FORT MYERS, Fla. | It’s one of the most repeated quotes in golf, attributed to Bobby Jones, but it could have come from any of the game’s greats. “A good putter is a match for any man.”
Man, woman or child, the point is, putting masks a lot of mistakes. As Paul Azinger has told me more often than I can count, “If you can drive it great, wedge it great, and putt it great, you’ll have a Hall of Fame career.” Butch Harmon told me something similar, although in much more Harmonesque language. “The secret of golf is simple,” Butch said. “Don’t hit it out of bounds and putt like a madman.”
Which brings us to Saturday’s final round at the Drive On Championship where, moments after the final group teed off on the first hole, India’s Aditi Ashok rolled in a three-footer on the final green at Crown Colony Golf & Country Cub to shoot a career-low 63. With it, Ashok vaulted up the leaderboard from making the cut on the number to finishing inside the top 15.
It was all because of one club: the putter.
“I was putting really good,” Ashok said. “I made almost everything. Every chance I got, I made the putt, which was great.”
She finished the day with 23 putts. To put that into perspective, Inbee Park, one of the greatest putters in history, man or woman, led the LPGA Tour in putting last year. Her average was 28.71 putts per round. Lydia Ko, the putter every golfer wants to be, averaged 28.79 putts last year and was first on Tour in putts per green hit in regulation.
This week two years ago, Ko was ranked 46th in the Rolex Rankings. Today, she is no.3 in the world.
“Putting takes a lot of pressure off the rest of your game,” Ben Crenshaw told me some years back. It allows you to hit the occasional sweeping hook, as Ben did more than once.
“I wasn't hitting it as good as I wanted to,” Ashok said on Saturday. “I feel like I was not in control most of the time, so I was holing like 10-, 20-footers. Still, the putting worked, so it was a good day.”
Those are not words you hear often when a player posts 9-under par for a round. But it goes to show you the power of a hot putter.
“I think I was kind of playing with a draw. Well, I was calling it a hook, but my dad was being nice. He was calling it a draw,” Ashok said. “I was turning the ball right-to-left a lot. After a couple holes I was just like, ‘I have to play with it today.’ I think it worked well.”
She made some long ones, a couple of 25-footers and at least one on 17 that was 30 feet.
“That's not usual for me,” she said. “Those you're just trying to make a two-putt.”
It’s not often that you think you left some out there when you post a career low, but Ashok also said, “I still missed three putts which were 10 to 15 feet. When I think about that, if I just look at my percentage, 10 to 15 feet, I guess it's obviously great, but I still missed three of them where they were kind of similar putts that I had the whole day.
“I'm greedy, so I feel like I should have made those three. But it was still a good putting day for me.
“I feel like the last few years, every time I’ve had a hot start, I haven't really kept it going. I've kind of tried to guard the score. So, I was just telling myself to not think about the score and just birdie every hole I can. I was trying to birdie every hole. I think the aggressive mindset is what did it for me.”
She also hit 14 greens in regulation, a good but not extraordinary number, which, once again proves that a magic putter is worth its weight in gold.
“I think hitting the greens is what does it for me, because I've always been a good putter,” Ashok said. “It's just when you're putting for par, it's hard to make a score. So, I I've been working a lot on hitting greens. I did that last week at Gainbridge and today, obviously.
“I think that's a key for me going into this year.”
A 63 is also a big confidence boost for a player still looking to find her place on the LPGA Tour.
“Obviously, I know I have it in me,” she said. “I finished 10-under over three days. Nine of those birdies were on one day, so I know I have the good scores in me. It's just about putting three or four good rounds together.
“I'm playing with the best girls in the world so it's hard every week. If I can do my best, I think it's good enough out here.
“I spent like four or five years thinking that my game wasn't as good. I think a few years ago I wouldn't even think that a 63 was possible. I think that belief in myself that I can shoot low numbers on this tour is what is taking me forward.”
Belief and a solid putter: together they can take you a long way in this game.