It’s been a highly scrutinised past month or so for two golfers’ putting strokes.

Will Zalatoris finished a close runner-up at consecutive Majors with a putting stroke on short ones that looks like a mid-putt seizure, while Lexi Thompson (again) coughed up a glorious opportunity to win a second Major at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship though a series of short miscues.

Both sublime ball-strikers, Zalatoris and Thompson are walking, swinging proof that rarely are golfers given every skill in this game.

I feel for both of them on a level that, while it doesn’t touch anywhere near their eliteness, nonetheless recognises the pain. I was a terrific putter as a kid. It helped make up for a lack of distance that still plagues my game, but I was maybe the equivalent of a 2-handicapper with a wedge or putter in hand at a time when my actual handicap was high single figures or just beyond. Until my late 20s, I’d see putts and often find two or three different combinations of line and speed in order to hole them. I’d simply pick the one that felt right and invariably sink it. Easy. Now I’m just happy not to embarrass myself with a flatstick in hand.

Some days are better than others. A switch to a claw-style grip helped but I miss the belly putter that definitely made me a safer putter from close range (even if it meant I holed almost nothing outside 10 feet). Yet despite the putter feeling like a rattlesnake at times, I can still manage sub-30 putts on occasion and almost always keep total putts below 34 or 35 for 18 holes, but it just feels like I can’t putt anymore, especially from close range. That’s not a mindset you want walking onto a green.

My theory is – and watching Zalatoris in particular seems to support it – the longer the stroke, the less tension. In other words, it’s not the short putt that builds pressure or anxiety, it’s the short stroke required. Like the American, I’m OK with longer and mid-range putts; it’s the little ’uns that usually bring me undone.

Will Zalatoris’ scary stroke on short putts has been analysed at length.

Noted Australian instructor Matt Ballard sees a physical reaction in many golfers in this situation.

“Reducing heart rate is one factor that could attribute to this anxiety golfers face over shorter putts,” says the national coach for the Singapore Golf Association, and a specialist when it comes to putting and the short game. “Once a player gets their heart rate above 115 beats per minute, their fine motor skills start to deteriorate (this is ultimately their touch and feel).

“Think of it this way: imagine I asked you to sign your autograph neatly if you were being chased by a tiger or lion. I’d bet it would be hard to do at all, let alone neatly.”

Thompson might not have a tiger on her tail, but she does have a monkey on her back. She missed several short putts on Sunday to let In Gee Chun escape with the Women’s PGA title, just as she did down the stretch at last year’s US Women’s Open. As American golf writer Steve Eubanks noted this week in Global Golf Post, “with Thompson, the backstroke gets short, the head moves backward, and the putter moves up, almost as if she’s trying a fadeaway basketball jumper.”

What’s perhaps also curious is the age at which Zalatoris and Thompson are struggling on the greens. It’s common and almost understandable when a putting stroke deteriorates with age, but he is 25 and she is 27.

However, both have improved their putting statistics. He ranks 40th for putting average on the PGA Tour and she’s 30th on the LPGA circuit for putts per green in regulation (no small feat for someone who leads the GIR stat), up from 76th last season when Thompson also led the GIR percentage. But it’s like I see with my own game: numbers and stats don’t count for much when you’re under the gun and facing an important putt. And the empirical evidence makes for far heavier mental baggage on the greens.

Ballard says golfers who are coming unstuck on the greens should experiment with a different grip or approach, as Zalatoris and Thompson have.

“Twisting the grip and/or the force we create on the grip is what has the most effect on putter delivery and impact on the ball, since our hands are the only point of contact with the club,” he says. “What your hands and wrists do while holding onto the club have a direct influence over the putterhead speed, path, clubface and delivery.

“Reducing the degrees of freedom in the wrists can be one way to eliminate unnecessary movement in the wrists. A change in grip – left-hand low, claw, pencil, armlock, etc. can help reduce the degrees of freedom the wrists have while holding onto the putter.

“For most golfers… the wrists must and will move to generate speed. Trying to eliminate them all together will rob you of any touch or feel you have.”

So that’s the technical stuff covered, but as Ballard says, it’s the heart that remains at the heart of the matter.

“The first step is to be aware of an increasing heart rate,” he says. “Then do breathing exercises to get it back under control, so you can execute freely from short range on the greens.”