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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.

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

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

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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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

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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