Why ‘inside-the-leather’ gimme-putt range is more complicated than you might think

The gimme term "inside the leather" has taken on two meanings. Which camp do you reside in?

GOLF.com

Anyone who doubts that golfers today have gotten soft need look no further than last fall’s Ryder Cup, where several of the greatest talents in the game stooped to grousing over un-conceded putts.

They did so wordlessly, laying down their putters with the blade inside the cup to prove that their balls had been “inside the leather.”

Wahhh!

They should have known better than to ask for handouts.

They also should have been advised about the meaning of the phrase “inside the leather,” because not everyone defines it in the same way.

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Exactly when the phrase came into being is difficult to say. But according to The Historical Dictionary of Golf (2011), a Webster’s-worthy exploration of golf lingo by Bill Mallon and Rand Jerris, “inside the leather” originally referred to the distance from “the grip end of the club to the end of the grip, or about 12 inches.” 

In other words, when you played “inside the leather,” your putt was good only if it was shorter than the length of the grip itself.

Over time, though, the phrase evolved. Exactly when that happened is also hard to say. But at some point, a majority of golfers arrived at a new definition of “inside the leather.” For them, Mallon and Jerris report, it became the measurement “from the putter head to the bottom of the grip, or about 24 inches.”

Just like that, the game became easier.

And a zillion golfers with the yips breathed a sigh of relief.

Which doesn’t mean it was a change for the better.

Under its new definition, “inside the leather” didn’t just become more generous. It also got more vague, especially as long putters came into fashion.

What counts as “inside the leather” when not all putters are the same length?

In professional stroke-play competition, the question is moot since you putt out everything. But it’s highly relevant for amateur golfers, who rely heavily on “inside the leather” as a guide.

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Even among average Joes and Janes, though, not everyone agrees on the parameters of “inside the leather.”

In a recent Reddit poll of more than 300 golfers, 124 respondents (just more 40 percent) said that they define “inside the leather” in the old-school way, as in the length of the grip itself, not the distance from the clubhead to the bottom of the grip.

Good for them!

Putting is part of golf. If you can’t make a two-footer, you should be punished, just as you are if you spray one off the tee.

In golf these days, some traditionalists are calling for a rollback of the ball.

The Etiquetteist would like to see a rollback of language, a return to a time when “inside the leather” meant inside the leather for everyone. None of this namby-pamby “bottom of the grip to the putter head” stuff.

What’s that you say? Being generous with gimmes helps improve pace of play?

Spare me! If you want to save time, stop your whining (and inside-the-leather measuring), step up and knock it in.

josh sens

Josh Sens

Golf.com Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.