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Taking the mystery out of Strokes Gained Putting

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When I ask people about their games, inevitably most tell me that they are good putters. I like this answer, because to putt as well as you can, you must have confidence. But do these players really know what good putting is?

A statistic that has taken the PGA Tour by storm the past few years is called “strokes gained putting,” developed by Columbia University professor Mark Broadie. It is the best measure to gauge overall putting prowess that we have, far better than total putts, percentage-made statistics or total distance of holed putts. In this article, I hope to take the mystery out of the statistic and show you how you can use it to measure your own putting ability.

Strokes gained putting is the measure of how well someone putts compared to the field average, taking into account the length of the first putt. You then compare the number of actual putts taken to the average number of putts the field would take from those given distances. If the golfer putts better than the field, he would said to be “plus” strokes gained putting, and if he putts worse, he would be “minus.”

As an example from the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, the median percentage for putts made from four feet was 92 percent (Chesson Hadley, 89th out of 177). You could then say the expected stroke average, rounded to the nearest tenth, for a PGA Tour player from four feet would be 1.1. From eight feet, the median percentage of made putts was 52 percent, so the expected stroke average here would be approximately 1.5. If a Tour player’s first putt on the first hole was four feet and first putt on the second hole was eight feet, his expected stroke average for these two holes would be 2.6. If he took two putts, he gained .6 strokes on the field and if he took three, he lost .4 strokes.

To figure your own strokes gained putting prowess, measure the length of your first putt on every hole to the nearest foot, and record the expected number of strokes from there on your scorecard. Not being the tallest guy myself, I can measure relatively accurately using short steps of about two feet each. If you’re playing with others, and walking off your putts might be a problem, do your best to visually estimate the distance of your first putt, although being as precise as you can is ideal. Do not use putts from the fringe — only use first putts from on the green itself. The chart to use is as follows, based on the 2013-14 PGA Tour season:

strokes gained putting table

*This number is more difficult to precisely figure, as putts in this length category can vary wildly, but is a good estimate from 26 feet and longer.

At the end of the round, compare the number of actual putts taken to the expected number of strokes. This will give you your strokes gained putting number for the round. If you are minus (taking more putts than the expected average), don’t be too hard on yourself; after all, you are comparing yourself to a PGA Tour pro!

To compare yourself to those of your own skill level, a good estimate can be determined by adding six to your handicap index and multiplying that figure by 0.2. Take the result and add it to the expected number of strokes total for the round. For example, if your index is 14.0, adding six gives us 20.0. Multiply 20 by 0.2 and the result is four. In other words, a typical PGA Tour player (with a handicap index of +6.0) will putt about four strokes better, on average, than a 14-index golfer. This will be a much more realistic estimate of how well you putt for your skill level.

You can also use this method to determine from what lengths your putting might be strong or weak by figuring individually how well you putt from various distances, using several rounds. Don’t get too picky with this. Say you average 1.3 strokes from six feet, 1.9 strokes from seven feet and 1.5 strokes from eight feet. You’re still a very good putter in the 6-8 foot range.

Golf statistics have made tremendous leaps in the past 10 years, and even non-Tour players who don’t have ShotLink can use some of them. Strokes gained putting gives you a quantifiable way to truly determine how well you putt.

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Mark Harman is the national course director for the United States Golf Teachers Federation, the nation's second-largest organization of golf professionals. He has won 14 professional events overall and is a member of the World Golf Teachers Federation's Top 100 Teachers worldwide.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: What exactly is ‘Strokes Gained Putting’? | Instruction | Compleat Golfer

  2. Rob

    Apr 21, 2015 at 8:46 am

    You guys obviously don’t play at Royal Melbourne then….a 6 footer there is often a 2.0

  3. Tom D.

    Apr 21, 2015 at 1:19 am

    Good article. I use a similar system, but with a much simpler chart. 0-6ft is a 1-putt. Over 6ft is a 2-putt. If I sink a 7-footer in 1 putt, that’s 1 stroke gained. If it takes me 2 putts to sink a 6-footer, that’s 1 stroke lost. You get the idea. Far more meaningful than a total putt count. Accounts for those holes where I chip it close and then sink a 2-footer. That would look like a 1-putt normally. With strokes gained/lost, it’s a 0 – nothing gained, nothing lost.

  4. Earl

    Apr 20, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Nice article and please don’t post this in the instructional forum. So much false info on there. It isn’t even funny anymore

  5. MJ

    Apr 20, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Does it factor in degree of difficulty of short putts and if your going to miss the cut by 8 shots. I think rather then charting the whole field it should be top 10 20 30 etc
    Anyone who makes a pga tour field has great talent but when the difference from 1st money to last money is 25 strokes it seems like a stat like that has many human elements that can’t be charted

  6. John

    Apr 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Great article. I hadn’t seen such a simple explanation of Strokes Gained putting before.

  7. Brutus

    Apr 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Good explanation of the strokes gained. I knew it had something to do with comparing one against the field, but the details were fuzzy until now. I don’t know about the add 6 to one’s index and multiply by 0.2 does for me. So a pro putts in your example 4 strokes better than a 14. So? it would be nice if a league records that, but play is slow enough that having them pace off their putts! Bottom line is one’s score still, not putts gained or lost.

  8. other paul

    Apr 19, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    I would green read like that guy if everyone else did it to. And I would putt like Michelle wie because it works, if I didn’t get so many butt jokes.

  9. Andy

    Apr 18, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Yeah, like that clears is up? And who on earth greenreads like that besides CV.

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Who is Leo Rooney?

Director of Performance at Urban Golf Performance
B.Sc Exercise Physiology
TPI, NSCA

Leo Rooney played 16 years of competitive golf, in both college and professionally. He got a degree in exercise physiology and has worked with anyone from top tour players to beginners. Leo is now the Director of Performance at Urban Golf Performance and is responsible for the overall operations but still works closely with some elite tour players and the UCLA Men’s Golf Team.

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