Gimme a Break

Exploiting a few feet of loopholes in the game of integrity
Some gimmes won’t be as friendly as 1969’s famous concession with Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. Photo by Dennis Oulds/Getty Images

Within a roughly 3-foot radius of every cup (maybe 4 or even 4½ if you’re good) sits a gray area where golf’s greatest sorrows collide with its most gracious gifts. Putts that could’ve been devastating short misses or hard lip-outs are conceded as assumed makes. The gimme is both an act of unparalleled sportsmanship and poltroonish self-preservation. It’s also ripe for the picking.

I’m not against gimmes, even though technically they take the purpose of a game where the goal is to get the ball into the hole and turn it into one we might as well call “Get it close and keep it moving.” (Put another way: Would you give a basketball player two points for driving into the paint?) Philosophical ideals go out the window when you’re waiting for an eternity in the fairway while a group of hacky amateurs grinds over their 2-footers.

Gimmes are well-intentioned and serve a purpose. And when you’re trying to win no matter the name of the game, it’s time to examine the dark arts of using them to your advantage.

The length at which a gimme is given never will be officially settled, which means this loosely defined formality has some built-in loopholes. Here are some foolproof ways to use them:

The One-Footed Leaner

Walk up to your 3-footer with a mix of confidence and frustration—muttering to yourself along the way really sells it—then stand on one foot, contort yourself in an effort to avoid “someone else’s line” and give the putt a quick tap without lining it up at all. If it goes in, great. If not, just scoop it with your putter and exit stage left. When someone asks your score on that hole, assume the gimme was given. No one will press you on it. If they do, act shocked and sincerely offer to go back and hit the putt “for real.” The more passive-aggressive playing partners may give you an eye roll, but even they won’t make you go back to the green. Count it.

The Flagstick Smacker

The USGA’s recent declaration that the flagstick may remain in the hole while putting is a gimme thief’s greatest new asset. For this sneak, walk quickly up to your ball—again, don’t line it up (never line it up)—and hit it as hard as you can into the flagstick. This action says, “If I’m accurate enough to hit the flagstick, I obviously would’ve made the putt.” Your playing partners will have no choice but to agree with this unspoken sentiment.

The Back-Handed Poker

The cousin of the One-Footed Leaner. If you’re right-handed, putt the ball lefty using the back side of your putter. (A variant of this method can be done with a wedge if you’ve chipped into gimme-stealing range.) If you skull it or chunk it, no one will blame you. Nonchalance is key here. Walk to the hole with the assumption that the ball is already in. Make or miss, you’re not surprised. It was obviously a gimme. That’s why you didn’t actually try to make it. 

Turning unspoken etiquette into self-serving practice: It’s a tale older than Old Tom Morris. Besides, it’s not stealing if you don’t get caught, right?