Of the halves into which golf is divided—hitting the ball and putting it—the latter is easily the more mysterious. It's simple enough to watch Tiger Woods drive the ball and realize that there is no way a normal body can deliver a clubhead squarely to a golf ball at 125 miles an hour, as his body can. Putting would appear to be another matter. It's no more taxing, physically, than walking to the corner for a loaf of bread.
So why can't we roll the ball into the hole?Why is the average golfer no closer to the accuracy of the world's best putters than he is to the length of Tiger Woods?
Barrington, Rhode Island, is a good place to look for the answers to such questions. It's a pleasant, unpretentious town by the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, full of stout frame houses on modest lawns. A sea breeze blows over the marshes at the edge of town. If one rings the bell at a particular cedar-sided house with a brightly colored children's play gym in the backyard and a Toyota in the driveway, one of the world's best putters opens the door.
Brad Faxon—who may in fact be the world's best putter—does not immediately look like a putting authority. He is dressed in a sweatshirt, a hat that says HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL and jeans, the sort of jeans that have acquired their faded look in the sun and in the wash, not at the factory. He looks rather like a trim, sandy-haired young executive spending a leisurely Sunday at home.
But there is plenty of evidence to show that he is a great putter. A couple of years ago, he recorded a season-long average for putts per green in regulation of 1.704. Put another way, that meant that in the year 2000, Faxon sank about 30 percent of the birdie putts he looked at. It was the best statistical putting year the Tour had ever recorded.
Putting statistics, of course, can be skewed by such factors as how close to the pin a player hits his irons. They also don't show how many clutch putts a player makes. But Faxon's reputation among his peers is, if anything, better than his stats. "He's as good as it gets out here," says Jeff Sluman. "Even when he misses, the putts look good."