The classic example is the four-minute mile. For 10 years the record of 4:01.3 stood firm, with John Landy of Australia running within 1½ seconds of the record several times. At one point, a discouraged Landy surmised that he probably was not physically capable of running under four minutes. Then in May 1954, Roger Bannister ran 3:59.4. Forty-six days later, Landy ran 3:57.9.
Such mental barriers are more tangible and easier to target in sports with fixed empirical standards of time, distance, height or weight. Yet they exist in every sport. Currently, in basketball, it has become apparent that the range of what is considered an acceptable three-point shot is stretching outward. What used to be considered a bad shot in the NBA is now justified by statistics, is taken with more confidence and, most of all, follows the example of one Stephen Curry, the greatest long distance shooter in the sport’s history.
I think something similar is happening in golf with putting. The expectation of making putts in excess of 10 feet is growing. In fact, the 25-footer is transforming from a shot in the dark to a scoring opportunity.
Why? One Jordan Spieth.
Simply putt, Spieth with a putter in his hand is special. Last year there were too many bombs to remember, although two were unforgettable—the 20-foot curler on the 70th hole at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and the 50-footer for birdie on the 70th hole of the Open Championship at St. Andrews. And just to refresh our memories, Spieth put on another noteworthy display on the grainy, windy, undulating surfaces at Kapalua’s Plantation course last month in taking the Hyundai Tournament of Champions by eight shots.
The collective putting skill on the PGA Tour has been gradually improving. Back in 1989, a study by Dave Pelz found that a six-footer was a 50-50 putt for tour pros. ShotLink shows that the break-even distance is now just under eight feet.
There are a few reasons.
First is the improved smoothness of the green surfaces. Second is that the Darwinian challenge of keeping your place on the top tour in the world won’t tolerate poor short putting. These days, it’s routine for the winner of a tournament to make all but a couple of the 60 or so putts that he faces from inside 10 feet over four rounds, and sometimes he’ll make them all.
The margin of error is so small, and the variables of break, wind and day-to-day differences in feel make it unpredictable.
Thanks for watching Jordan Spieth is changing the face of Putting! Now go out and change your putting!
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