To give or not to give a putt, that is the question.
Frankly, the art of the gimme depends on so many factors that you could write a doctoral thesis on the subject. Or a website article, like this one.
Some canny characters will give an opponent a string of short putts early in a match (two footers or less) and then make them putt a short one later in the round in the hope that they will sow a seed of doubt. Then again, making an opponent hole a shortie early on can wind them up to such an extent that you might end up regretting it.
A cocky Phil Mickelson was asked to hole a short putt by Andrew Coltart in their opening Walker Cup singles at Portmarnock in 1991 and looked aghast at the Scot, holding his putter parallel to the ground to give the impression he thought it should have been conceded.
“He’s an arrogant so-and-so,” Coltart said. “If his club had touched the ground I would have claimed the hole.”
Mickelson won 4 and 3 anyway but he endeared himself to few that week, especially when he was asked about a shot he hit into the crowd and said: “That’s not a place I want to be – the Irish women are not that attractive.”
In the Ryder Cup, the heavy metal of matchplay combat, there are umpteen examples of gamesmanship as well as several moments of spectacular sportsmanship on the green.
Jack Nicklaus’ famous “concession” of Tony Jacklin’s three-footer in the 1969 match at Royal Birkdale came with the memorable line: “I don’t think you would have missed that putt but in these circumstances I would never give you the opportunity.”
Nicklaus’ gesture was a conciliatory one. He had already holed a four footer to ensure a tied match that meath that the US retained the trophy in what had been an acrimonious contest. Earlier in the week, Great Britain captain Eric Brown ordered his players not to search for the opposition’s ball if it ended up in the rough and American Ken Still, in the first-day foursomes, had deliberately and regularly stood too close to Maurice Bembridge as he was putting. During one of the fourballs on the second day, both captains had to come out and calm down the warring players.
Of course, knowing that conceding putts is allowed at all is basic.
During the 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play, Boo Weekley admitted he hadn’t a clue, much to the amusement of Colin Montgomerie, who remembered a similar incident in the 1991 Ryder Cup.
“I remember Wayne Levi was playing Seve at Kiawah Island, my first Ryder Cup in 1991, and on the first couple of holes Wayne Levi putted up to three feet and said, ‘I’ll finish.’ Seve said, ‘No, you won’t.’ He hadn’t played match play, either, in the Ryder Cup. I mean, incredible.”
Tiger Woods’ decision to concede Francesco Molinari the three foot putt that ensured that Europe won last year’s Ryder Cup at Medinah outright enraged many Americans. He’d just missed a three footer himself and argued that it made no difference as the trophy would remain in European hands no matter what happened.
The Italian said: “You know, I thought about giving him the halve on the fairway, but then the Captain was there, the Chairman was the there, they told me, it’s not the same, winning or halving, so get focused and do your best, and that’s what I did. So I just tried to win the hole, to win the tournament, basically. I was getting ready to hit the putt. I wasn’t expecting him to give it to me.”
Woods justified his actions, explaining: “After all that went down, my putt was useless. It was inconsequential. So I hit it too quick, and gave him his putt, and it was already over.”
His gesture contrasted with that of Nick Faldo, who refused to concede a six-foot putt to Paul Azinger on the 18th in 1993. The US had already won the trophy but it was to tie their match. Naturally, Faldo was giving nothing to the famously antagonistic Azinger.
The 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline will go down as one of the most controversial of all time for the 17th green invasion by some US players and their wives and girlfriends after Justin Leonard holed a 45-foot birdie putt against Jose Maria Olazabal.
Montgomerie was heckled so badly that his father left the course and Payne Stewart was so disgusted by the behaviour of US fans that he conceded a lengthy putt to the Scot on the final green.
Paul McGinley conceded an even longer putt to JJ Henry on the final green at The K Club in 2006 after a streaker had run across the American’s line. Skipper Ian Woosnam was not so pleased as it prevented Europe from winning the Ryder Cup by the biggest margin in the history of the competition.
“I’ll have a word with Paul McGinley later,” Woosnam said to gales of laughter. “It could have been a record. But let’s just say, I’m very, very happy.”
When it comes to gimmes, it doesn’t always end in smiles.