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The King of All Golf Stats? First Putt Distance

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If you were going to track one stat and one stat only on each round you played to help lower your scores, which stat would it be? GIR? Fairways Hit? Putts Per Round?

If you are a tour player, your answer might be that just one stat would not cut it. At the highest level of competition, golfers need to know where they stand on every single stat possible to analyze their entire game against their fellow competitors. For the average player, however, that’s a little complicated. It’s difficult and also time consuming to try to track every stat on every hole for every round you play. In addition, you might not need the most advanced statistical analysis to identify areas of your golf game that need the most attention.

You didn’t have to ace statistics to track golf stats

I don’t consider myself to be the smartest person in the room, but I have always been a hard worker. In college, I graduated in 4]four years playing competitive golf year round and managed a 3.5 GPA. However, one of the 2 “C”s I received in college was in — guess what — statistics!

I hated the class and simply just didn’t grasp it that well. I wasn’t much better with statistics on the golf course to be honest. I played collegiate golf in the early 90’s and while I’m sure some coaches were tracking detailed stats, ours was not. Of course, everyone was tracking scoring average, but they weren’t tracking all the individual stats that have now become common. When I turned professional I should have, would have, could have done a much better job of tracking my stats and analyzing my weak spots. If only I could turn back time.

In any case, golf statistics have evolved and exploded since then, and online stat trackers have popped up everywhere. Golfers and instructors are realizing the insights that any golfer can get from studying their stats from rounds of golf. I decided that instead of getting left behind, I better join the movement. So when my partners and I set out to create the MyGolfInstructor.com Game Tracker, we wanted to create a tool that anyone could use to easily track the stats they wanted, but more importantly, to give the golfer a detailed analysis of their game based on those stats. We wanted this not only to allow golfers to analyze their stats, but to have a tool whereby the instructor offers targeted analysis on those stats as well. In some cases, golfers see the stats they want to see, but an unbiased analysis of your golf stats can reveal even more opportunities for improvement. Use of the Game Tracker has helped me to improve my student’s games quicker and more efficiently than ever before. It’s not all about swing and mechanics anymore. It’s not all about mental game, physical fitness and equipment either. It’s about finding the really weak areas of the game first and attacking them from every angle. Numbers don’t lie.

When I started analyzing stats for the first time with rounds entered into our Game Tracker, I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. Where should I start with each student? What stat is the most important? Which part of the game should they try to improve first? It’s easy to get caught up in the usual stats: Putts, Fairways Hit and Greens in Regulation. After a couple of months though, I quickly became comfortable and efficient at being able to target the weak point on each card. I soon noticed an interesting trend.

The King of All Stats: First Putt Distance

My eyes would always jump to the putting stats first because it seems to be the easiest place for the average player to improve and is also the easiest place for the average player to waste a myriad of shots. Anyone who read my previous article The 5 Principles of Putting, knows that it is a part of the game I feel the average player can compete to the level of a tour pro. There was something beyond the total number of putts, however, that stood out on every card. I nicknamed it “The King of All Stats:” First Putt Distance.

Your 1st Putt Distance is a Crucial Stat

Your first putt distance is a crucial stat.

First Putt Distance is the key to so much information about a player’s game and it syncs up well with four other common stats:

  • Putts per round.
  • Made putt distance.
  • Chipping.
  • Approach club.

Obviously, First Putt Distance tells us why a golfer’s putting average is high or low. If someone is always hitting their first putt from more than 20 feet, then I’m not surprised when they come in with putting rounds consistently averaging above 31 or 33 putts per round (the target I set for my students). If I know their first putt was from 30 feet and the putt they made was from 10, then I know their speed control stinks. You can see by the chart below pulled from our Game Tracker that the average first putt is a strong 15 feet.

1st Putt Distance

While this is way better than I would have guessed for most players, it still makes it difficult to make one putts and our stats show that most golfers rarely make their first putt. We know from Dave Pelz’ research that tour players make only 50 percent of their putts from 6 feet, so we know for the average player to leave a putt outside of 6 feet makes the chances of sinking it miniscule. As far as Made Putt Distance goes, this graph clearly shows that 3 feet is the range where the average player can sink a putt.

Average Made Putt Distance

According to Dave Pelz, tour players make 92 percent of putts from this distance, so it makes sense that it would be an easier range for the everyday golfer as well.

First Putt Distance also tells me a lot about a golfer’s chipping skills. If I can see that a player had to chip on seven holes and then I’m able to look and see that their first putts are always outside of 10 feet, then I know we have a problem in the short game. As you can see by the chart below, the average number of chips per round is 10! This one was much higher than I thought it would be, but again it emphasizes how important skilled chipping is to lowering that First Putt Distance stat.

Chips Per Round

The approach club used can signal weaknesses

The other key stat that gives us a lot of information is approach club. Again, if their First Putt Distance is always 20+ feet, then I know they aren’t hitting the ball tight to the pin. This prompts me to see what clubs they are hitting that are leaving them with such long first putts, and then we have clubs to target with improved ball striking. Our research shows that the difference between a “good” golfer and an “average/bad” golfer when it comes to these numbers is that a “good” golfer does a lot better on approaches. Maybe they aren’t consistent with having the first putt on the green being a makeable distance, but frequently getting a good approach gives them a better chance at a one putt and less of a chance of three putting.

It’s easy to see that every golfer should chart their First Putt Distance, as it gives them great insight into how well they are putting, chipping and approaching the green. Unfortunately only 15 percent of golfers on the Game Tracker track this vital stat. It’s as simple as taking the time to walk off the length of your first putt while you are going through your pre-shot routine and lining up your putt. If you aren’t already, start tracking your First Putt Distance this summer and I promise you that you will quickly gain insight into what part of your game is really adding the strokes. Here is a link to our Game Tracker to help get you started.

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Maria can be found at StLouisGolfLessons.com Maria's Teaching Credentials Top 50 LPGA Instructor LPGA Midwest Section Teacher of the Year 2008, 2011 & 2013 Golf Digest Top 5 Teacher in the State of Missouri 2013-Present Golf Digest Top 10 Teacher in the State of Illinois in 2007-2008 Golf Magazine Top Teacher in the Midwest from 2005-2008 Co-Founder and Content Creator for MyGolfInstructor.com Certified Golf Psych Instructor TPI Certified Golf Fitness Instructor Maria's Playing Credentials: 2002 Illinois Open Champion 2000 LPGA Championship Qualifier Participated in LPGA Tour Events 1999-2002 1999 LPGA Midwest Section Champion 1993 Missouri State Amateur Champion 1993 All-Sunbelt Conference Player 1992-1993 St. Louis District Champion 1987 Missouri State High School Champion

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Nagah

    Apr 22, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Thats why I practice only lagging 30/25/20 down to 12 feet. Statistically I have a small chance of holing a put from outside 12 feet as apposed to the opposite stat of 3 putting by being aggressive on my first putt being high.
    I played in a comp today and stiffed about 3 approaches inside 10 feet and only converted one for birdie. Im not a bad putter btw just that the stats seen to indicate the amateurs only hole about 40% of putts 6 to 10 feet from the hole.

    • Iceman

      Apr 22, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Nagah,

      I do something similar, except that I focus on lagging to within 1 to 2 feet. Prior to rounds at a course, I focus almost solely on lag putting (20 to 30+ feet) with a hand full of short putts (usually the second putt from the original lag effort). The idea is that if you can control speed / direction from distance shorter putts by definition are easier.

      I typically only focus on putts less than 10 feet at home, where I practice a ton of 10, 5 and 3 foot putts on my indoor putting mat.

    • Greg coleman

      Apr 24, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Maria insightful stat, makes intuitive sense and is indeed pretty easy to get even if u r lazy like me. . Btw Mark Brodie ( of Every Shot Counts fame and the strokes gained putting creator) has updated Pelz’ data . It is now 50/50 for a tour player at 8 feet not 6 feet. Among other things it shows I’m even a worse putter than I thought.
      Greg

      • Maria Palozola

        May 4, 2014 at 6:27 pm

        Thanks Greg. That’s good information to know. Wow…they just keep getting better and better don’t they!

  2. Iceman

    Apr 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Very interesting article.

    That said, I agree with the other comments, FPD as a stand alone stat is not the holy grail of metrics. I play upwards of 90 rounds per year, and track GIRs, quality drives (e.g., FIRs or just off the fairway), number of chips, number of putts, and comments on stroke quality (e.g, solid contact / fat / thin / pull / pushes / etc.). Analyzing these stats post-round clearly illustrate the areas of my game where I struggled / performed well.

    FPD is a good stat to add to the list, but even without it I tend to know if my proximity to the hole was “off” for a round (based on comments on stroke quality).

    • Maria Palozola

      Apr 21, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Hi Iceman. Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks for the comments. If I could track one stat and one stat only for my students I’ve learned that First Putt Distance is the one that gets us the farthest in improving their games quickly.

      If you could only track one stat to improve your game which would it be? Please throw out the common ones that are already tracked like total putts, GIR and Fairways Hit.

      • Iceman

        Apr 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        Maria,

        If I could track only one stat it would be the number of quality strokes per round. Where strokes with solid / pure contact in which the resulting shot travels 1a. on the intended trajectory, 1b. the intended distance, and 1c. in the intended direction are considered a quality stroke.

        Fat/heavy, thin/bladed, and slices/hooks are considered poor strokes. Even pushes/pulls may be considered poor strokes (though the degree of a push/pull is relative to the distance, target, club selection and purpose of stroke).

        In my view, quality strokes per round applies to drives, full/partial iron shots, pitches, chips, punch shots, and even putts (though distance / direction typically only matter with putting).

        I tend to believe that if players focus on solid contact (which will result in intended distance / trajectory) in conjunction with direction control scoring will take care of itself. Once a player truly understands what a quality stroke/solid contact feels like and can see the results with respect to intended trajectory, distance and direction, the player will have the ability to 1. select the proper club given a situation, and 2. properly evaluate where to focus their efforts to improve. This also allows a player to differentiate between “good”, “poor” and and “lucky” strokes which also allows players to evaluate performance and focus on where to improve. Lower scores will follow.

  3. Alan

    Apr 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Cant get mygolfinstructor.com to work for UK. Doesn’t find golf courses due to ZIP code finder. 🙁

    • Maria Palozola

      Apr 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Hi Alan,
      We have hundreds of users from the UK and Australia and such. Just put in the dummy zip code 90210 and you will be able to get in. Thanks for checking it out and let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. trapp120

    Apr 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I’m not saying it’s a bad stat, however I think any serious golfer could analyze their weaknesses fairly quickly. Approach shots aren’t given enough due, when in reality your approach to a GIR will make or break each hole on average. If you’re chipping, you’re either a very long driver or you missed on your approach. This is where your “first putt distance” metric makes sense, but unfortunately it needs to be from “par” just like TheCityGame has recommended, because if it’s not for par, that clearly isn’t the biggest leak.

    I firmly believe the key to great golf is in a combined number of metrics. FIR, GIR and then as you stated FPD. GIR means little at 50ft away, so I will agree that your metric is the last part of the complete golfer building block and will also agree that on any approach, whether for par or not, getting the FPD under 6 feet is crucial for lowering scores.

    • Maria Palozola

      Apr 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Trapp 120. Thanks for the insight and taking the time to read and reply. I couldn’t agree more about approach shots. They really separate the good players from the “not so good.” Good ball strikers give themselves a chance at scoring that higher handicapper almost never see. They used to always say (and probably still do) that the difference between good amateurs and tour players is the shots into the pin. When I played in a handful of tour events I definitely found that to be true.

  5. TheCityGame

    Apr 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I don’t want to pooh-pooh the article, but I wouldn’t crown it the “king of all stats” because you always need more information to make it meaningful.

    If I told you that Golfer A had average “first putt distance” of 20 feet and Golfer B had average “FPD” of 10 feet, you might think Golfer B had a better round. But, Golfer A might have hit 15 greens, and golfer B hit 10 greens. It’s not meaningful unless I know other information.

    Something like “length of putt for par” would be a telling statistic that would capture GIR, chipping ability, and putting ability. Of course on a blow up hole, “length of putt for par” might be 150 yards.

    If you could combine a couple stats like, “GIR/FPD” then a HIGH value of that would tell you that you’re hitting a lot of greens and/or chipping it close. A low value would tell you the opposite.

    To be useful instructionally, it would be interesting to see a statistic like THAT regressed against “scoring average”. Then, a golfer could look at his/her scoring compared to what it SHOULD be based on GIR/FPD and determine if he/she should be working on putting, or better ballstriking.

    • Maria Palozola

      Apr 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Hi TheCityGame,

      Thanks for taking the time to read the article and posting a lengthy and well thought out reply. You are correct in that some combo stats would go a long way in helping a golfer better understand the state of their game. I love your idea of a GIR/FPD stat, so I’ll pass that along.

      As I as saying in the article, the first place I look for the everyday player is putting. It’s simply the easiest place to get my students drop the most strokes and perform more like a professional (as opposed to getting them to hit 300 yard drives). So while knowing their GIR is of course important to me and to them, seeing how far they have to hit the first putt gives me more insight. Like I said it goes well with the other 4 stats I listed. For instance if they are always putting first from 25 feet, then I know their putting stat is probably over blown and the real problem is either in their chipping or their approach club. So for the average player it’s a simple stat to track and one that gives them a great picture of their game.

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