Who Is the Alice in 'Nice Putt, Alice'?

You've probably heard the golf expression, "nice putt, Alice," or "hit it, Alice!" The former is sometimes said sarcastically to a golfer who really botched a putt — a bad yank to one side, or leaving the ball well short of the hole. The latter phrase is a pejorative aimed at a golfer who left an approach shot or putt short.

Just who is Alice? Is Alice anyone at all, or is it just a sexist insult (basically, "you hit like a girl")?

You might be surprised to know that the Alice in "nice putt, Alice" — at least, the one who popularized the expression — was a real person. Only "Alice" wasn't her name. And Alice wasn't even a "her." The expression's popularizer is Peter Alliss.

Peter Alliss was a terrific golfer who won more than 20 times around the U.K. and Europe, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. He played on eight British Ryder Cup teams. Later he became world-famous as the golf commentator on the BBC and on ABC golf broadcasts in the United States.

The "Alice" phrases spread around the golf world because of an incident that happened during the 1963 Ryder Cup, as Alliss himself explained in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated back in 1997:

"My name became famous for something that happened at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, during my singles match against Arnold Palmer. I beat him, one up, but not before I yanked a three-foot putt along the way and someone snidely called out, 'Nice putt, Alliss.'

"I didn't say the words myself, and didn't hear who did, but they were certainly said and now are part of the lingua franca of golf."

How did the expression spread from Atlanta, Georgia, back to Alliss' U.K. and then around the world? The network where Alliss later became so famous gets the credit, or blame. The BBC's stable of comedy programs already liked to make "Alice" puns about Alliss — "great humor was found in such knee-slappers as 'That girl Alliss sure hits it a long way'," Peter Alliss explained in SI. And the network picked up on the jeer from the crowd during that 1963 Ryder Cup.

And golfers — most of whom are male, and who, during that time, showed little respect for women's golf (we've learned our lesson on that, right?) — took it from there, even adding variations of "hit it, Alice," to "nice putt, Alice."

However, it's important to note that while the fan jeering Peter Alliss at that Ryder Cup helped the "Alice" golf expressions spread around the world, that incident, and Peter Alliss, were not the origins of the expressions. Alliss himself explained in a 2012 interview with American public radio station NPR that "nice putt, Alice," and "hit it, Alice" far predated him:

"In the 1930s, Alice was a girl's name associated with rather genteel people who were married into the upper classes. And, being a delicate creature, if you didn't hit the ball hard enough, oh, 'come on, Alice'. 'Hit it, Alice'."

Peter's father Percy Alliss was a highly accomplished tournament winner himself, and Peter told NPR that Percy Alliss recollected hearing the jeer directed at himself in the 1930s.

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