A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what I consider the best shot of the year. That was Bubba Watson’s half-moon, hook wedge from the right trees that hit the green on the second extra hole of his Masters playoff against Louis Oosthuizen and won the green jacket for him.
Today I’m looking at another amazing shot that stopped me in my tracks and had me gaping. That’s the 100-foot putt for eagle that Justin Rose didn’t hole on the final green of last month’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. And you heard, or read, right. Rose didn’t hole the putt from the back of the green.
What was so great about it, then? Well, Rose, who was trying to catch Rory McIlroy in this major European Tour event, faced a putt that had to traverse not only those 100-feet but to cross a ridge line about 25-feet short of the hole. He had to hit a putt with so little margin of error that it would come pretty much to a stop at the crest, and then trickle forward and downhill toward the hole. How could he finesse such a tricky putt in that way?
Well, he is one of the best players in the world. And yet. It’s not as if there’s a way to get mechanical about such a weird, roller-coaster of a putt. Rose and all tour golfers know exactly how far they are from the hole on shots from the fairway, but it’s not as if they step off the length of putts. And even if Rose did know the approximate distance to the hole, how does the brain process and factor in how far to take the putter back, how hard to stroke or hit the ball, and what the ground contour will do?
Here’s the thing: Hitting such a complex putt must be a feat of the brain, a feat of deeply felt automatic computation, a triumph of instinct, feel, experience, and, of course, talent.
Rose examined the terrain. He let himself sink into the putt. He felt it. He walked to the front portion of the green and then back to his ball. Yes, Rose was putting for eagle, but it was hardly an eagle putt. Anything within a few feet would be an accomplishment.
Watching Rose settle over the ball, I remember thinking of something that three-time major champion Nick Price always said and that he wrote in his calendar as every new season approached.
“Putting is 90 per cent speed,” Price said.
That is, it’s much more likely to hit a putt that will come up short of the hole or will run too far past than that it will miss wide of the hole by the same amount. Even tour players speak of falling in love with the line of a putt and ignoring the speed. Not advised.
Rose settled over the putt and made his stroke. The ball wasn’t moving very fast at all as it approached the crest of ridge, and then appeared to stop. Oh no. Would it stay right there? The ball then started to roll, and it picked up speed, and come on, it looked like it could go on.
It didn’t, but it stopped right beside the hole. Perfect speed. What a putt.
Rose acknowledged the crowd, which was thrilled by the putt’s long, slow march toward the hole. He tapped in for a closing 62, which, because McIlroy behind him was making five birdies in a row to end his round, wasn’t good enough to win. Rose finished second by two shots.
Still, the putt was memorable. To me, it’s the putt of the year, and I’m not forgetting about the 35-foot birdie putt that Rose made on the 17th green of his singles match at the Ryder Cup against Phil Mickelson. Mickelson was one-up and assured of a par when Rose made his putt to square the match. He birdied the last hole from 12-feet to win the match as his European side overcame the four-point lead that the U.S. took into the Sunday singles and won the Ryder Cup.
But Rose’s putt on that last green in Dubai was otherworldly. There was so much in it.
“I knew it was hero or zero out there,” Rose said after his round. “I was one roll away from looking like an idiot but I knew that was the kind of putt it was. I was just trying to putt to a point on the hill and let gravity take its course.”
Gravity took its course.
“As it got to the top of the hill and it was clear it was going to topple over, I knew it was perfect and I actually got goose bumps, I thought it was going to go in for a second,” Rose continued. “It was a really nice way to finish, and I was quite happy to just have a two-inch tap-in.”
And there you have it, the putt of the year. The more I think of it, the more I watch it, the more I scratch my head and ask: “How did he do that?”
How indeed? There lies the mystery of the year’s best putt. And there I leave it, in the realm of the unfathomable. Not everything is knowable, is it?
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein