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Line vs. speed: What’s really more important in putting?

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In the many years that I’ve been studying putting statistics, at all playing levels, there is one lesson that stands out above all others:  There are putts golfers must try to make, and there are putts that only require a two-putt.

Putting to Make: There’s a distance range where line matters much more than speed. From these distances, golfers need to be focused on making the putt, which means they need to get the ball to the hole. Leaving the putt short on these putts is a serious error.

Putts to 2-Putt:  There’s also a distance range where speed matters much more than line. On these putts, it’s not very important that you get the line exactly right, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to make the putt. What matters is that you give yourself a realistic chance to 2-putt.  Getting your putt to the hole is far less of a priority.

By itself, this information is actually not very helpful.  Golfers really need to know what distances require their focus on line and what distances require their focus on speed. In this article, I’m going to focus on the latter, share some critical data, as well a practice strategy for putting that will take strokes off your game.

The Average 2-Putt Range  

The Average 2-Putt Range is something I discuss regularly with my PGA Tour players. It’s the distance from which the average player on the PGA Tour will average two putts. It’s also important for average golfers whose shots aren’t measured by ShotLink.  Thanks to the real golfer database I’ve been collecting over the last two decades through Shot by Shot, my Strokes Gained Analysis program and App, I can also share the Average 2-Putt Range for handicap golfers.

On the PGA Tour, the average 2-Putt Range is 35 feet. What this means is that putts longer than 35 feet will result in more 3-putts than 1-putts for PGA Tour players.  Putts shorter than 35 feet will result in more 1-putts than 3-putts.

As you can see in the chart, average golfers make far fewer long putts – and they also 3-putt with far greater frequency.  For example, the average golfer (15-19 handicap) has a 2-Putt Range of 16 feet.

I’ve shared this data with countless golfers through the years, and they’re almost always shocked with how likely they are to 3-putt on mid-range putts. It’s also incredibly powerful and useful. If you’re a golfer with a handicap between 15-19, what I’m suggesting is that you take a conservative approach on putts longer than 16 feet. I’m betting you’ll be amazed with the results.

A “Negative Approach” Disclaimer

I’m going to share a bit more data in this piece, but before I do I want to address the thoughts that some of you might be having about a potential side effect of this approach — “trying not to 3 putt.” Our game is lucky to have several wonderful sports psychologists who advocate against such a negative approach, and I believe that they’re right about this. We don’t want to be negative on the golf course – especially when the putter is in our hands.

Without getting too deep into this issue, I want to make it clear that what I’m suggesting is that golfers adjust their expectations on putts outside their Average 2-Putt Distance. Ideally, they want to hit a putt with a speed that will allow the ball to fall just over the edge of the cup. An approach that’s more aggressive than that is likely going to cost them strokes. That said, when the circumstances are right, uphill and fairly straight, by all means, give the ball a chance to go in.

Putting This Data To Work

As most seasoned golfers have learned through the years, we can shoot good scores without a lot of 1-putts – but we can’t shoot good scores with a lot of 3-putts. For that reason, it’s important that we practice distance control to minimize our 3-putts. But, from exactly what distance should we be practicing?  The chart below sheds light on the issue.

To me, there’s no question — at least for amateurs — the optimum practice distance is 11-30 feet. I say that with confidence for three key reasons:

  1. 51% of the average golfer’s first putt opportunities take place from 11-30 feet.  A distance you will face on about NINE greens each round.
  2. From 11-30 feet, amateur golfers 3-putt SEVEN times more frequently than the average PGA Tour player.
  3. From beyond 30 feet, average golfers putt much more like PGA Tour players. They only 3-putt four times as frequently.

A Great Drill

Place two tees 20 feet apart on a reasonably level section of your practice green. Roll two balls back and forth between the tees until you can consistently lag 6-8 in a row to within 2 feet. I also like to expand the drill until I can lag 6-8 to or past the hole and within 2 feet.  When you can do this from 20 feet, move your tees to 25 feet and then even 30 feet.

This drill is important when getting ready to play a new course and especially under competitive conditions. It will help you to face that first lag opportunity on the course with confidence.

Stay tuned, in my next article I will address the important LINE distances.

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, go to www.ShotByShot.com

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. 8thehardway

    Mar 18, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    I think your 11-30 foot drill for a typical 15 – 19 handicap is an excellent idea; also, hats off for targeting practice distance to handicap range. I spend a lot of time on practice greens and mostly use this range so I’d like to add a few thoughts.

    It’s easier for me to identify flaws in my stroke on longer putts than shorter ones so after a little warmup I start with them and see what’s wrong, go short or medium to correct, then back to long (35-50 feet)as confirmation.

    On non-dramatic putts, I think golfers who becomes comfortable at a certain length won’t be intimidated facing anything shorter.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  2. Luke Kitzan

    Mar 16, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Great article! As speed and line play such important factors, let’s not forget area misses.
    On those long lag putts, good speed will get you to a relative circumference from the hole. A good line will put you in an position to make an easier 2nd putt. Ie: I’d rather be 4 feet with a dead uphill putt than 2.5 feet with a 2 cup break.

  3. jason

    Mar 15, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    what we’re missing is the information regarding the distance missed on the 2nd putt between ams and pros.

    chances are pros are knocking down a whole lot more 4-6 foot putts than ams. so running you 25ft putt by a few feet doesn’t hurt pros nearly as much as ams.

    i’d argue that the ideal distance to practice from would be 3-6ft for ams. start making these putts more often and not only do you 3 putt less often, but you become less anxious on your longer lag putts.

    • Tiger Noods

      Mar 15, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      I have to agree. The psychology of a second putt is *binary*. Being able to hit 90% of your 4-footers instead of 75% is a far better reward than being overly worried about whether you’re two or four feet away.

    • Steve

      Mar 15, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      Agree completely. I heard a pro say once that he never practices over 20 feet. And at 20 feet is only 10% of his time. He gets enough speed data from that.
      Those 3-6 footers are where you spend time. What do you learn from a distance that you don’t expect to make the putt?

  4. Mbwa Kali Sana

    Mar 15, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    From 6 feet you should always make 90% of your puts .
    From 3/4 feet you should make 100% of your puts .
    So all you have to do is to get within 6 feet of the pin regardless the distance .
    From distances over 30 feet you should chip and not put .You should also train yourself to put with a closed iron ,it gives you a lot of touch with the hands

    • Lance Sedevie

      Mar 15, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      Guys on tour are like 65 percent at 6 ft. 50 percent at 8 feet. Amateur players better get inside 3 ft

    • jwolf02

      Mar 15, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      Regarding 6 feet, this is bonkers. In 2018 not one single pro hit 90% from 6 feet (McDowell close at 89.3%). Median player was at 70%.

    • Brad

      Mar 15, 2019 at 4:39 pm

      Who is this “you” you speak of, that should be making 90% of the 6 footers and 100% 4 feet or less? And if I have a 40 foot putt, I’m supposed to chip it? Do you realize how much “better” the average putt is from an amateur vs. how well they chip? To say nothing of the wear and tear of the turf?!? This is the most WTH reply I’ve seen to a really good article in years.

    • JP

      Mar 17, 2019 at 12:00 pm

      You speak as an insane person would.

    • Bob

      Mar 18, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      Not to pile on here, but you should recalibrate expectations.

      #1 on the Tour last year from 6ft was Graeme McDowell at 89%…so literally the best golfers in the world don’t even make 90% of their 6 footers.

      Not a single PGA Tour pro (again, the best golfers in the world) went 100% from four feet last year. Tony Finau was #100 (roughly the median) and hit 93%…he had a pretty good year winning $5.6mn and finishing 6th in the Fedex Cup.

      You should definitely not expect to make 100% of your four footers, nor do you need to in order to be a really good golfer.

  5. larrybud

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    I think a deeper question is why do golfers miss the line and/or speed more often. I’m going to take an educated guess because they don’t hit the center of the face as often as better players. That throws both line and speed off, and it’s nearly impossible to dial in a distance if the same stroke length is producing different distances each time because they’re missing the center of the face by a wide margin.

  6. Will

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Pretty interesting seeing the 2 putt distance. I wonder if some insights could be gained from showing the percentages of long 1st putts vs short 1st putts in cases of 3 putts. For example, I would guess on 11′ 3-putts that the first putt tends to miss long more than 20′ 3-putts. From a strategy standpoint, you may be better off reducing your overall putts by attempting to lag it close from distances closer than simply the 2-putt distance for your handicap range (or your specific data, if you have it).

  7. Travis

    Mar 15, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Did I miss something or did he not answer what was more important; line vs. speed?

    All I see is practice distance.

    • Funkaholic

      Mar 15, 2019 at 12:47 pm

      You missed it, speed is more important outside of your make-able range and getting in close enough to make it in 2 is more important. Nobody ever told me that and I just started from the beginning putting to get close outside of 10 feet so, even though I am not a great golfer, I have always been a good putter.

    • broton

      Mar 15, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      Seriously. Which is it?

  8. C

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:48 am

    There are other things to consider.
    There are some older courses out there that are not overly long, but very tricked out, that have very small greens compared to the modern, new PGA style courses that have huge, massive, gigantic greens to provide, on purpose, far ranging options for more pin positions and to make it essential to be a good lag putter.
    The courses with the smaller greens instead make it essential that you are a great chipper of the ball around the greens, because, not only are the greens smaller, they are also very undulated and sloped. If you miss the green by a little bit, you’re chipping. So, your accuracy into the greens becomes vital if you don’t want to chip. But you may not have to make long lag putts over 50, 60 feet, ever.
    Whereas, with the huge greens, you may hit the greens, therefore are not chipping, but now you are lag putting anywhere from 60 to a 100 feet, sometimes.
    The smaller greens puts a massive premium on your approach accuracy. That missed green shot on smaller greens might be a GIR on a huge green.
    Your GIR stat might be great with the huge greens, but you’re going to be lag putting a lot.

  9. Paulie Gualtieri

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Fkin Rasputin this guy!

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