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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What makes a golf course ‘tough?’

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I found this past weekend’s golf to be some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking of the season. While the men of the PGA Tour found a challenging and tough Muirfield Village, the women of the LPGA were getting a taste of a true championship-caliber layout at Olympic Club, the sight of many historic U.S. Opens.

In both cases, the best players in the world found themselves up against courses that fought back against their extraordinary skills and talents. Though neither course appeared to present fairways that were ridiculously narrow, nor greens that were ultra-fast and diabolical, scoring was nowhere near the norms we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the professional tours.

So, that begs the question – what is it exactly that makes a course tough for these elite players? And is that any different from those things that make a course tough for the rest of us?

From my observation, the big difference for both the ladies and the men was the simple fact that Muirfield Village and Olympic shared the same traits – deep rough alongside each fairway, deep bunkers, and heavy rough around the greens. In other words — unlike most of the venues these pros face each week, those two tracks put up severe penalties for their not-so-good shots — and their awful ones.

Setting aside the unfortunate turn of events for John Rahm – who appeared to be playing a different game for the first three days – only 18 of the best male players in the game managed to finish under par at Muirfield Village. That course offered up measurable penalties for missed fairways and greens, as it was nearly impossible to earn a GIR from the rough, and those magical short games were compromised a lot – Colin Morikawa even whiffed a short chip shot because the gnarly lie forced him to try to get “cute” with his first attempt. If you didn’t see it, he laid a sand wedge wide open and slid it completely under the ball — it didn’t move at all!

On the ladies’ side, these elite players were also challenged at the highest level, with errant drives often totally preventing a shot that had a chance of holding the green — or even reaching it. And the greenside rough and deep bunkers of Olympic Club somewhat neutralized their highly refined greenside scoring skills.

So, the take-away from both tournaments is the same, the way I see it.

If a course is set up to more severely penalize the poor drives and approaches — of which there are many by these players — and to make their magical short game skills more human-like, you will see these elite players struggle more like the rest of us.

So, I suggest all of you think about your last few rounds and see what makes your course(s) play tough. Does it penalize your not-so-good drives by making a GIR almost impossible, or is it too challenging around the greens for your scoring skills? Maybe the greens are so fast and diabolical that you don’t get as much out of your putting as you think you should? Or something else entirely?

My bet is that a thoughtful reflection on your last few rounds will guide you to what you should be working on as you come into the peak of the 2021 golf season.

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I am on the search for a 3-wood this year and talk a little about my top 3 that I have been hitting. Hit on the pros and cons of each option and what might be in the bag next week. The Mizuno ST-Z was on the course and a really good driver for players who want forgiveness but don’t need any draw bias. The Srixon Q-Star Tour Divide is a cool 2-tone ball that makes short game practice more interesting.

 

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How to turn technical thinking into task-based think in your golf game

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The mind can only be in one place at a time at 40 bits of information per second. To build a golf swing this way would be like an ant building New York City this way: a most impossible task. When you are task-based you are using the human self-preserving system, that works at 40 million bits per second, choose wisely.

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