In watching the last day of the Masters last Sunday, I think we can safely say that golf is still a "feel" game.
It was obvious to me that the best short game won the tournament. Tiger hit the ball well, but had 33 putts. Professionals at this level live and die by their putters. If you don't average 28 putts a round, don't expect a good score. How many players did you see three-putt from 10 feet? The speed, slope and pin positions of Augusta National's greens makes the putting difficult. Phil Mickelson's short game showed up and that is why he won.
To have a good short game you must have imagination. You must be able to hit shots with spin and also have that shot in your bag where there is little or no spin. I know there were changes in length to the course this year, but that's a non-issue. Most of the players hit it far or manage length on the tour. There are only a handful of players on the tour who have the feel of a Phil Mickelson.
You have to be able to run the ball out of the bunker like Tim Clark did on the last hole or stop it dead next to the hole with no run. You have to pitch and run the ball or lob the ball. The hard part is deciding what to do and when to do it. Also, the players that could approach those tough pin positions from the low side of the hole gave themselves the best chance at converting their putts.
Distance control is so important at Augusta National. But, honestly, I really didn't see many people making putts. I did see quite a few approach irons hit slopes and take bad bounces over the green. Seems like an unfair setup when this happens.
All putts at Augusta are hard because of the precise speed needed to make the putt. Only those players who were good lag putters and could control the pace of their putter back and through had a chance at making putts. Most of the players that "hit" instead of stroking their putts didn't make the cut. Augusta's greens are much like a pool table without the cloth.
You have to have the hands of a jewel thief to win the Masters now the way the greens are set up. Golf like you saw at the Masters this year is something most of us will never experience. If the tournament committee set out to have the most difficult test in golf I think they have succeeded. Congratulations to Mickelson, of course, but congratulations to all the players who had the game to even make the cut.
Dr. Jim Suttie, the 2000 PGA Teacher of the Year, is director of instruction at The Club at TwinEagles in North Naples and at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill. His new book is "Your Perfect Swing" and is available at bookstores and at amazon.com. He also is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and rated No. 15 by Golf Digest. Suttie coaches the FGCU men's golf team. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.