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What’s easier: Free throws or three footers?

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I’ve made three free throws in a row before; before, as in a long, long time ago, and I made maybe five or six in a row during drills when I was at the peak of my teenage game. I’ll also claim 10 in a row when no one was watching. I’ll bet in 35 years of golf, I’ve never made three 15-foot putts in a row, even on a practice green.

Of course there are differences and maybe shooting a free throw and making a putt don’t really correlate. But in this world today, you can statistically compare almost any two things; why not free throws and putts? See which skill is more difficult. Indulge me for a bit of fractured logic that would make Nate Silver shake his head…and if you’re really looking for a serious discussion, well, it’s a big Internet.

The golf hole is about 2.5 times the diameter of the golf ball while the basketball hoop is only 1.8 times larger than the basketball (there won’t be any footnotes to show my calculations). Now there may be some area or volume variables that I don’t understand or account for, but this isn’t fivethirtyeight.com and I’m not smart enough to know that math. Let’s just stipulate that everybody stands 15 feet away from the target. And that it is possible to fit a square peg into a round hole if the square peg is small enough.

My postulation then is, assuming roughly equivalent athleticism and skill levels for the control subjects, it should be easier for a golf ball to fit into a golf hole than it is for a basketball to go into the hoop. The larger the projectile relative to the target’s diameter, the harder it is to fit it in. This isn’t the birds and bees here, kids.

Let’s have the control subjects be top pro athletes; members of the PGA Tour and, even though we’re all crazy with college hoops right now, NBA players.

Okay, this blows my theory to smithereens. From 10-to-15 feet, lasered, this season’s leading tour pro is Matt Every and he has a one-putt from this distance 20.1 percent of the time, making 30 out of 149 tries (through the Valspar Championship). Granted, I doubt if he ever three-putts, but this percentage of makes still seems low. I mean for pros, not for me.

The bottom man on the putting totem pole is Johnson Wagner; he practically laid the goose egg, making a one-putt on just one of 43 tries from 10 to 15 feet in his first 18 rounds this year.

In the NBA, it’s quite a different story from the free throw line; granted, there are no downhill, left-to-right breaking free throws. Stephen Curry and a few others make nine out of 10 tries. And even when the air conditioning is blowing straight into his face, DeAndre Jordan makes nearly 2.5 times as many of his free throws as Matt Every does his 10-to-15-foot putts.

There are many differences, of course. The free throw shooter is facing the basket, holds the ball, looks at his target and knows he has a backboard. The golfer is sideways to the hole, holds a putter, looks at the ball, not the eventual target, and knows he could run it 5 feet by or leave it 4 feet short. Air ball.

Basketball players are likely to be sweaty and in good shape. Pro golfers, too, are in good shape; most look like professional athletes and stand out in a crowd of non-athletes. As for the other: hey, they don’t show the golfers who sweat on TV, at least not during the Sunday afternoon telecasts.

At what distance do pro golfers make the same percentage of putts as NBA players do their free throws?

At 5-to-10 feet, (these stats are only for the distances of the players’ first putt on a green), the PGA Tour percentage doesn’t increase much — a few guys hole 35 out of 100, but no one is making four out of 10 one-putts.

Inside 5 feet, we finally get to a number that fits within the NBA’s free throw percentage range. Kevin Na, at slightly more than 60 percent made one-putts from inside 5 feet, leads the PGA Tour. Kevin would be the guy you’d foul at a crucial point in the game if his sport were hoops, not holes.

The distance that matches the pro golfers’ make percentage with NBA players’ percentage of converting free throws isn’t measured by official PGA Tour statistics. I’d guess that the NBA’s “pro’s par” of 75 percent make-rate is reached by PGA pros at about 2.5-to-3.5 feet, or just outside of tap-in range.

For an NBA player, that distance isn’t a free throw — it’s called a slam-dunk.

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Tom Hill is a 9.7 handicap, author and former radio reporter. Hill is the author of the recently released fiction novel, A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth, a humorous golf saga of one player’s unexpected attempt to shoot a score he never before thought possible. Kirkus Reviews raved about A Perfect Lie, (It) “has the immediacy of a memoir…it’s no gimme but Hill nails it square.” (kirkusreviews.com). A Perfect Lie is available as an ebook or paperback through 7-ironpress.com and the first three chapters are available online to sample. Hill is a dedicated golfer who has played more than 2,000 rounds in the past 30 years and had a one-time personal best handicap of 5.5. As a freelance radio reporter, Hill covered more than 60 PGA and LPGA tournaments working for CBS Radio, ABC Radio, AP Audio, The Mutual Broadcasting System and individual radio stations around the country. “Few knew my name and no one saw my face,” he says, “but millions heard my voice.” Hill is the father of three sons and lives with his wife, Arava Talve, in southern California where he chases after a little white ball as often as he can.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. NB

    Mar 28, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Statistics used in this article are incorrect. Just check pgatour.com for accurate 1-putt probabilities. Stats from 5-6 feet: http://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.344.2014.html

    • Tom HIll

      Mar 28, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Cool NB – those were just the stats I was looking for and couldn’t find – putts made at specific distances – all I could find, that was germane, at that site were putts made from under 5 feet, from 6 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20 etc. Hah – just watched Kevin Na miss a 2-footer at the Valero…

  2. Dave N

    Mar 27, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Played basketball in college (85% FT shooter) and I am a mid-capper in golf. IMO, three footers are easier, generally. (Unless we’re talking a lightning fast downhill left to righter–in which a more reasonable comparison would be an outdoors FT with strong wind). Putting is a simpler motion, and most 3 footers are pretty predictable in terms of pace and direction. Shooting FTs involves active participation by so many major muscles (feet, calves, quads, gluten, abs, back, shoulders, triceps, forearms, hands, fingers) that to be out of sync or twitchy a little bit in any area means a likely miss. It’s not a hard shot by any means, but harder than 3 foot putts. To the extent that this matters- I’m rarely upset if I miss a FT in a game, but if I miss a 3 footer, I’m ticked off for days.. Fun topic/comparison.

  3. Jake W

    Mar 26, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I come up with about a 3.55 foot putt being equivalent to a free throw.

    By my calculation, a free throw is taken 18.95 ball diameters from the hoop. This equates to 31.83″ from the hole on a putt, given that a golf ball is 1.68″ diameter. Then you have to consider the ratio of ball size to hole size (2.53 for golf, 1.89 for basketball). 2.53/1.89 is 1.34. 1.34 times 31.83″ equals 42.65″ which converts to a 3.55 foot putt.

    I realize there’s some assumptions made here and it probably doesn’t follow perfect logic, but I’m trying not to over-think this…

    Any questions?

  4. Jafar

    Mar 26, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    I think it’s hard to compare the two because in basketball your fingers are in contact with the ball till the very end of the release so you can add more “feel” to it.

    In golf you have a club, and therefore only feel something until after contact has been made.

    But I like the idea of correlating the two sports despite this.

  5. Phil

    Mar 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    I’ll have to go with freethrows. Definitely both include pressure and major nerves, but freethrows at the end of a game usually mean you’re exhausted and winded.

  6. Mnmlist Golfr

    Mar 25, 2015 at 11:59 am

    3-footers on the PGA Tour = Point-After-Touchdown in the NFL

  7. Scooter McGavin

    Mar 25, 2015 at 6:56 am

    I’m not even good at golf, but as someone who has played both sports, I’m still going to have to say 3 footers are easier.

  8. Vadim

    Mar 24, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    what is the point of this article again?

  9. mike

    Mar 24, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    At least on the professional side, 3 footers are much easier. Just have to look at 3 footer converstion rates on the PGA tour vs the free throws percentages in the NBA. It’s a no brainer.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft review and a big golf week for me!

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This week is a big golf week — playing in a member invitational! Got the bag sorted out and there are 14 clubs that I am going to live or die on the course with. I have been hitting the new VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft and am very impressed. A great counterbalanced option with a mid-low launch and low spin.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book review: The Golf Lover’s Guide To England

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There is this notion in the British isles, completely foreign to America, that states that visitors shall have access to all but a smallish passel of private clubs. In abject contrast, the finest clubs of the USA do their level best to keep their gates closed to both the riff and the raff, neither of which is nearly as detrimental to their continuity as some fearful members might believe. In this era of the database, would it be that hard to allow a visitor access once in her/his/their lifetime to Cypress Point, or Friar’s Head, or Prairie Dunes? Into the database their GHIN number would go, and if said individual were fortunate enough to win the lottery for a coveted golden ticket, err, tee time, that would be it for all time. I digress, however, as that rant is not the purpose of this book review.

The Golf Lover’s Guide To England, written and compiled by Michael Whitehead, lists 33 elite golf clubs across that country, divided into four regions, which are further divided into nine districts. Each of these clubs would be identified as unlikely in the USA, but is certainly accessible in England. The short story is: this nearly-pocket-sized compendium should accompany any traveler of golfing purpose, as it is invaluable for understanding the ins and outs of making contact, locating courses, and learning of their nature and history. The long story goes quite a bit deeper.

Michael Whitehead has the forethought to organize his works (Scotland was his first TGLGT volume) in meticulous fashion. The volume opens with a colorful map of the targeted country, complete with numbered flags to identify each of the courses reviewed within. The entire book explodes with wondrous colors, both in page background and course photography, and heightens the sensory experience of its study.

A delightful touch is the location of the Acknowledgements section in the front of the book. Typically relegated to one of the final pages that we skip past, before closing the cover, this is not the case here. Whitehead recognizes the invaluable assistance of his supporting cast, and situates them front and center. Good for you, Mr. Whitehead.

A brief history of the game in England is followed by the first of the four (North, Midlands & East Anglia, South East, South West) regions. The most populous of these is the South East, and we will use it to break down the districts. Five courses occupy an unnamed, scattered district. Five more are situated in the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt, and four of those sites offer 36 holes on property. A final three fit into the Kent Coast district, and one of them has 27 holes within its confines. Thus it goes throughout the other three regions, albeit at a less-frenetic pace.

Moving along, each of the 33 seminal courses is granted six pages for description and assessment. Whitehead assigns color-coded price guides to each course, ranging from the up-to-49-British-Pounds entry point to the over-200-British-Pounds stratum. He also offers seasonal stratification, identifying the High (expensive) season, the Shoulder (mid-range) seasons, and the Low (economic) season. To facilitate contact with the club, Whitehead does his level best to provide online, email, and telephone booking options for each of the clubs. He adds in area courses of interest, in case the reader/traveler is confined to a specific locale. What more could one need, in advance of the golf trip of a lifetime?

For starters, one might wish to know a bit more about the course. Mr. Whitehead goes into the distances of teeing grounds, the need (or not) for a handicap certificate, the availability of caddies and rentals (push cart, electric push cart, clubs and motorized carts), the dress code, and (if any) tee time restrictions. In other words, any botched planning falls squarely on the shoulders of the golfer. Michael Whitehead has led the horse to the trough, filled it with water, and essentially dunked the equine mouth in the aqueous substance.

I’ve a friend who hates to know anything about a course he has yet to play. Attempt to mention any facet of the course and his response is a loud and grating LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, ad infinitum or until you cease your attempt at enlightenment. For the rest of us sane travelers, a bit of back story about the property, the architect, and the laying out of the course adds to the anticipation. As an architecture aficionado, I base the majority of my trips around the works of the golden-age architects, here in the USA. If afforded the opportunity to travel to England, I would seek out the works of Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, Herbert Fowler, and their contemporaries. Thankfully, all of this information is listed in Whitehead’s thorough volume.

The old carpenter’s motto of measure twice and cut once can certainly be applied when considering a purchase of this volume. Abandon its opportunity and you risk a return trip to the lumber yard, at considerable expense. Take advantage of what it has to offer, and your trip’s chances at success are doubled at the very least.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: What’s your target score?

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Without a target score, you are just wandering in the field like a feather in the wind. The North Star for your mindset starts with a target score!

 

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