The 21 (Twenty-One) Golf Putting Game: Don't Leave It Short

"21" (or "Twenty-One") is the name of a golf putting game that can help golfers who struggle getting their putts to the hole. Leave it short on a regular basis? Playing 21 might help. Or it might cost you some money if you and your buddies have a wager at stake.

The name of the game (21) refers to the number of points that members of the group are trying to hit. (21 is best for a group of four golfers.) Before the round, group members ante up into the pot. The golfer in the group who earns 21 points first wins the pot.

How are points earned? First, understand that points are only earned by your first putt on the green on each hole. Second putts, third putts, or worse don't matter for the 21 game.

There are two ways to win points and one way to lose them:

  • Any golfer who sinks the ball on his first putt on a hole earns 6 points.
  • If nobody sinks that first putt, then the golfer whose ball is closest to the hole after those first putts earns 3 points. However, if you are closest to the hole but left your putt short, you don't get 3 points, you only get 1 point.
  • If you leave your first putt short of the hole, you lose 3 points. (Which means that even if you are short but closest to the hole, you lose two points: minus-3 for being short, plus-1 for being closest).
The first golfer to teach 21 points win the pot. Clearly, if one member of the group is a much better putter than the other three, that golfer has a major advantage. (If someone is putting lights out, the pot might be won quickly.)

And if you are notorious in your group for leaving putts short, you are at a disadvantage. And that's why we said at the top that 21 is a good game for people who leave putts short: If you want to have any chance in this game, you better get the ball to the hole.

In his book Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, Chi Chi Rodriguez says that Twenty-One is popular among both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour golfers. Some golfers on those tours, Rodriguez says, will keep track of their points earned in 21 over the course of the full tour year, compare points at the end of the year with others who are doing the same, and then pay out the differences. You can do the same with your buddies if you have a regular, weekly game, or if you are playing in a league over the summer.

You can also keep the game going the full round in a group of golfers who are all pretty evenly matched. That is, rather than paying out the pot when someone hits 21 points, just keep counting points throughout the whole round. In this scenario, high points at the end wins. (You can also combine these two approaches: Hit 21 first, win the pot; have the high points at the end of the match, win the agreed-upon wager from each of the other three golfers.)

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