As a teacher, I’m always investigating ways to help my players become more proficient both on the golf course and within their practice time. That’s why I am so excited to have come across one of the best books ever written on the subject of golf improvement, Mark Broadie’s Every Shot Counts, and if you are serious about moving your game to the next level I highly recommend that you find the time to read it.

Every Shot Counts tells the story of how conventional golf stats that we have all kept at one time or another can be misleading and can hamper your improvement. One of my favorite examples in the book is when Brody discusses the putts per round stat and how it can be flawed. Think about it: putts per round does not take into account the fact that many of a golfer’s putts might come after a chip shot, not an iron shot, and it doesn’t factor in how long or how short a putt is.

Brody suggests many other ways to look at putting in an effort to improve your approach and improve your scores. In this article, I’d like to show you how you might be diligently practicing your putting, but doing it in such a way that you are not improving as fast as you could or not improving at all!

There are two goals that every player should focus on while working on their putting:

  1. One-putting more often from the statistical distances that makes sense to your level of play.
  2. Eliminating three putts from the statistical distances that make sense to your level of play.

Here’s a chart that shows the probability of one-putting from different distances depending on a golfer’s ability level:

One Putting Table

Let’s examine a few of the data points in more detail:

  • For all players, any putt inside 2 feet is almost a guaranteed make.
  • For better players, 3-foot putts are almost a given unless something radical happens.
  • For golfers who shoot in the 90’s, 3-foot putts start to become an issue (84 percent success rate).
  • Between 5 and 8 feet, a tour professional’s proficiency drops off dramatically.
  • Between 5 to 8 feet, scratch golfers begin to show their putting weakness.
  • Outside of 5 feet, 90’s shooters have extreme difficulty one-putting.
  • At 10 feet, tour professional only make 40 percent of their putts.
  • At 20 feet, a 90’s shooter isn’t half as good as a scratch golfer, but the difference between a scratch player and a tour pro is a mere 1 percent.

The numbers show that tour pros should focus their practice on 8-to-10-foot putts and 90’s shooters are better off practicing putts of 4-to-10 feet. 90’s shooters should forget working on longer putts, with one putting short putts being their only goal.

Here’s a chart that shows the probability of golfers of different ability levels three-putting from different distances:

Three Putting Table

Let’s examine the data points in more detail:

  • Lag putting work from 20 feet and in is basically a waste of time for the tour pro and scratch player.
  • The idea of lag putting for 90’s shooters should begin at 20-to-25 feet.
  • For the tour pro and scratch player, the thought of lag putting should begin around 40 feet.
  • 50-to-60-foot putts for the average golfer spell “three putt.”

For the levels we have discussed, here’s the synopsis.

The tour pro does not have much to worry about until he gets to 50 feet, and if he can get the ball inside 8 feet on those putts he has a good chance of converting a two-putt. Secondly, on normal tour greens (a.k.a. not Augusta), a tour pro should not have that much trouble lagging the ball within 8 to 10 feet on even on the most difficult breaking putts, which still gives him a good chance to convert his two-putt.

Based on the data, tour pros should work on putts from 8 to 10 feet as well as those outside of 50 feet to use of their most effectively. .

Again, you can see that beginning around 55 to 60 feet tour pros need to become focused on lagging the ball close. However, these players have a buffer that’s unlike what you will see with the 90’s shooters. The 90’s shooters only make putts that are inside 5 feet 66 percent of the time. That’s why 90’s shooters should focus on becoming better short putters within the 5-to-10-foot range. Those putts will be much more important to their score than the putts they hit from 15-to-45 feet.

The 90’s shooters should instantly go into “lag mode” from 20 feet out, ensuring that they have the proper feel to snuggle the ball close to the hole from longer distances. Remember that the proficiency of the 90’s shooters from shorter distances basically states that until they get the ball within 5 feet, they will miss more than half their second putts.

So the key for the 90’s shooters is to become more proficient from 6-to-10 feet so that they have a better chance from longer ranges. As a 90’s shooter, if you don’t get your putts from 40 feet and out into a 5-foot circle around the hole, your chances of two putting diminishes greatly. That’s the pressure poor short putting puts on the lag putting for average golfers.

I hope by now you have seen the importance of understanding how to use the stats you can derive from charting your game based on the data provided by Broadie’s book.

The book also goes over stats for all parts of the game that you will find useful, but the one-versus-three-putting stuff hit me like a hammer. I, like you, practiced and wanted to become the best I could be, but it’s data like this that makes me just cringe thinking about how many wasted hours I spent on things that weren’t very statistically relevant to the big picture.

I hope this story saves you an hour or two during your life of golf!

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  1. Great article! I love advanced statistics in golf… very eye-opening.

    As devil’s advocate, couldn’t it also be said that for 90 shooters (who presumably don’t have very much time to dedicate to practice) that their time would be best used practicing their Driving? Every un-biased statisical analysis indicates that poor driving accounts for more strokes lost than poor short game (which runs counter to the old school notion of “Drive for show, putt for dough”), at least with less talented players. Hitting more fairways (i.e. less penalty strokes) is the quickest way to improve your score. That said, I think putting is probably the easiest thing to practice and to improve upon, so if a person has the time available, they should probably spend 75% of it on Driving and 25% on putting from 4-10 feet.

    Do you agree?

      • Fair point… tough to argue that. But if you HAD to choose what to spend your very limited time on, I would probably suggest driving over putting, at least for the 90s shooter. A missed putt will (usually) only costs you one stroke… a wayward drive will cost you two at most decent courses.

      • I have played golf for most of my life. When I was young, I felt that I had to work on the “big” shots. However, as I have gotten older and have less time to practice and play, I feel that I should spend my practice time on 120 yards and in. You hit the driver 14-15 times a round and long and mid irons about the same. So you have hit 30-40 shots out of ninety or so. Anything you can do to improve on those 40-60 shots remaining will make you a better golfer. The putting message here is spot on.

  2. Tom,

    Which would you say wastes more time on the putting green:
    A) Putting from the wrong distances
    or
    B) Putting with one or more of the following flaws
    -using a putter that is not fit for you,
    -putting using a wrong green read,
    -putting generating the wrong speed,
    -putting using flawed swing mechanics,
    -putting using a bad ball position?

    If you’ve got flaws, shouldn’t they be fixed before you try to “practice”? If you can’t read a green accurately, never heard of a lumpy doughnut, think that grain is a type of alcohol, don’t know which eye is dominant, haven’t got a clue whether you’re a screen door or pendulum putter, don’t have a routine, don’t know the difference between feel and method putting, don’t have a putter balanced to match your swing stroke type, start the ball rolling with a bounce and back spin, raise your head on contact, etc. then a lot of practice is a sure way to become a bad putter.

    Another way to interpret the statistics is that the methods they pros use to practice are better. Could it be possible that trying to change what is already working for them could make their statistics worse? Maybe there is a progression of things people should work on where putting from specific distances is the last thing on the list?

  3. The stat I use for putting efficiency is 2 putts for greens hit in regulation or better and one putt for greens missed. A 24 putt day hitting 6 greens would be the equivalent of 36 putts when all 18 greens are hit. The total putts over are under the day’s putting par is the stat that shows the relationship between the short game and putting as a cohesive unit. Referred stat I call the “Short Game Index” or SGI for shortness.

    No matter what level of swing ability and physical talent, golfers all can learn how to score better by learning how to hit the short game shots as close as possible and then rely on the flat stick when not possible.

  4. Great piece. This was an eye opener for me. I’m a 12 handicap whose favorite thing on the practice green is to go out 20-30 feet and roll a few balls at the hole. My hope being that by the third ball seeing the read I might be able to knock one down. The reality is when I walk up to my three misses my two putt conversion rate is poor. I will still practice lag putts from time to time obviously, but this piece has convinced me that it makes way more sense for me to stay in that 5-10 foot range for the lions share of my practice time and increase my success rate there.

    • Excellent article, Tom, and I’ll be sure to check out Mark Broadie’s book.

      A while back, I was listening to Lee Trevenio talk about putting, and he mentioned how Ben Hogan never put too much emphases on that part of the game. Believe he said Snead was the same way. Hogan believed that what transpired on the fairway to be of more importance; he figured it didn’t matter how good you were with a putter if you couldn’t get the ball on the green in a timely manner. Of course, that will never keep me from the putting green.

      On another note: for those golfers who like to take two or three balls on the putting green, here’s something I learned from Ben Crenshaw during a Pro-Am at the AT&T championship in San Antonio. When you practice putting, only use one ball. Anyone can make puts after watching what the first ball does. But when you’re actually playing, you only have one chance. Go with what you feel is the correct read and see if you’re right.

  5. Hi Tom,

    Interesting piece, however I would like to present a counter point / caveat to this analysis.

    To say that putting inside 5 feet is not a worthwhile exercise for the scratch or tour player is, in my opinion, not accurate. Your analysis falls short in that it does not take into account the total number of attempts from those distances. Based on the total number of attempts that actually occur within 5 feet of the hole, becoming extremely proficient in this area will absolutely help lower score. To present my case with data, the average PGA Tour player attempts about 11 putts per round inside 5 feet of the hole, however they only attempt about 3 putts in the 5 to 10 foot range. If you take the difference between the best and worst player statistically on tour in each of these two ranges, the difference is the same, about 0.85 strokes gained / lost per round. So they are identical in importance to score, and in fact I would argue that if I were to choose one, I’d rather practice those putts inside 5 feet because more is left up to my stroke than the rub of the green.

    If we take this out and compare an average scratch player to an average Tour player, the difference inside 5 feet is 1.06 strokes lost per round, whereas the 5 to 10 foot range is only a 0.49 strokes lost per round.

    One more analysis comparing the 90’s player to a scratch player, the difference inside 5 feet is 1.17 strokes per round, and the 5 to 10 foot range is only .46 strokes lost per round.

    The big caveat here is the number of attempts per round, and this is where this analysis fails in my opinion. Putts inside 5 feet happens so much more frequently that it becomes critically important to improving score.

    There is a saying “there are liars, there are damn liars, and then there are statistics!” I love the data driven direction that golf has taken but I would just caution players to sit down and analyze where their game falls short and set out a plan of action that involves reducing the absolute value of their score, not improving some percentage because we feel like its too low and can be improved easily.

    Hope this was helpful to everyone!

    • I completely agree, if a scratch golfer falls below the tour benchmark then they will lose a hell of a lot if they miss within 5 foot. Therefore it is definately beneficial to practice that length. Be aware that this is also only an average number, if you look at the guys making money on the PGA Tour with sub 105mph driver speeds (almost all amateur club golfers) there putts within the range of 3-5 feet are around 90-95% as this is the only area that can make up there score purely down to physical differences. Practising long distance putting is an area that will bring little benefit to your scores but if you can get 90%+ on 3-5 foot putts you will definately improve your scores, plus this will take a lot of pressure off chipping and pitching

      • Tom, I think you may have missed part of my point here. According to PGAtour.com stats, the average tour player in 2014 takes 11 shots per round inside of 5 feet. They only take an average of 3 shots per round in the 5 to 10 foot range. Think about it this way, if you were to create a scatter plot of your putts in a round, the data points (each putt taken) would get much more dense and concentrated as you get nearer to the hole. To demonstrate this point, according to PGAtour.com, an average tour player is just as likely to have a 3 to 5 footer as a 5 to 10 footer.

        Practicing 5 to 10 footers is just as important as the 3 to 5 footers, it just may seem that you miss more 5 to 10 footers but that’s because they are in fact harder to make! Luke Donald putts the lights out and he leads the tour at 68% of putts made in that range. The reason those putts are so much harder is that more is left up to variability in the greens, your read of the break, putt speed starts to become a factor and the fact that there is less room for error when hitting the putt (i.e. 1 degree of mis-hit gets larger as you get further away from the putter blade).

        • But many of those 11 shots inside of 5 feet are actually in tap-in range. And they are probably already very good at that range hence they are tour players. If they can make 1 more of those 5-10 footers each round they can gain much more on their competitors.

          In ESC Brodie points out that even though 50% of your shots come on the green (theoretically) many are tap-ins others are from such a long distance that making them is very unlikely so putting really makes up only about 15% of the game.

          Also the article is arguing that to become better than a 90-golfer then one ahould practices putts of distance that they can reasonably improve upon. Especially given the limited practice time for most recreational golfers.

  6. Tom Nieporte, great pro and player at the Winged Foot Club for many years,(and a wonderful man) believed that the most important shots in the round were the 18 first putts! An interesting way to think about it. He won on Tour so I listened :)

  7. Good artcile

    Practice short putts, medium putts and long putts. Keep it simple.

    Place an alignment stick behind the hole and try not to hit the stick. This teaches pace and speed.

  8. Back in college me and a buddy couldn’t afford to play but we would go to the nearest course and spend hours on the practice area. We would play a game where we would each take turns picking a spot around the practice green to hit from (different thickness of grass, different lies)and picking which hole we would play to sometimes we even took it a step further and we stipulated which club we had to use and the idea was to get up and down in the fewest strokes possible.

    Being in college the going rate was a beer a hole.

    My short game, especially my putting, was always my weakness and when we first started practicing together it wasn’t pretty. Eric was a good hockey player with great hands and even though he didn’t play nearly as much as I did he had me down a couple of cases of beer in no time.

    Being broke college students, playing for beer definitely cranked up the pressure (especially when I pressed) and it made those putts inside 12 feet so much harder to make. They say you have to practice like you play, and practicing the way we did definitely mimicked true play on the golf course. Now when I’m faced with a tough up and down or a 12 footer for par I imagine I’m playing against Eric and I’ve pressed twice and I need to make it or I’m down a case of beer.

    No amount of time aimlessly slapping putt after putt on the practice green can prepare you for those types of situations.

  9. How many times have you heard ‘I read a break that just wasn’t there?’ Overanalysis. And I have never ONCE seen a plumb-bobber sink one from twenty feet or further. Overthinking. The only thing that ever made a difference in my putting was to go with my first instinct and just hit the ball, trusting my eyes to read the breaks. If anything I’ve learned that people overcompensate for breaks more than they underestimate breaks.

    In every scramble I’ve ever played I’m the best putter, and everyone is mystified at why I want to have the first whack at every putt. I have learned that my brain works against me on putts for the longer I think them over, and I second-guess good decisions.

  10. Thanks for the article Tom. It confirms how i’ve been practicing is correct.
    I’m pretty mechanical and my practice is the same way, for lag putting I have target distances that I take the putter back a certain length for. Walk off 12yards (36feet) it gets a certain length backstroke. Walk of 18yards (54feet) and that gets a certain length backstroke. As long as my tempo and contact is consistent the putts roll out consistently the same. I can adjust from there for in between distances.

  11. There is a book out called “Lowest Score Wins” that goes over this too. I am so glad that guys like you and others are bringing this to our attention to help us practice better.

    I’m a 5 and rarely putt from 3-20ft instead focusing on putting 3ft putts and 20’+. Guess how well I get up and down?! I have to chip it to 3′ every time to get up and down and so I focus on chipping it closer which isn’t bad, but you can’t get it to 3′ every time and being better inside 10′ will alleviate the stress on your round. This reminds me of someone asking Harvey Penick for help putting and he told them to go grab their 7i and come with him. When the person reiterated that he needed help with his putting Penick told him that his problem was he wasn’t hitting it close enough to the hole!

  12. Thanks, I guess I have been too hard on myself as I was putting 90-95% from 5 feet for the first month of the season and felt I should have been able to maintain it.

  13. Rancho Park, woo!

    I always wondered about this kind of thing. Not long ago decided my time would best be spent ensuring that I convert those rare birdie chances from close range, and doing my best to two-putt from long range. Putts in that middle range sort of take care of themselves; either I two-putt without much difficulty or I get lucky and sink it. Nice to see that data backs this up.

  14. I read the book earlier this year and took the same thing away. Altered my practice routine on the green to focus on putts 6-10 feet (I’m a 5 handicap) as increasing my make percentage here is huge. I used to focus on 3-5 foot range almost exclusively outside of lag putting. His drills for lag putting are great too! Can’t recommend it enough, nice article.

      • If you watch your average amateur golf on the practice green, you will see 99% of them practicing 20 footers because that’s how the holes are spaced on the green. This gets people nowhere, and maybe even worse than than that because they are using three balls most of the time. If their first putt isn’t effective they compensate who know’s how, alter stroke, unknowingly change their stance, some sort of instant compensation. I never see anyone read a putt. They are basically just slapping it around.
        I quit doing this a few years ago because it didn’t make any sense to me. Now I take 5 balls and throw them down just off the fringe and use a variety of clubs to bump and run them up to the various holes, and then grab my putter and carefully try and putt them in. I keep track of my “ups and downs”. I do this 50 times, i.e. 5 balls x 10. I am a single digit and these approaches are not difficult shots so I end up with a lot of 6 foot and in putts. This has really helped my scoring.Now my course allows this sort of low impact chipping, but others may not, but it’s a great drill to do that seems to be backed up by the research in this book reinforced by Tom’s article.
        This is an excellent piece, Tom, and can lead to substantial improvement for many golfers. You can’t say that about too many instructional articles in my opinion.

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