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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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Opinion & Analysis

College golf recruiting: The system works

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Yesterday, one of the parents I consult with on college placement asked me what the lessons are from the recent college admissions scandal for her and her son. What are the takeaways?

Michael Young, who coined the phrase in 1956, writes, a meritocracy is “the society in which the gifted, the smart, the energetic, the ambitious and the ruthless are carefully sifted out and helped towards their destined positions of dominance.” For decades higher education has embraced the meritocracy, creating an effective system which it funnels students with amazing precision to school that matches their academic ability, courtesy of indicators like GPA, SAT and class rank. So why would people work to circumvent this system? Ignorance and entitlement; the members of this scandal were driven by having the right brand name to tell their friends at dinner parties, not the welfare of their children.

In my own experience, I have seen families put their kids into months of hardcore standardized prep, while signing up for six to eight sittings of the SAT under the guise of trying to get to a better school, all while balancing practice and tournament golf. The problem is that this does not make you a good parent, it makes you an asshole.

In my own examination of data in the college signing process over the past three years, I have found only three outliers in Division One Men’s Golf at major conference schools. Each of these outliers had a NJGS ranking outside of the top 1000 in their class with scoring differentials above 3.5. They also each had a direct and obvious connection with the school. They leveraged the relationship and had their children admitted and put on the roster. Success! Unfortunately, none of the players appeared on the roster their sophomore year. Why? By the numbers, these players are 6 shots worst than their peers. That’s 24 shots over a four-round qualifier.

Obviously, it needs to be said again; the best junior players (boys and girls) are excellent. Three years of data suggest that players who attend major conference schools have negative scoring differentials close to 2. This means that they average about 2 shots better than the course rating, or in lay terms; have a plus handicap in tournaments. This is outstanding golf and a result of a well thought out and funded plan, executed over several years.

There is no doubt that the best players have passed through top tier programs in recent years, however, they have entered these programs with accolades including negative scoring differentials and successful tournament careers, including a pattern of winning. In order to compete at the professional level, players must meticulously try and mirror these successes in college. The best way to do it? Attend a school where the prospective student-athlete can gain valuable experience playing and building their resume. For a lot of junior golfers, this might not be the most obvious choice. Instead, the process takes some thought and looking at different options. As someone who has visited over 800 campuses and seen the golf facilities, I can say that you will be surprised and impressed with just how good the options are! Happy searching.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: World Long Drive Champ Maurice Allen

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In this episode of the Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura Golf, Johnny chats with Remax World Long Drive Champion Maurice Allen on where he started, his crazy equipment specs and why he relies on his eyes over the numbers.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Opinion & Analysis

This could be Rickie Fowler’s year to get the major monkey off his back

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When Rickie Fowler first emerged on Tour, he was supposed to take the game by storm. The golf media raved about his talent and ramped up the potential of a “big two” that included him and Rory McIlroy. Fowler and McIlroy were supposed to compete as the sole forces in golf, like the Tiger and Phil of a new generation.

However, golf never goes according to a script, and it particularly hasn’t for Rickie Fowler. At age 30, and without a major, momentum has slowed behind Fowler despite him having five PGA Tour and two European Tour victories on his resume. Commentators, who were once sure that Fowler would be a golfing great, now doubt his winning abilities. However, I have a feeling that 2019 may be Rickie’s year; and by the years’ end, we will all be speaking of him in a whole new way.

After finishing in the top five in every major in 2015, a major win looked very close to the grasp of Rickie Fowler. But, it hasn’t been that smooth sailing for the 2010 Rookie of the Year. Majors have evaded Fowler’s grip thus far despite his best efforts, and some good tries. He finished one shot short of eventual winner Patrick Reed in last year’s Masters, despite shooting twelve under par on the weekend; a great example of many near misses for Rickie.

With every miss, the tag of being “the greatest golfer without a major” is packed more and more into the identity of Fowler. But, that tag shouldn’t necessarily by an insult. Players like Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson have all received the same designation in the past. Each man has had his record questioned, and his ability to win examined, but every man has since won a major and will no doubt make their way to the hall of fame. Fowler will do too, and 2019 will go some way to helping his cause.

Fowler’s game looks to be in great shape, and vastly improved from previous years. Statistically, Fowler’s most significant improvement this season has been in his putting. He is eighth in the strokes gained-putting category, a marked growth from 43rd in that section last year. With great putting being the games most sought after skill, and a much-needed attribute for a consistent winner; it is interesting to see just how good Fowler is in that area. He is also third in scoring average, 33rd in driving distance and sixth in the birdie average category. It seems that Fowler is acing the test in all of the most crucial statistical areas. His game is in excellent shape, and everything seems to be pointing in his direction.

Rickie won the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February in spite of a rag-tag final round. Most impressively, Rickie rescued his final round in Phoenix by birdieing two of the last four holes. Fowler’s ability to shoot a final round 3-over-par 74 at TPC Scottsdale demonstrated immense courage. Perhaps that newfound courage stems from his many near-misses. Some see the fact he is without a major at 30 as a curse, but it may be a blessing. We saw in Phoenix how Rickie now has the skill to keep his ailing rounds alive and to resurrect them when they look dead. It is now becoming clear that Fowler’s near misses have made him stronger and a better all-around golfer. He may not have the wins to date that most expected, but he is better off for it.

Rickie’s career bears comparisons to Justin Rose, a player who had struggled and often limped through his career when many thought he would be flying. Like Fowler, Rose learned from his mistakes and has achieved his best results in his 30s. Among many victories, Rose has a U.S. Open Trophy, an Olympic gold medal, and a FedEx Cup in his 30s. Fowler should take heed of the World Number Two’s achievements and be encouraged that he can emulate or even surpass them.

With the Masters on the horizon, don’t be surprised to see Rickie at the top of leaderboards and winning serious golf tournaments. Fowler is a better player than he has ever been, and after a great start to the year, he will surely rise to the occasion this season.

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