Inside the Leather: What the Golf Expression Means

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"Inside the leather" is a phrase used by golfers that refers to the distance of a golf ball to the hole when a ball is resting on the putting green close to the hole. When a golf ball is "inside the leather," it is closer to the hole than the distance from the head of the putter to the bottom end of the grip on the putter's shaft.

Inside the Leather Is the Measurement Used for 'Gimmes'

Golfer A might say to Golfer B, "That ball is inside the leather, how about giving me this putt?" That's how "inside the leather" is used a measurement between golfers who are using "gimmes."

A gimme, or "gimme putt," is a putt that is so short one golfer asks another, "will you give me that one?" That means the golfer with the short putt is asking to pick up his ball without having to hole out, under the assumption (or sometimes hope) that the putt is so short it is virtually unmissable.

If Golfer B is unsure whether the putt qualifies as a gimme, he might measure to see if the putt is "inside the leather." This is done by placing the head of the putter at the edge of the cup. If the ball is closer to the hole than the bottom edge of the grip on the putter, than it is "inside the leather" and qualifies as a gimme.

(Note that gimmes are always illegal under the rules in stroke play, but many golf buddies, playing friendly matches or even betting matches, allow gimmes.)

The Meaning of 'Inside the Leather' Has Changed Over Time

Today, most golfers define "inside the leather" as the length of the putter as measured up from the clubhead to the bottom edge of the grip on the other end of the shaft.

However, when the expression first entered golf, it had a different meaning: It used to mean the distance from the top end of the shaft down to the bottom of the putter grip.

That's a big difference. In the definition most commonly used today, inside the leather equates to approximately two feet. In the original definition, it equated to approximately one foot or less.

The exact measurement depends on the length of one's putter and the grip on one's putter. One caveat for groups that use inside the leather: long putters/belly putters are usually banned from being used to measure "inside the leather." A conventional-length putter is the proper instrument.

If your group prefers the original meaning (the shorter length, from the top end of the shaft to the bottom edge of the grip), then use it. Most groups today prefer the longer measurement (from the clubhead up to the bottom of the grip) because that results in more gimme putts.

Why 'Leather' is Used in this Golf Expression

One might be wondering why the expression is inside the leather when putter grips are (for the most part) not made of leather. The reason is that putter grips once were almost all made of leather. The common putter grip was once a strip of leather about one inch wide that was wrapped around and down the top end of the putter shaft. Leather grips are sometimes still used by traditionalists or for nostalgia reasons, but most putter grips today are made of rubber and rubber compounds.