It’s a hot potato all right! When the PGA asked a similar question on their Facebook page, they were overwhelmed with more than 500 posts about the various approaches to this old chestnut. Some folks hold passionate views about the benefits of the gimme, especially if it speeds up play. The purists detest the practice and steadfastly believe that balls should be played to the hole regardless.
A gimme or conceded putt is a legitimate option in match play. There is little point in asking or expecting your opponent to putt out when they have three shots to win the hole and only three feet to do so. In this particular instance, you might wait out the result of their first putt and, assuming it hasn’t rolled off the green into a bunker and it is, in fact, closer to the hole, then giving the “gimme” and conceding is a reasonable expectation.
Remember though, the gimme must be given and not expected nor asked for. Dishing out your gimmes strategically in match play can psych out your opponent especially if they are showing any signs of nerves or you have worked out that short putts are not their strength.
In stroke play, Stableford, par or any other sort of competitive format, the gimme is forbidden. You must count your shots from tee to hole. As tempting as it might be to give the putt to a playing partner you risk DQ’ing (disqualifying) yourself for not abiding by the rules of golf… even if the putt is a mere few inches from the pot.
Away from competition, the gimme takes on many guises. In many social settings the gimme is a standard part of the game. It keeps the group moving and speeds up the pace for all concerned. While the competitive edge remains, offering gimmes can make for a more enjoyable round. It also extends a generosity of spirit to all. However, make sure there is a common benchmark or way of measuring the gimme. Many a social game has been ruined by the inconsistent application of the gimme.
The most common measure of a gimme is the distance from the putter head to the start of the grip — “inside the leather.” Pop your putter head into the hole and use the shaft to measure to the ball. If the ball is inside the shaft then it’s a gimme. If it lies inside the grip then it’s outside the gimme range. Check that you all have similar shaft lengths on your putters so as to minimize seething grievances about gimmes during a round.
Some other groups insist that if you are putting for a birdie or better, you must sink the ball in the hole even if you are within birdie range. This can be a shocking realization if you have been given short putts all day and are suddenly feeling the immense pressure of a one-footer when you have not needed to do so. It would be unbecoming to argue the point with your playing partners and remember: gimmes are given by the other players, never demanded by you, despite the protocols on the day.
Those of you who might enjoy a small wager on the course with your friends might find that the gimme range suddenly gets way shorter or is not offered at all. This will depend on your friends, the size of the purse and the level of competition. I can’t recall too many guys who, if faced with losing a $100 on a hole, will allow a gimme to be awarded. “Show me the money” and putt for the dough! The bigger the bucks, the smaller the gimme.
If you want to see what can go wrong with the gimme, check out the monumental gaffe made in the 2015 Solheim Cup. The U.S. team putted within inches on the 17th with the match at all square. The Europe team walked away, which in most cases, is an indication that the putt has been “given.” The U.S. team certainly read it that way and scooped up the putt.
However, Norwegian golfer Suzann Petterson stated that she and her playing partner did not concede the putt and therefore the U.S. team forfeited the hole because they did not putt out. It all ended in tears. Substantial quantities of newsprint were dedicated to this one incident and Petterson’s reputation was left in tatters.
Fascinating stuff — all due to a misunderstanding over a gimme. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
— N. Incoll