I have a long history watching golf, having begun my career as a fan and player in 1960.
During the Nicklaus Era I remember that short putts were full of suspense. While Jack Nicklaus seemed to make every one under three feet (something that Deane Beman swears to), other top pros routinely missed these shorties.
Byron Nelson once said that “Putting affects the nerves more than anything. I would actually get nauseated over three-footers, and there were tournaments when I couldn’t keep a meal down for four days.” His peers,
Sam Snead famously missed a 30 incher on the final hole of a playoff in the 1949 U.S. Open to lose to Lew Worsham. Nine time major winner Gary Player tried take the break out of the short ones by jamming them into the cup, but was susceptible to power lip outs. Tom Watson’s winning days ended because he regularly choked on 2-3 footers. Everyone remembers Doug Sanders’ miss on the 72nd green of the 1970 British Open which he went on to lose in a playoff to Nicklaus. Poor Ed Sneed three putted the last three greens to blow his lead at the 1979 Masters.
And the list of historic missed short putts goes on and on – in the good old days when fans moved to the edge of their seats to watch these pressure packed putts.
Today, pro’s missing putts of 3 feet and under has become as rare as the dodo bird. For the entire 2012 season, 52 players on the PGA Tour made 99.5% of their putts under three feet, and 133 players made at least 99% of these shorties. In 2012, from 3-4 feet, the pros made 90% or more of these putts. While there are no stats from the 60s and 70s for short putts, I would bet that the make percentage for most players from 3-4 feet was closer to 80%.
While many correctly bemoan the souped up golf ball, equally tragic it the death of The Choked Short Putt, which has taken so much of the suspense from the game, and made what should be an enjoyable shot a moment of extreme boredom.
So, while most of the suspense has been wrung out of what was once upon a time golf’s most dramatic shot, the last thing the game needs is anchoring, which would, in time, turn five footers into gimmies.