All golfers have heard the well-worn phrase about putting – “You drive for show but you putt for dough.”
The importance of putting in the game of golf is drilled into the mind of all players from the moment they take it up and it’s easy to see why.
As a rule of thumb, at all levels of the game, the number of putts a golfer takes during a round will make up approximately 40% of their total score.
This percentage is of course variable depending on how you are playing but however you slice it, the number of putts you take to complete a round is going to be a key determining factor in what your score will be.
So how many putts per round is good?
|HANDICAP||AVG. PUTTS PER ROUND||AVG. SCORE|
|Sources: PGA Tour, MyGolfSpy|
The data shows that to break 100 you need to have 36 putts per round on average. To get below 90 putts must drop to 34 while to break 80 takes 32 putts a round. The best pros breaking 70 will only take 27 putts. 34 putts or less per round must therefore be judged good putting for the average golfer.
However, to assess whether you are putting well or not compared to your peers you should not now simply compare the number of putts you take per round to the averages given in the table above.
It is vital to understand that putting is not an independent metric and that whether you are above or below average in terms of the number of putts you take per round can be explained in a variety of different ways.
It may indeed mean you are a good putter but it may also mean you do not hit many greens in regulation or you consistently hit the ball close with your approach shots.
And forget about what you see on the TV.
Just because you see professionals holing a bunch of putts on the highlights reel does not necessarily mean they are all great putters or indeed are aiming to hole every putt!
Putts per Round is a Poor Measure of Putting Skill
Measuring the number of putts you take in any given round is a statistic which has been used by golfers for a long time to assess their putting performance.
And there is one simple reason for this – it is the easiest putting statistic to measure.
But that does not mean it is the best statistic to measure whether you are putting well or have taken a good number of putts for the round you have just played.
And the reason the number of putts you have taken in a round is not the best statistic for measuring whether you have putted well on any given day is that it takes no account of the distance you have hit your putts from or the number of greens in regulation you hit.
Let’s take an example of two players playing together.
One hits all 18 greens in regulation and 2 putts every green but none of his first putts were from closer than 30 feet.
The second player also hits all 18 greens in regulation but is within 10 feet of the hole for every birdie putt and as a result makes 6 birdies.
Putting vs Scoring fact: In 2019, Rory McIlroy had the best average score (69.1) on the PGA Tour but was 14th in the list of average putts per round and tied only 24th on the list of ‘Strokes Gained Putting’.PGA Tour
The first player takes 36 putts and scores 72 compared to the second player who takes 30 putts and scores 66.
So the second player is clearly the better putter and that is why he had the better round?
The short answer is no he isn’t and just by measuring the average number of putts per round you will not get a true representation of how good a putter a golfer is.
As shown by the above example the player who hits the ball to farther away from the hole but is a fantastic putter will be hidden by the number of putts per round statistic.
They are better on the greens than the player who hits alot of great iron shots closer to the hole, and therefore makes more putts, but you can’t tell that by simply looking at the total number of putts in the round.
That is the reason why tour professionals now measure their putting performance using the metric of ‘Strokes Gained Putting’ rather than average putts per round.
And that is because this metric takes account of the distance of each putt.
Old habits die hard, but using putts per round instead of strokes gained putting is like driving a horse and buggy when a car is parked out front.Professor Mark Broadie, author of ‘Every Shot Counts’
To calculate ‘strokes gained putting’ the major golfing tours calculate the average number of putts a pro takes to hole out from every distance.
This gives each player what is called their “putting benchmark”.
During a tournament a player’s putts are then compared to their benchmark to determine whether their putting has caused them to gain or lose strokes on individual holes.
For example, if a pros ‘putting benchmark’ from 10 feet is 1.5 putts and they one putt from that distance on the first hole they will ‘gain’ 0.5 strokes.
If they two putt from the same distance on the second hole they lose 0.5 strokes.
And therefore over the course of a round a player can gain an insight into whether they putted well or badly by measuring how many putting strokes they gained or lost over 18 holes.
There is an additional calculation done on the pro tours to give a final strokes gained putting figure, which is based on an assessment of how easy or hard the greens are on a particular day, but the basics of the measurement are based on the individual’s putting benchmark as explained above.
Now that’s fine for the pros I hear you say but what about the average amateur player who doesn’t have the time or tools to work out their putting benchmark and measure how far each putt they hit every round is.
I agree and clearly this is not a very practical measure for the amateur player.
I am simply highlighting it to show that you should not look at the average number of putts you take in a round as the true arbiter of how you are putting.
As we’ve seen it really depends on how long your putts are and how many greens you have hit.
So what’s an alternative stat that amateur players can more easily use to asses their putting performance better than the average number of putts per round?
Mark Sweeney, the founder of AimPoint Golf, teacher of five world #1 ranked players and named one of golf’s Top Innovators by Golf Digest Magazine, proposes a rough and ready formula to answer the question – “Did I putt well today or not?”
Based on tour players’ putting and scrambling stats he proposes adding 22.5 to the number given by dividing the number of greens in regulation you have hit by 2.
In formula terms this equates to the following:
Good number of putts = (GIR divided by 2) plus 22.5 or (GIR / 2) + 22.5
This would mean if you hit 8 greens your target putts per round number would be 26.5 or (8 / 2) + 22.5.
If you 18 greens a good putting number would by comparison be 31.5.
This statistic will still not give you a good representation of how good your putting is from different distances as ‘strokes gained putting’ does but it will give a better representation of pure putting performance during your round than the total number of putts in your round.
Less 3 Putts is the Fast Way to Good Putting Stats
The number of stats in golf can be overwhelming and working out which ones actually matter most for your own game can feel that it requires a college degree in itself.
One quick glance at the stats pages of the major professional tours can lead you to getting lost in a sea of numbers and more than a hundred metrics and measures.
Taking account of these is fine if you are a professional player and have teams of people to help you but what about the average recreational golfer who barely has time to get to the first tee in time never mind pore over all their stats before, during and after a round to work out how well each aspect of their game is going.
The good news when it comes to putting though is that one statistic is the main key to measure for the vast majority of average golfers.
And that is the number of times you three putt.
Reducing your number of 3 putts has been proven time and again to be the quickest way to shaving strokes of your score for the vast majority of amateur golfers.
And the simple reason the average golfer with a handicap of over 15 will 3 putt between 3-4 times every round (that is almost 6 times more than the average PGA tour player) – is because they leave their first putt too far away from the hole.
Shotscope has found that the average distance the average 20 handicapper leaves their first putt away from the hole is almost 9ft.
The bad news with that according to Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor and author of Every Shot Counts, is that tour professionals make less than half (only 48%) of their putts from 9 feet. (Check here to see my review of Professor Broadie’s fantastic book)
So what chance does the average golfer have of making that 2nd putt of about 9 feet if the pros can’t do it half the time?
Peter Sanders, stats guru to numerous PGA Tour players, including two-time major winner Zach Johnson, also highlights just how bad the average golfers’ mid-range putting can be.
While on the PGA Tour the pros’ average 2-putt range is 35 feet – in other words only when putts reach a length of 35 feet will pros start 3 putting more than they 1 putt – the average 2-putt range for the average golfer with a handicap of between 15-19 reduces to just 16 feet.
As he points out 16 feet is a relatively short distance for the average golfer to start regularly three-putting.
So his view is that all recreational golfers should stop trying to hole putts from over 16 feet and simply start to aim to get the ball closer to the hole to give themselves a better chance of avoiding those damaging 3 putts.
Remember, that despite what you see on the TV with professionals seemingly endlessly holing long puts, the statistics show that they actually hole very few long putts.
From over 20 feet they will on average only make 15% of them – in other words they are only, in reality, holing those putts once in nearly 7 attempts!
And despite what they may say in interviews afterwards from that distance they are very rarely aiming to make those putts.
At that distance they are focusing more on getting down in 2 by getting their first putt close enough.
And if it goes in then it is a bonus rather than being their primary intention.
So if you are looking to shave a number of strokes off your score get focusing on those mid to longer-range putts.
Mark suggests that for amateurs the ideal practice distance is 11-30 feet for 3 reasons:
- Over half (that’s 9 greens a round) of the average golfer’s first putt distance takes place from between 11-30 feet.
- From the 11-30 feet distance amateur players are 7-times more likely to three putt than a PGA Tour Player.
- From more than 30 feet the difference between average players and tour pros is much less. They only 3-putt four times as frequently than pros at those greater distances.
When over 16 feet from the hole your goal should therefore be to give yourself a realistic chance of making a 2 putt rather than making the putt.
Speed much more than line matters on these occasions and aiming to get your first putt within a 2-3 feet imaginary circle around the hole is ideal.
If you do that chances are you will go a long way to reducing those number of 3-putts.
Stopping yourself from 3-putting is not easy but the rewards are high – a 25 handicapper would shave 4.25 shots off every round by eliminating three-putts.
Good scoring is still possible without a lot of 1 putts but there is absolutely no way you will score well with a lot of three putts.
Putts per round is not the best statistic to measure your putting on but the old adage of ‘drive for show and putt for dough’ is also not the correct one.
As statistics become an ever-increasing part of the game of golf there is evidence now to show that despite the old sayings about how important putting is other parts of your game are as, if not more, important.
However, every score in golf ends on the putting green and whatever standard of player you are putting will still make up approximately 40% of your total score.
So it still does, and always will, remain a critical component of the game and taking fewer putts, particularly 3-putts, will lower your score and sometimes quite significantly.
In other words, when it comes to the greens and what stat is most important, you need to reduce those 3 putts more than anything else.
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