Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Rich Hunt’s 2014 Pro Golf Synopsis, which can be purchased here for $10.
This past season, PGA Tour players made an average of 39.8 percent of their birdie putts from 5-to-15 feet while making 52.6 percent of their par-or-worse putts from the same distance. That means that Tour players make a higher percentage of par-or-worse putts than they make birdie putts from the same distance.
Why? To explain, I’ll start with the numbers.
Here’s a list of the 10 Tour players who saw the largest drop-off in their birdie make percentage from their par or worse make percentage:
Only two players on the PGA Tour — Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman — made a higher percentage of their birdie putts than par-or-worse putts from 5-to-15 feet in the 2013-2014 season.
At first, I thought Tour players made more par-or-worse putts than birdie putts because they were more likely to have birdie putts that were downhill. Studies done by golf researchers show that in general players make a higher percentage of uphill putts from the same distance than downhill putts.
The other premonition I had was that on par-or-worse putts Tour players were more likely to have gotten a feel for that particular green. More often than not, Tour players are trying to make a birdie with either a putt on the green or a chip from just off the green. They get a better feel for the green on the putt or chip and then have a better understanding of how to make the next putt.
In February 2011, in the American Economic Review authors Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer examined this in the article titled Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes.
Pope and Schweitzer’s premise is that Tour players are often suffering from loss aversion, as they make a lower percentage of birdie putts than par putts. The term loss aversion more or less means that the Tour golfers are more averse to losing strokes to the field by three-putting and missing their par saves versus gaining strokes by making birdie putts.
The article examines the misses of Tour players through ShotLink data. They tested to see if there was a bias by Tour players in the direction of their misses (left or right) and found none. What they did find, however, were three major points:
- Tour players miss birdie putts short of the cup a higher percentage of the time than on par-or-worse putts.
- Tour players miss more birdie putts early in events.
- Tour players miss a higher percentage of birdie putts short of the cup earlier in events.
That’s how they came to their conclusion of loss aversion — Tour players are missing birdie putts short of the cup because they are afraid of hitting them too far past the cup and three-putting. And with par-or-worse putts, Tour players are missing them past the cup because they are averse to losing strokes and therefore willing to hit putts with a more aggressive speed to make sure the ball gets to the hole.
Hot Putters Misses vs. Cold Putters Misses
After discovering these miss biases based on the length of the putt, I started to examine the players who finished in the top-5 and the players who finished in the bottom-5 of the PGA Tour’s Strokes-Gained Putting statistic each week. There were some distinct patterns that the top-5 putters and the bottom-5 putters had with their misses.
Inside 20 feet
Regardless of how well the player was putting during a tournament or whether their putts were for birdie, par or bogey, the vast majority of misses ended up long of the cup. However, the bottom-5 putters would have around 8-to-10 percent of their misses end up 1 foot or more short of the hole. They would also have 10-to-15 percent of their misses end up 3 feet or more past the cup on putts inside 20 feet.
That tendency is in line with Pope and Schweitzer’s findings — the putts that missed well short were almost always birdie or eagle putts, while the putts that missed well long (3 feet or more) were almost always par or worse putts.
The misses were far more consistent with the “hot putters.” There was almost never a putt inside 20 feet that they missed 1 foot short of the hole or worse. In fact, they would rarely miss more than 3 inches short of the cup and it was usually on a green where the putt had a large amount of break, so it is more difficult to hit the putt at the right speed.
On the putts they missed long, hot putters missed 78 percent of them from 6 inches past the cup to 3 feet past the cup. Simply put, their speed control was much better than cold putters that week and even when they missed the putt they almost always had enough speed to get the ball to the cup.
Outside 20 feet
Putts longer than 20 feet are a little trickier in terms of recording the data. A golfer who misses a 25-foot putt by 6 feet generally made a much worse putt than a player with a 75-foot putt that missed by 6 feet. This is the first thing to take into account — how much remaining distance divided into the length of the original putt.
As I mentioned earlier, the general findings were that most putts from outside 20 feet– whether they were birdie or par putts — were missed short of the cup. There were very few par putt attempts outside 20-feet compared to birdie or eagle putts, however.
Once again, the hot putters had much more consistency. They kept 95 percent of the putts they missed outside 20 feet in a 3-to-10 percent leftover range. Further, they were more likely to miss long on putts outside 20 feet. Seung Yul Noh was a good example of this when he won the 2014 Zurich Classic, as he only missed two putts outside 20 feet short of the cup for the entire event. His first such putt did not come until late in Round 3.
Cold putters kept 88 percent of their missed putts outside 20 feet in a 3-to-10 percent leftover range. This begs the obvious question of why don’t they miss more outside that range if they are putting so terribly? The answer is that putts inside 20 feet are more makeable and there is a great deviation in the percentage of putts made from inside 20 feet. Putts from 3-to-15 feet separate the best putters from the rest of the Tour, so when a player is putting poorly it is usually due to their performance inside 20 feet rather than putts outside 20 feet.
In the end, hot putters tend to be much more consistent with their speed on their misses than cold putters. This simply means that when players are putting well their speed control is at its best and when they are putting poorly their speed control is normally at its worst.
True Putting Speed vs. False Speed
As I was working through the data, one client asked me why Tour players miss a higher percentage of birdie putts inside 20 feet even though they are usually missing those putts long of the cup? It’s an excellent question because if loss aversion is the issue and the player is still hitting putts inside 20 feet to the cup or past the cup, then loss aversion should not be a real issue.
Looking at the distance past the cup, however, is NOT an analysis of the speed of the putts. Speed is distance traveled over a period of time. Looking at the distance the ball has traveled past the cup is only looking at the distance traveled variable and does not include the time variable. This has caused many people to mistakenly believe that hitting a putt 17 inches past the cup is considered optimal speed for making the putt. Not only is that not a measurement of speed, but research from golf instructors such as Geoff Mangum, David Orr and Mark Sweeney show that even if we were to use the variable of distance past the cup, 17 inches past the hole would NOT be the optimal distance.
The main point is that there is NOT one optimal distance to miss a putt past the cup even if you are to use that as a measurement. On slower putts, which are either slower on the stimpmeter or uphill putts, the optimal distance past the cup is shorter.
On a very slow green on a steep incline, the optimal distance past the cup may only be 3 inches. On a very fast green with a steep downward slope, the optimal distance past the cup may be 30 inches.
In reality, the actual optimal speed as noted from experts that have researched this is 2-to-3 revolutions per second. This can cause a variety of distances past the cup depending on the green surface and the slope.
This comes back to the question of why Tour players are missing more birdie putts inside 20 feet if they are still getting to the hole? My answer is that their speed is still likely too slow when it comes to birdie putts. And the players who are “cold” tend to get confused and frustrated and end up ramming a few putts well past the cup. From there, everything goes haywire. Even the best birdie putters on Tour may have the natural instinct to hit their birdie putts at a speed of 1 revolution per second rather than 2-to-3 revolutions per second. They may even end up trying to counter that by hitting a couple of birdie putts inside 20 feet at 4 revolutions per second. They end up controlling their impulse to hit putts too softly and then hit them too hard compared to weaker putters.
And when polling Tour players and caddies as to what players they feel hit their putts the “firmest” on Tour, the top-5 players were Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Russell Henley.
Here’s how those players finished in Birdie versus Par+ Make Percentage from 5-to-15 feet:
Only Snedeker ranked better in Par+ putts than Birdie putts, but he also saw the largest regression by his standards as he fell to 27th in Putts Gained, his worst season putting on Tour since 2008. While the poll was hardly scientific, it gives some indication that there may be something to using an aggressive speed on birdie putts.
The most negative part of struggling with loss aversion is how it affects golfers on other putts, particularly birdie putts during the round. The research data performed on the players who putt the worst in an event showed that they often miss well short on a birdie putt and then counter that by doing the exact opposite and hitting a future birdie putt too hard.
I wanted to take these findings and not only help players make more birdie putts, but also decrease their odds of three-putting as well. One of the things I have discovered with limited data is that the Tour players who used the AimPoint Express method increased their make percentage from outside 15 feet by 1.6 percent. For a Tour player, that equates to roughly 12 more putts made per year. While that may not seem like much, that can be worth roughly $325,000 for the season. That number also does not account the decreased likelihood of three-putting. After all, if you’re making more putts then you’re more likely to have closer second putts and you’re more likely to not three-putt.
I would also recommend that golfers try to find what I call their “aversion point.” I did this with myself and a few of my friends. We plotted roughly 10 rounds of putting. It is vital that you actually record this in a round of golf rather than on the practice green, because you are trying to determine where your loss aversion occurs.
Here is a real life example of a round of putts that I plotted. I sorted them in order of distance starting with putts of at least 5 feet.
This chart is indicative of other rounds I recorded. While a Tour player’s aversion point on a putt seems to be at 20 feet, I would start to miss putts short of the hole once I had a putt that was 15-feet long. I did make two 25-foot putts, but they were both downhill so it was easier for me to get the ball to the cup. For others, the aversion point may be at 25 feet or at 8 feet. The players I plotted were no worse than 3 handicaps and typically their aversion point was from 15-to-20 feet.
While I try to avoid giving actual swing and putting instruction advice in my book, the 2014 Pro Golf Synopsis, my recommendation after speaking to several putting instructors is that if you are trying to force yourself to hit a putt with a higher rate of speed, the goal is to NOT try and hit the ball harder. Instead, increase the length of your putting stroke.
The visual for myself is to get an idea of what stroke I think I need to make on a putt outside 15 feet and then go with a stroke that is a little longer with the same rhythm and tempo so the ball gets to the hole on putts outside 15 feet.
Club Junkie: Srixon ZX and TaylorMade SIM2 Max fairways and My top 3 drivers!
Masters hangover week is here! I have had the new Srixon ZX fairway out on the course and it is underrated as you would imagine. Reshafted the SIM2 Max 3w and it has been super consistent and comfortable. Talking about the top 3 drivers I have been hitting this year.
The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine
I believe one of the big differences between good amateurs and those who are not-so-good—and between the top professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—lies in the consistency of their pre-shot routine. I read an interesting account on this subject after the final round of the 1990 Masters when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Greg Norman. I know that was 30 years ago, but the lesson is just as relevant today.
This particular analyst timed the pre-shot routines of both players during the first three rounds and found that on the final day that Norman got quicker and quicker through his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.
Anytime you watch professional golf—or the better players at your club—you’ll see precision and consistency in the way they approach all of their shots. There is a lesson there for all of us—so, here are my ideas of how the pre-shot routine should work.
The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land, and roll. It is certainly realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches, and putts, as they are all very different challenges. As you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.
On any shot, I believe the best starting point is from behind the ball, seeing in your “mind’s eye” the film clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight path it will take, and on greenside shots, just how it will roll out. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and take as many practice swings as it takes to “feel” the swing that will produce that visualized shot path for you.
Your actual pre-shot routine can start when you see that shot clearly and begin your approach the ball to set up. From that “trigger point,” you should work hard to do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.
This is something that you can and should work on at the range. When you are out there “banging balls,” don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot.
So, guys and ladies, there’s my $.02 on the pre shot routine. What do you have to add?
Ways to Win: Hideki Matsuyama from Low Am to low man at the Masters
They say the Masters does not start until the back nine on Sunday, but by that time, this year’s iteration was all but wrapped up. Hideki Matsuyama stepped onto the 10th tee with a five-stroke lead and the volatile back nine in front of him. The Augusta pines would be void of roars, though, as Matsuyama’s pursuers near the top of the leaderboard struggled to mount a significant charge. The closest challenger was a late-charging Xander Schauffele, who made four straight birdies to get to within two of the lead heading to the 16th tee. His hopes were then quickly dashed when he dunked his tee shot in the water and eventually made a triple-bogey. Augusta National Golf Club played difficult this spring. Contrary to the record-setting November version, the greens were more brown and firm than typical and required precision. Luckily for Matsuyama, precision has made him one of the elite golfers in the world. He earned this green jacket. He just happened to earn it on Saturday where his 65 was three strokes better than the next-best round. Using V1 Game to analyze his Strokes Gained performance shows Matsuyama gained 6.7 strokes on the average PGA Tour field on Saturday and 4.2 of those were from his iron game.
Matsuyama has always been a premier ball striker and, if anything, poor putting has held him back from winning more. Augusta National is no place for a balky putter and Matsuyama has made some significant strides in that category. While he did not gain strokes on the field in putting this week, he managed to get to average and, with his elite ballstriking, that was enough. Augusta National’s lightning-quick, undulated greens reward a properly-struck shot and punish even the slightest mishit. Matsuyama made 96 feet of putts Saturday (the PGA TOUR average is around 70 feet), including birdie putts of five, 19, 10, four and 10 feet. He also made a six-foot eagle putt on 15. You don’t have to be an elite putter when you have opportunities that close. Good for Matsuyama, because while he filled it up on Saturday, for the week, his putting was sub-standard.
V1 Game breaks down putting performance by distance from the hole, where we can see that Matsuyama lost strokes to the field in all but four distance buckets. He gave significant strokes back to the field from 4-6 feet, 11-15 ft, and 31-50 feet. Matsuyama had four 3-putts on the week, including one on Saturday and one Sunday. That’s progressing in the right direction, but still with room for improvement for the 29-year-old Matsuyama.
If you are going to win the Masters, it always starts with the par 5s and Matsuyama took advantage, playing them in 11-under for the week. He played the par 3s in +1 and the par 4s in even par for the week. Clearly, the par 5s were vital to him being able to get to the required -10 to win the tournament by just a single stroke. Augusta National has arguably the finest set of par fives in golf, each of them scorable and each of them dangerous. With V1 Game’s Hole History, Hideki played the 13th the best at -4 and the 8th the next-best at -3. Hideki made three eagles on the par 5s and averaged 4.3 strokes on the par 5s. That even includes the near-disaster on 15 on Sunday. Matsuyama was consistently in play off the tee and able to challenge the greens with his approach shots throughout the week.
All of the above added up to a healthy lead and afforded Matsuyama some cushion coming down the stretch, cushion that he needed as he got closer to earning his first green jacket. The golf tournament could have turned out significantly differently if young Will Zalatoris could have found a way to play better around Amen Corner, but instead Matsuyama was able to stumble a bit down the stretch and still maintain a two-stroke cushion until the final putt was holed. The Strokes Gained Heatmap from V1 Game for his final round scorecard shows exactly which part of his game became unsteady. Matsuyama overshot the 15th green into the lake and made bogey (Approach). Then three-putted the 16th green and missed a short putt on 18 (putting), knowing bogey was enough to win the golf tournament.
Still, a well-earned victory for Matsuyama. He struck the ball better than anyone else this week and did enough to claim the victory. Augusta National showed its teeth with firmer, faster greens and challenged the field to be precise. Matsuyama has made a career out of being precise. The same strength that brought Hideki Low Amateur honors more than 10 years ago brought him the green jacket as low man in the 2021 Masters.
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