The curse of the flat stick

Is there a more humbling experience than standing over a five foot putt knowing that you are only a 30% chance (on a good day) of sinking it? The feeling turns to downright despair when your six year old son nonchalantly drains his putt from the same spot moments later.


Hello, my name is Craig Dodson and I can’t putt. I feel better for saying that, yet embarrassed at the same time.


The Flat Stick has been the bane of my golfing existence, ever since the day I was handed my first set of clubs in the late ’80s and started attempting to knock my Spalding Top Flite XL golf balls into the little hole.


My problems started early. As a 13-year-old I swung my putter head in disgust at the greenside turf after another three-putt. I even managed to miss that putt and collected an underground sprinkler cover, with the putter head snapping clean off. I spent the rest of the round putting with my ‘cutting edge’ plastic two wood and a sore ear after my old man gave me a clip to pull me back in line.


I am an average golfer. Perhaps I fall into the category of a fair one on a good day. I float around an 18 marker level. Having kids and only getting out once every month is the reason for six of those shots, I repeatedly lie to myself. When you have 40 plus putts per round, it does make a mess of your scorecard.


Most people simply have bad days with the putter. I seem to have been having a bad run for the best part of 33 years.


I have gone past the position of anger and settled into a nice little defeatist groove. Here is a snapshot of my routine:


Step One – stand behind the ball, determine there is no point getting down on my dodgy knees to read the putt, given I’ve probably got a better grasp on astrophysics than on how to correctly read greens.


Step Two – set up with ball positioned under my eyeline, place putter next to ball and wait for confidence to quickly erode and possible minor trembling to kick in. A similar feeling as to what used to come over me when I was facing a leggie with a good wrong-un.


Step Three – look despairingly at the hole and wonder why I would pay good money and spend a glorious Saturday afternoon partaking in an activity that makes me feel completely incompetent. I could get the same feeling doing DIY work at home. At least then Mrs D would appreciate the wasted effort.


Step Four – meekly tap the ball with the intensity of Arjuna Ranatunga on a run between wickets. Look up and find that my five foot put has limped to a position one foot short of the hole. Better to leave a tap in than run the risk of actually making the putt or leaving a three footer coming back, I convince myself.


Step Five – tap in the one footer and walk to the next tee box, trying to resist the temptation to hurl my putter in the nearby lake, or unleash a verbal tirade that would make the late Richard Pryor blush.


I can put my predicament down to a combination of poor technique, shattered confidence and a steadfast belief that paying $200 for a new putter every 12 months is the most logical solution to my woes. Salvation comes in the form of a Drummond Golf Gift card every Christmas. What I actually need is that electronic putter Al Czervik used in Caddyshack…


After his victory at the 1993 British Open at Royal St George’s, Greg Norman told reporters “I’m in awe of myself”…. on the biannual occasions I sink any putt over 10 foot, I can touch that feeling the Shark referenced.


In rare moments of clarity I’ve thought about parting with $70 and having a putting lesson. Perhaps some bloke who got spat out of the ‘lucrative’ Western Victoria pro-am circuit and now spends 93% of his time flogging off Mars Bars in the pro shop can lead me to the promised-land? I never have enough common sense to go through with it though.


I’ve tried a few things. The Jack Newton’s Putting Partner offered hope in the 1980s. Does anyone remember the oversized Magna golf balls? It what universe did I think a larger ball would be easier to get in the hole? Fat Grips, broomsticks, claw grips…


My regular playing partners know my weakness. They don’t even sledge these days. They simply enjoy the show from afar. Nothing quite as gratifying or amusing as watching a fully grown man unravel while undertaking a leisure pursuit.


I’ve most probably given my young fellas the DNA ‘gifts’ of a receding hairline and an inability to get within 46cm of being able to touch their toes. Have I cursed them to being shithouse putters who will never know the joy of winning a worthless lotto ticket off their playing partner? I have made a promise to myself to not offer any instructional advice at all.


Where to from here? Most probably another three or four decades of poor putting. Perhaps I could start a support group and we can all meet on a monthly basis and burn an effigy of Ben Crenshaw?


Do I have the courage to make a meaningful change or am I happy with an acceptance of my fate? If you see me out on the course, give me a wave, and maybe just lurk a group or two behind and you may score yourself a fancy new (slightly bent or wet) putter laying discarded somewhere near the green.


About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. Have you tried using a wedge to putt Craig? Do women follow you around Albert Park lake hoping to build their own golf set from your discarded clubs?
    I feel your pain (regularly).

  2. Brilliant work Craig. Any tips on bunkers. I have been known to go back and forth from one bunker to another before chipping sideways for a clear path to the green.

  3. Ross Treverton says

    For me the claw grip Is the current ‘(read ‘this months’) go to’ remedy.

    “Hello, my name is Ross Treverton and l can’t chip.”

    I hate the fact that l love this game so much….

  4. John Butler says

    CD, always extra points on this site if you can manage a Caddyshack reference.

    Strangely, though I have one of the world’s more poorly produced golf swings, I’ve usually been handy on the greens. But it’s such a mental thing. Confidence can desert you in a moment.

    I had a mate who played off about 8 but often putted like a 30 handicapper. Caddying for him in pennant was demoralising. He’d be sitting eight feet from the hole in one, with his opponent having missed the green, and still regularly produce a loss. Opponents used to catch on quick. He rarely got a gimme beyond the fifth hole of any round.

    It can be a torturous game.

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