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The Man Who Can Putt Like a Boy

"I really believe putting is an attitude thing," Faxon says. By this he means that how a golfer thinks when he putts is more important than anything else. That's what he works on when he practices—the mental aspects of his routine.

This begins when he walks toward the green and starts reading the putt. He weighs a lot of factors, almost subconsciously—the slope, the speed, the grain, the wind. But he doesn't permit himself to overread. He wants to be decisive. His putting falters, he's noticed, when he starts to second-guess his initial reads.

"To me, putting is very visual," he says. "When I read a putt, I see an action track, a thin line, going from the ball to the hole. When I take my stance, I see the ball starting on that line." He takes a last look at the target line and lets the stroke go. He doesn't worry about speed. He lets his instincts and skills take care of that. He is striving for a delicately balanced frame of mind, in which he's focused, but not focused too tightly, meticulous about his routine but not overly careful. He wants the putt to go in. He believes it will go in. But he doesn't want to be upset if it misses.

He wants to putt in competition the way he putts on the practice green. "Just before I go to the first tee, I'll hit some three-, four-, five-footers using my full routine," he says. "I just get into that flow, and it's unbelievable how well I putt when I do that. Then I try to do the same thing on the golf course, to keep the same amount of effort. I want to not try very hard. That's when I putt great."

He cares if he misses, but not too much. He has noticed that when he's putting well, he almost always has to mark the ball when he misses his first putt. That's because he's run it too far past the hole for a tap-in. He's also noticed that in the tournaments where he putts his very best, he usually has at least one three-putt. He accepts that, knowing that when he's in the right frame of mind, the birdie putts made will greatly outnumber the three-putt greens.

His goal is the same on every putt, whether it's an uphill six-footer or a slippery thirty-foot sidehill putt that could slide way past the hole. He might try to make the slippery one die in the hole, and he might want the first one to hit the back of the cup. But he's trying to make both of them. He tries to make all of them. Faxon doesn't believe in lag putts, or trying to leave it within a three-foot circle.

When he's watching golf on television, Faxon snorts when he hears an announcer say that some putts are "green-light specials" and others, by implication, are not. "The reason Johnny Miller is in the booth now is because he can't putt any more," Faxon says. "His attitude is terrible for putting. I think he's afraid to admit that he's let putting conquer him like it conquered Ben Hogan. His attitude is that of a guy who's afraid to death on the putting green. And I'd tell him [that] to his face right now."

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