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Are shorter golfers better putters?

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Does your height affect putting?

Brian Gay, who is 5-feet 10-inches tall, is known as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.

It is generally accepted that taller golfers have an advantage when it comes to driving distance on the PGA Tour. All else being equal, the thought is that taller golfers will have the edge in comparison to their shorter counterparts. There are exceptions, but PGA Tour data from 2013 proves this to be true.

That being said, shorter players are still able to contend on the PGA Tour. Even as these shorter players are constantly out driven by their taller counterparts, they are able to compete by winning the battle on the greens.

Looking at the PGA Tour data from 2013, the averages hold true. Of 180 players on Tour in 2013, the 10 tallest players averaged a finish of 111th on the money list. Funny enough, the 10 shortest players also averaged 111th at the end of the season. There was no difference in the overall success of these players, but the stats can tell a story.

10 Tallest and Shortest Players on Tour in 2013, with scoring average rank:

Scoring Average Comparison of the Tour's Tallest and Shortest Players

Scoring Average Comparison of the Tour’s Tallest and Shortest Players.

So the scoring average rankings are identical, but these classes of players get the job done in markedly different ways. Looking first at the tallest players, they averaged 49th in terms of driving distance, but were all the way down at 124th in terms of strokes gained putting.

The 10 Tallest Players on Tour in 2013

The 10 Tallest Players on Tour in 2013.

On the other end of the spectrum, the shorter players were able to recover from a far inferior driving distance ranking. Looking first at the shortest players, they averaged 129th in terms of driving distance, and were 95th in terms of strokes gained putting.

The 10 Shortest Players on Tour in 2013

The 10 Shortest Players on Tour in 2013.

The stats show that these groups of players had very similar results despite markedly different statistics. This isn’t just true of driving distance and strokes gained putting – top players don’t have one single formula for success, and are able to succeed in very different ways.

The results show the following averages:

Summary Average Rankings per Category, Tall and Short

Summary Average Rankings per Category, Tall and Short

Further to this point, we can sort the data in terms of the Top-10 and Bottom-10 putters on Tour in 2013. Looking at the data in this way and then comparing heights, we see that tall players fared far worse in 2013. As seen below, Phil Mickelson was the only player (1/10) in the Top 10 in strokes gained putting in 2013 to stand taller than 6-feet 2-inches. On the other hand, 6/10 bottom 10 players on Tour were at least 6-feet 2-inches.

Top 10 and Bottom 10 Putters

Top 10 and Bottom 10 Putters

Although the sample size of one season is relatively small, there is a definite trend in terms of driving distance and putting results. Longer players tend to hit it further, yet shorter players can still succeed. In this case, there is a noticeable difference in putting averages.

Both driving distance and strokes gained putting are positively correlated with scoring average. Those consistently winning are able to combine success across a wide variety of statistical categories.

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Will works in Toronto, and as a hobby pursues sports analytics, specifically in the world of golf. He writes articles that use statistics (correlation, rather than causation) to bring (sometimes farfetched) insights and raise discussion about international golf. Will played college golf and competed internationally for Canada as a junior. These days, he’s a weekend player with a fondness for violent duck hooks.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. GolferX

    Dec 24, 2013 at 4:17 am

    If I read the article correctly, the statistical advantage is negligible. Tall and short players end up around the same rank in terms of money won, so where’s the advantage? Historically speaking, four of the all time greats were 5’9″ or shorter, i.e.: Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and Arnie; lack of distance was no hindrance to their success. But we all know what ended Hogan’s competitive golfing career. It could have to do with posture, compare Jack’s putting stance with the stance unveiled by Michelle Wie at the Solheim Cup. Now that’s food for thought…

  2. Harvey

    Dec 21, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Great article, some idiotic comments from obvious armchair golfers. Well done will, great studdy

  3. Mick

    Dec 21, 2013 at 4:28 am

    Definitely room for further analysis eg GIR, distance to hole on approaches, and putts made from various distances.

  4. Harry Flower Golf

    Dec 20, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Im 6 ft 3 and have the yips, shorter people have an easier time 😉

  5. JM

    Dec 19, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Shorter players hit it shorter therefore to even be on the pga tour they invariably need to excel in another part of the game to make up for it. The most effective/efficient way to make up strokes is putting. Therefore good tour players who are short are typically good putters bc they have to be or they would not be on tour

    Tall players hit it further so being a great putter (by tour standards) us not a necessity to stay on tour.

    At least that is my take on it

    • david

      Dec 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      +1

    • Rich

      Dec 22, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      +2

    • TAGPGA

      Dec 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      +3!

      So many of these articles seem to ignore how consistent their sample (the PGA Tour) is. In 2012, there were 154 PGA Tour Players that scored less than one stroke different than the average of the field they played against (http://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.02417.html#2012). That’s better than 80%. With that consistency, it’s obvious that any shortcoming in one area of one’s game is overcome by a strength in another part of their game.

  6. Ryan

    Dec 18, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Interesting analysis, tall players hit it incrementally further, while short players roll the ball incrementally better. Players that do both are in the top 10, players that do neither lose their tour card and are removed from the analysis the following year.

  7. Westphi

    Dec 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Please, Mickelson is not 6’3′. Anyways, there are only 2 guys in the top 10 shorter than 6ft. You can’t be saying people 6’1″-6’3″ are considered “short”???

  8. Russ

    Dec 18, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    So are you saying the taller the player the “worse” they putt.

    • Christopher

      Dec 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      More curious would be that Phil Mickelson at 6’3” is getting taller and Vijay (6’2”) is getting shorter …

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