Yesterday at the Masters, Ernie Els, four time major winner and Hall of Famer, six-putted the first hole from inside three feet. I've never seen anything like it. I've never even seen an amateur take six putts to get it in the hole from three feet. Occasionally professional golfers miss tap in putts, mostly because out of frustration they foolishly try to back hand the ball into the hole. But this...this was something else all together. I watched the video with a sick feeling in my stomach. Ernie Els is one of the nicest gentlemen in all of sport, one of the good guys. It was hard to watch.
After his round, instead of blowing off the press, he sat down and answered their questions. What happened? "It's hard to putt when you've got snakes inside your head," was his perfect answer. He described how it felt to stand over that first three footer and simply not be able to take the putter back. Snakes inside your head is a much more descriptive expression than the yips, but it's the same thing. At some point in every golfer's life, the prospect of making short putts becomes the equivalent of walking across hot coals in bare feet. It's inexplicable. Ernie Els, a man who can routinely launch a golf ball 300 yards down the middle of a fairway, then curve a five iron beautifully onto the green, freezes up standing over a shot that even old ladies can make...a three foot putt. The most confounding game in history. An example from my much less storied career:
I was playing out at Independance one day. On a 520 yard par five, I hit a beautiful wind-aided drive right down the middle of the fairway, over the hill and out of view. When I crested the hill, the ball was only 140 yards away from the green! (Later, I discovered that my drive had landed on a sprinkler head, propelling it down the fairway). I then hit an 8 iron to within 10 feet. I was going to have a 10 foot eagle putt!! Four miserable attempts later the stupid ball finally dropped into the bottom of the stupid hole. I walked off the green with a bogey. @$&!' game!!!
But now, thanks to Ernie, I have a new explanation for all embarrassing things that will ever happen to me on a golf course, and in life in general...there were snakes in my head!