At the highest levels of the game, the pros should putt 'em out
When Ian Poulter refused to concede Webb Simpson a putt of roughly four or five feet early in their Ryder Cup singles match last Sunday, the Medinah galleries roundly booed the fiery Brit. Poulter raised his arms and scowled as if to say, "Bollocks! That's no bloody gimme!"
And he was right.
Though Simpson coolly drained the putt, it was hardly a sure thing. Later in the day, on the final hole of the final match, Francesco Molinari, under strict orders from European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, made Tiger Woods stand over a four-footer (if that) after the Cup had already been decided. Woods missed it, and Ollie is now weathering allegations of poor sportsmanship for not allowing Woods to pocket his ball, halve the hole, and extract a full point from what had become a mostly meaningless match.
The U.S. captain, Davis Love III, called the sequence "awkward," which accurately describes countless other should-he-or-shouldn't-he-concede scenarios in match-play history.
Three years ago, at the Presidents Cup in San Francisco, Justin Leonard, playing with Jim Furyk, yipped a 14-incher on the 18th hole of their match with Y.E. Yang and Retief Goosen, costing the Americans half a point. A 14-incher! It was hard to believe the putt hadn't been conceded. Or had it? Goosen kind-of-sort-of offered a concession, but Leonard never got the memo.
"I was a little confused about the whole thing, to tell you the truth," said Steve Stricker, who was watching from the edge of the green. "It kind of looked like [Goosen] was going to give [the putt] to him."
Misunderstandings. Hand-wringing. Resentment. Enough already.
It's time golf abolished concessions.
Not uniformly, mind you; no one wants to see your Uncle Lenny three-putt from four feet, or get stuck behind a group that's plumb-bobbing kick-ins. But at the highest levels of the game, where history and egos and national pride are at stake, the conceded putt must go. Sure, it's one of those magnanimous gestures, like calling a penalty on oneself, that separates the game from others. But it's also a bizarre and antiquated ritual, not to mention a bad example to our youth whom we're always encouraging to "see things through" and "finish what you start."
Certainly Mitt Romney wouldn't approve of these handouts. And, geez, what would Sam Snead say? As the Slammer once warned, "Keep close count of your nickels and dimes, stay away from whiskey, and never concede a putt."
Concessions also cheapen the viewing experience for fans. Watching the pros scoop up four-footers is the equivalent of an umpire awarding a batter first base after a 3-0 count. Sure, the odds are good that the hitter would have wound up on first base anyway, but you want to see him earn it.
Same goes with would-be gimmes in other sports. NFL placekickers convert more than 99 percent of their points after touchdown, but you'll never hear Bill Belichick hollering, "Yo, Vinatieri, that's good, bud!" A few years ago, Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors hit 98.1 percent of his free-throw attempts, an NBA record, but you didn't see him garnering any concessions from the opposing team. So why should golfers get a free lunch?
The stats don't indicate that they should. Let's agree that a four-foot putt is the longest putt that professional golfers are comfortable giving one another. Now let's pick on Woods, who missed a putt of approximately that length on Medinah's 18th green against Molinari.
Turns out, that wasn't all that rare an occurrence. According to ShotLink, Woods misses about one in every 10 putts from that range. Or at least he has this year. Tiger has attempted 84 four-footers in 19 PGA Tour starts in 2012 and missed eight of them. That's a 90.5% conversion rate, which ranks Woods 108th among his peers in that category. And none of those putts were struck with the heart-stopping, knicker-soiling pressure of the Ryder Cup bearing down on him.
In those same 19 starts, Woods also missed eight putts from three feet. To be fair, he's had a lot more chances from that range (538, for those scoring at home), but his resulting 98.5% conversion rate, which sounds impressive, is actually a lowly 171st on Tour. But heaven forbid one of his Ryder Cup opponents makes Woods ponder a two- or three-footer. That player would be driven out of town by a pitchfork-toting mob.
A couple of European Ryder Cuppers have also been less-than-automatic from short range this season. From four feet, a distance from which plenty of putts were conceded last week, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy ranks 121st on Tour, missing eight of his 80 attempts this year. Graeme McDowell is less proficient still. Of his 86 four-footers in 2012, McDowell missed nine of them, an 89.5% success rate, or, more to the point, a 10.5% failure rate.
Sportsmanship and goodwill are nice and all, but if you knew G-Mac's putting stats, wouldn't you think twice before gifting him a four-footer?
That makes two of us.