Close your eyes and you can almost hear the pleading. It doesn’t take much to transform my golf buddies into a group of shifty-eyed beggars, each of them desperate to hear the words that will mean they don’t have to make a short putt.
Of course, they are rarely so brazen as to actually ask out loud to be given a putt. Then again, they don’t need to. By now, all of us know the numerous time-honored, face-saving ways to elicit those blessed words: "That’s good," or "You can pick that up." The simplest method is the pointed, pitiful look that says, ever so eloquently, "Guys, I’m begging you: I don’t have a clue whether this is going left or right." Remember in Shrek 2 how Puss in Boots could make his eyes so irresistibly big and round and plaintive?On many greens, I seem to be utterly surrounded by Puss in Bootses.
Then there’s the slow-motion walk up to a tricky three-footer, in which each step gets dragged out, painfully, in order to give an opponent every opportunity to recall the many joys of giving. Or, for the mathematically minded, there’s the reminder that on some previous green someone else was given a putt that was twice this long—at least! And if all those happen to fail—though they rarely do—there’s always the direct approach, the one pioneered so brilliantly by my friend Joe. Determined not to be ignored or misunderstood, Joe actually cups a hand behind his ear and leans in toward us, the better to hear the blessed words. Underfed organ-grinder monkeys are subtler than Joe.
That said, it almost always works. Even the most hard-hearted among us have a tough time ignoring these not-so-subtle pleas, partly out of real sympathy but mainly because we know darn well that a hole or two later we may be in need of exactly the same dispensation.
Gimmes are among the grayest of golf’s gray areas. Forbidden, of course, in serious stroke play, they are a cherished and respected part of match play and most friendly games, and it’s not hard to see why. For starters, they are a practical compromise, saving backs and time. (Though I wonder how much time they really do save. The putts that are legit gimmes are so short that it really doesn’t take long to tap them in. If a putt needs to be lined up and fretted over . . . well, it probably isn’t a gimme in the first place.)
But gimmes serve a loftier purpose, too. Basically, they help us rise above our baser instincts. However competitive we might feel toward our playing partners, however determined we might privately be to crush their very souls, we know that on the golf course we are all supposed to be gentlemen, and that means we must honor the conventions of friendly competition—it matters not whether we win or lose but how well we bond with our friends. Gimmes help us to maintain this sunny illusion. They are mnemonic devices, reminding us to play nice.