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Watch the TV coverage of the PGA Tour for any length of time and you would be forgiven for thinking that the top pros hardly ever miss a putt.
Player after player seems to be rolling the ball in from any distance you care to think of and certainly rarely if ever appears to miss the short putts which cause us regular amateurs countless sleepless nights.
But what is the reality when it comes to the percentages of putts that the pros make?
On average PGA Tour pros make 99% of 2-foot putts, 96% of 3-foot putts, 88% of 4-foot putts and 77% of 5-foot putts according to strokes gained pioneer, Mark Broadie. From 10 feet their one putt percentage is 40%, 23% from 15 feet, 15% from 20 feet, 7% from 30 feet, 4% from 40 feet, 3% from 50 feet and 2% from 60 feet.
But hang on a second I hear some of you say, and especially those of you who sometimes keep an eye on the putting statistics on the PGA Tour website.
PGA Tour stats show pros make almost 100% of putts from inside 3 feet.
Well that stat is also true but that’s the per cent of putts they make when the ball is 3 feet or less from the hole. So it includes all the tap ins from right next to the hole in addition to those which are exactly 3 feet away.
To get a better view of how good the pros are at putting from various distances it is a much better idea to see how they get on from specific distances and if you look closely you will find that although they are indeed great putters amateurs by comparison are not that bad at putting themselves.
Pros Do Not Make As Many Putts As You May Think
The best golf pros in the world playing on the PGA Tour are great putters. There is no question about it.
But if you watch too much golf on TV you may think that they almost never miss a short putt and are regularly rolling in long putts from all over the green.
And as a result you could find yourself expecting to hole most of the 15-foot putts you face on your regular rounds and for certain all of your putts from 10 feet and under because that is what the pros seem to be doing every week.
A closer analysis of the stats of the percentage of putts the pros make from 2 feet all the way to 90 feet, shown in the table below, however will show that they do not hole quite as many as you may think they do.
|PGA TOUR |
ONE PUTT PERCENTAGE
|PGA TOUR |
3 PUTT PERCENTAGE
|PGA TOUR |
AVERAGE NO. PUTTS
|Between 3 to 4||92.49%||–||–|
|Between 4 to 5||81.35%||–||–|
|Between 5 to 6||71.37%||–||–|
|Between 6 to 7||61.98%||–||–|
|Between 7 to 8||54.11%||–||–|
|Between 8 to 9||45.29%||–||–|
|Between 9 to 10||41.54%||–||–|
|Between 10 to 15||30.16%||0.84%||–|
|Between 15 to 20||18.48%||1.29%||–|
|Between 20 to 25||12.11%||2.16%||–|
This data, taken from the official PGA Tour stats and the book ‘Every Shot Counts’ (Amazon link) – written by the pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011, Columbia Business School Professor Mark Broadie – highlights clearly the pros do not one putt as often as TV coverage may suggest.
And if you look at a standard 72-hole PGA Tour tournament as a whole you will find that on average pros make only 4.4 putts from over 10 feet and 1.2 putts from over 20 feet per event.
So despite what impression the TV highlights give you that means the best players in the world are only in reality making 1 putt from over 10 feet a round and only 1 putt from 20 feet across the 72 holes of a complete tournament.
So the next time you start giving yourself a hard time for missing that third or fourth 10 to 15 foot putt just remember that the pros would likely have missed them too more often than not.
[Editor’s note – If you are interested in what putting stats and others are really important to help you improve we would highly recommend the book ‘Every Shot Counts‘ (Amazon link) by Professor Mark Broadie. Check out the review of it here.]
Pros Are Great Putters but Amateurs are Good Too
While all the data shows that the pros do not make as many putts as you may think they are clearly fantastic putters and the best putters in the world.
However traditional golf stats have often proved misleading in explaining why the pros are so much better than regular amateur players.
The old adage of “you drive for show but putt for dough” has been drummed into generations of amateur golfers and allowed the impression to build that it is the short game – chipping and putting – which explains the difference in capability between players.
The reality however – exposed by Professor Broadie and others – is that it is the long game that is more important and that simple fact is almost explained by itself when you look at how many putts the pros average compared to amateurs.
On average PGA Tour pros take 28.92 putts per round according to the official Shotlink data. By comparison typical 90 scoring golfers average 33.4 putts per round but this overstates the skill difference according to strokes gained pioneer, Mark Broadie, because amateur putts typically start further from the hole than pros.
And when you think also that pros are playing on the best putting surfaces in the world it again serves to highlight that putting is not the key thing that explains the mountainous gap in ability between pros and amateur golfers.
After all looking at the average putting stats per round shows it only explains less than 5 strokes of difference between a pros average score and an average 90 scoring golfer and I can’t imagine many regular amateurs accepting close to only 5 strokes for a matchplay game against a PGA Tour pro!
“A 90-golfer will beat a pro in almost 10% of rounds. An 80-golfer’s SGP (Strokes Gained Putting) will geat a pro’s almost 20% of the time. And a scratch golfer will putt better than a pro more than 30% of the time. Amateur golfers aren’t bad putters!”Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics adopted by the PGA Tour
In his fantastic book, Every Shot Counts, Professor Broadie again details the comparative percentages of how many putts the average 90 golfer makes to let us clearly see amateurs are actually not that bad when it comes to putting even when compared to the pros.
ONE PUTT PERCENTAGE
3 PUTT PERCENTAGE
AVERAGE NO. PUTTS
Focus on the Number of 3 Putts Pros Make
When it comes to explaining the difference between the putting of the best putters in the world on the PGA Tour and that of us regular golfers it is best not to focus on the number of putts the pros make but rather on the number of putting mistakes they do not make.
And when we are talking about putting mistakes we are focusing exclusively on the dreaded 3-putt!
Whether you are a professional golfer or a weekend hacker 3-putts are scorecard killers and it is when we come to counting how often pros 3 putt compared to amateurs that we see where the real difference lies.
PGA Tour pros 3-putt only 0.51 times per round according to PGA Tour Shotlink stats. From 5 feet their 3-putt percentage is 0.4%, 0.7% from 10 feet, 1.3% from 15 feet and 2.2% from 20 feet. On longer putts of 30 feet that rises to 5%, 10% from 40 feet, 17% from 50 feet, 23% from 60 feet and 41% from 90 feet.
And the key difference when it comes to comparing the putting of the pros to the average 90 scoring golfer is almost lost when you look at the basic data.
For example if you take a quick look at the average number of putts per hole comparison between a PGA Tour player and an average 90-scoring golfer in the graph below there does not appear to be a lot in it from all distances.
That is true but the crucial thing to look at is when those lines start going over the vital regulation ‘2 putts per hole’ mark on average.
For the 90-scoring amateur the dreaded 3-putts start to happen more often to drive that average up over the regulation at just over 16 feet from the hole while for the PGA Tour pros the average 2-putt range is 35 feet.
Given the PGA Tour pros don’t start ending up further than 35 feet from the hole on average until their approach shots are measuring over 200 yards that just shows how often they will manage to avoid adding those highly damaging 3-putts to their scorecards.
So rather than focusing on the question of how many putts the pros make it is probably better for all recreational golfers to focus on the stat of how often pros 3-putt as it by trying to match them in the latter statistic that will most quickly make a difference in your scores.
Because even for the pros 3-putt avoidance is key compared to one putt success.
If you are looking to improve your golf, and looking at the stats of the pros for some guidance, it is absolutely vital that you are clear where pros’ gains are coming from and which parts of your game may benefit from you looking more closely at them.
And when it comes to putting if you only do one thing simply stop counting the number of putts you take per round and start counting the number of times you 3-putt instead.
For the average golfer reducing the number of times they three-putt is the quickest way to take strokes off their score and the best way to do that is to reduce the length of your second putt from those all important mid-range distances of 11 to 30 feet.
Speed control is one of the two fundamentals of putting and it is key to helping you to get the ball closer to the hole with that first putt and avoid those damaging 3 putts.
[Editor’s note – If you are interested in finding out the other best golf stats to measure to help you improve your game check our article the 10 best stats to keep track of here.]
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