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Opinion & Analysis

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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. joro

    Apr 3, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    A few years ago the Golf Channel had a TV show with what were considered a few of the best Putters on Tour in a “Crackerbarrel” type discussion.. The group included Crenshaw, Trevino,Lorne Roberts,Dave Stockton, and others, all great Putters.. They All said to a man that the first thing they did was to work out the line, then after getting the line they focused of the distance, and felt that was their key to success with the Blade. If you don’t have the speed right the line will not help.

  2. Blake

    Mar 30, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    One of the best Wrx articles I’ve read.

  3. Benny

    Mar 30, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    Awesome article. Thank you for dumbing it down as well. Something I think these other engineer brains above didn’t understand and instead needed to argue the data, information and explanation.
    Looking forward to the next and thanks again!

  4. Hoeness

    Mar 30, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Awesome analysis and drills to improve.

  5. John Butler

    Mar 28, 2019 at 9:09 am

    The conclusion of the article is great, but the premise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Line and speed are not independent of each other, nor do they come at the expense of one another. You cannot have the correct line without the correct speed. Its impossible. Velocity determines momentum which determines curve. Line literally *is* speed.

    If you get the speed wrong you get the line wrong. You can never have a putt go in because you got the speed wrong but the line right. That’s silly.

    So, you should attempt optimal speed on every putt. That’s it.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?

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Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.

That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.

All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18

Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined

  • 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
  • 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
  • 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent

Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018

  • 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
  • 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
  • 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent

Percent decrease 

  • 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
  • 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
  • 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent

One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.

Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.

So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!

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Opinion & Analysis

A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 82): Shane Bacon | New Korn Ferry Tour

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Fox Sports host Shane Bacon recaps the 119th U.S.Open with host Michael Williams, Also features Jill Wiltfong of Korn Ferry and Tour President Alex Baldwin talking about the new naming rights deal.

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19th Hole

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