reads “The more I play this game the better I like it…but I still hate it!”

A bit later in the afternoon, the golfer stands in the 9th fairway. There’s a gaggle of players up on the green of the par-5. It turns out that the two foursomes he’s been following around the front nine are together. The first group waited on the 9th green for their friends to join them, and they’re now planning on finishing up the front side with a putting competition. While they are kind enough to wave the golfer up and let him play through, he must now finish the hole in front of a considerable audience.

His gap wedge from the fairway lands safely on the green but runs a good thirty feet past the hole. Arriving at the putting surface he trades pleasantries with the assembled spectators as he begins to survey his long-distance putt for birdie. “You can show us the line,” says one of the other players, pointing to two markers on the green in the general vicinity of his ball.

The 9th green doesn’t have the tiers of the 2nd, but it is more steeply sloped from its high point in the back down to the front. This putt will be downhill all the way, thus very speedy. It also looks like it will have a significant left to right break as it makes its way to the hole. But as he prepares to putt, the golfer hears traffic in the distance. Route 101, the major east-west arterial across southern New Hampshire, runs by Candia Woods, not more than a half mile to the south. The sage advice of the locals has always been that all putts break toward 101.

In sports, as in life, the bits of folk wisdom one encounters are often worthy of attention. In this case the adage is of course not literally true. This putt, for instance, will clearly break away from the highway, which is off to the golfer’s left. But the familiar admonition is a valuable reminder that the property sits above the highway, and the overall flow of the topography is down to the road in the distance. Also, that way is south, meaning the poa annua grass on the putting surface grows in that direction as it seeks the sun. Absent a slope the natural flow of a rolling putt will be with, not against, the grain. So yes, the tilt of the green means the putt will break away from the highway, but not nearly as much as the eye wants to believe.

Rather than a foot wide of the hole, the golfer aims just a couple ball widths outside the left edge. The putt rolls smoothly down the slope, trundling every closer to the flagstick. Unlike his earlier effort, this time the speed is perfect. As the Titleist slows in the final yards of its journey, it at last turns slightly to the right. Rolling at a sedate pace, it drops into the cup, and the onlookers roar.

What was the first part of that Snoopy quote?


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