Just Send It Sniffing

Faxon and Bacon endeavor to make sense of the lip out

Broadcaster/former PGA Tour star/putting guru Brad Faxon and broadcaster/former mini-tour player/TGJ contributor Shane Bacon let us in on an email thread where they shared some of their favorite lipping out stories, tried to explain the unexplainable and perhaps offered a bit of hope during those dark times.

Brad Faxon: Shane, I know you’re too busy lipping putts at Bandon Dunes right now to respond, so I’ll start. I have a great story about a putt I hit in 1987 at Torrey Pines on Sunday on No. 18 for eagle. I had seen Corey Pavin do this at Colonial the year before: He hit a 15-footer for birdie, and halfway to the hole, he knew it was in, so he turned away and raised his arms. It went in for birdie and he won by a bunch. Well, my putt was to take the lead if it went in. It was 55 feet down the hill, down the tier, and, as it got about 4 feet away, I thought it was dead center. I turned around, raised my arms…and never heard a roar. When I looked back at the hole, my caddie had the towel in his mouth in disbelief. It was evidently a very, verrrry slow lip out, and—thankfully, I guess—I never saw it.  

Shane Bacon: I’m back! And that is brutal. I had a lot of lips at Bandon. LOTTTSSSSSS. I’m not sure if it’s a sign of a good putter or a bad putter. The pessimist in me says the latter, but I’m hoping someone like you will tell me it’s the former! 

BF: There is an old saying that great putters lip in more putts than average putters. I would call that good touch. Along those lines, when I teach people who are lipping out a lot of putts, I tell them that’s a good thing: You’re close!

SB: So when you were on Tour at your peak and you hit a lip with a putt, did you find yourself more frustrated that it didn’t go in or were you content that the putt was just about what you were trying to do, but it just didn’t exactly hit that damn circle perfect enough to lean on Mr. Newton? 

BF: It would depend on the length or maybe the difficulty of the putt. If it was outside 15 feet or so and it kept your attention—when you stayed crouched over in your posture—and it lipped out, that was always a good sign you’ve hit a great putt. Too many players, and I mean good players on Tour, expect all putts to go in, and get a little perfectionistic. I like the saying “rub of the green,” which is golfspeak for “luck.”

SB: Give me your best lip-out story on Tour.

BF: It’s not a specific lip-out story, but I remember as a young player I would act mad when I hit putts that didn’t go in the center. I would walk off the green—during tournaments—and pretend I only wanted them to go in if they went in the center. It was actually a little Bryson [DeChambeau]-like. Rarely smiled. When I got a bit older and a little more mature, I met [Ben] Crenshaw, and he told me he used to have bets with other Tour players and he would have to putt it to the right lip or left lip. Then I thought it would be cool to use only half the hole. It became cool to the guys out there when putts went in from all over the place. Players would compliment me on how I had great touch, or that my roll was different because my putts always seemed to dive in rather than dive out.

SB: So you were Steph Curry, shaking his head when a free throw doesn’t swish! I was also wondering what you tell players you work with about composure on the greens. How can you explain to professionals who feel they never make a mistake on the golf course that lipping out can be something positive?

BF: That’s a good question. I always felt at my best when I had some rhythm and flow, similar to great shooters like Steve Kerr, Ray Allen, Michael Jordan or, my favorite, Larry Bird. Each had different styles, but they embraced them. The other day, I was telling a player I’m helping that my last practice putt before heading to the first tee could be a massive lip out and it wouldn’t bother me, as long as I was in the state of mind that the process was the goal. You can have days where it felt good and nothing dropped. It’s part of the game—the rub of the green. Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods ruin it for players with the phrase, “They own their swing.” People think they should own putting. No chance. I had a caddie and great friend who played mini tours and ran the men’s grill at Isleworth for years. He used to say to me, “Fax, just send it sniffing.” I got a kick out of every putt that even had a chance. To me, if you hit a 20-footer or longer and it kept your attention and was close or lipped out, how can you let that bother you?

“The last putt I hit before heading to the first tee could be a massive lip out and it wouldn’t bother me. The process is the goal.”

Brad Faxon

One part of putting that rarely gets talked about is the post-putt routine: How do you talk to yourself? How do you respond? Can you stay upbeat and positive when things aren’t going in, or feel or touch isn’t on one day? Too many players think that every day should feel the same, and typically they blame mechanics and don’t have body awareness to know that each day can feel quite different. That’s why I love teaching skills like putting it off the toe or heel, or with a short stroke or smooth long stroke like Crenshaw. Can you crouch over like Jack Nicklaus or stand tall like Ray Floyd and still make them? I tried feeling wristy or stiff armed, and even imitated others when I putted.    

SB: I think that’s why putting is the most interesting part of golf. Iron play is more beautiful to watch, and driving showcases power, but putting is truly a unique aspect in every regard. Hit a putt with speed and take the break out. Firm right lip or just outside the hole and let it slowly curve in. We’ve seen traditional and cross-hand and belly and arm-lock and face-on and lefty-righty (shoutout Notah!) all win huge tournaments, and all look like they had the answer. A putt can be perfect and not go in, and a horrible putt can hit the lip and somehow, some way, drop. (In matches against me, this usually happens around the 17th hole.) It’s miraculous.

I think about Tiger at Torrey Pines back in 2008, and all the factors that went into that 72nd-hole birdie to tie Rocco Mediate. The putt was downhill and breaking away from him on bumpy greens. It had a lot of speed when it hit the lip—similar to the one Tiger made against Bob May to get into that playoff at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship—and went down. Of course it goes down! The lip, I guess, knows a little more about the player hitting the putt than we give it credit for. Do you really think Tiger was going to hit that lip and have a cruel three o’clock lip out? Of course not.

BF: And Shane, that putt by Tiger at Torrey was shown in slow motion from many angles: The ball was rolling, bumping, sliding and turning throughout the putt and never really looked like it was going in. It was Tiger’s will that forced it down; many others would have seen a power lip out that would have careened the ball around the cup likely 3 or 4 feet by. He also had control over his famous chip from beyond the green at Augusta’s 16th while the ball waited interminably on the top edge before falling in and igniting another momentous celebration. Compare that to the cruelest lip out of all time for Joe Daley, tapping in at Q-School to secure his Tour card, and it hits the lip of the liner and caroms back at his feet. Dreadful and painful. Both ends of the spectrum. Rub of the green.