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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: Reviewing TaylorMade’s P770 Irons and SuperStroke’s Wrist Lock Putter Grip!

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Finally, I have had a full set of TaylorMade P770 irons out on the course for the last few weeks. The P770 takes a bunch of DNA from the larger P790 and packs it into a smaller size. Don’t be fooled, the smaller size still gives you a bunch of distance and forgiveness! SuperStroke’s Wrist Lock putter grip is designed to help add stability and consistency to your putting stroke. It really does give you the feeling that the putter is locked into your stroke and won’t go anywhere.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: My thoughts on single-length irons

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One of the bigger stories in golf equipment the past few years – thanks to Mr. De Chambeau – is the development of single-length irons. So, are they right for you or not? That’s a question only a fair trial can answer, but let me offer some thoughts on how your set make-up might look if you do take that direction.

First of all, the concept is not about single-length clubs — the conversation is about single-length irons. No one is playing a driver or fairway woods at the same length as their irons. Probably not even the hybrids. The putter is typically not either. So, the question is where in the set does the “single-length” begin and end?

I’ve long espoused the concept that your set of clubs (excluding the very specialized putter) should be divided into three sub-sets: Distance Clubs, Positioning Clubs, and Scoring Clubs. And generally speaking, these subsets each cover a specific range of lofts.

The Distance Clubs are those up to 20-25 degrees or so. This subset begins with your driver and encompasses your fairway woods and maybe your lowest loft hybrid or two. Your goal with these clubs is to move the ball “on out there” and put you in a place for your “positioning shot.”

The Positioning Clubs then begin after that highest loft Distance Club and take you up to 38 to 40 degrees of loft. Generally speaking, this subset would begin with your 3 or 4-iron or hybrid and go up to through your 7- or 8-iron. The goal with these clubs is to set up a reasonable putt or chip so you can get down in no more than 2-3 shots. My opinion is that it is only within this subset that “single-length” might serve you.

The Scoring Clubs – those over 38-40 degrees of loft — are the ones with which your scores will likely be determined. Long ago, I wrote several posts about the “round club mindset” when 8-irons had a more curved topline than the seven – a distinctly different look, and those 8-irons were 38 to 40 degrees. These are the clubs designed for putting the ball close enough for a makeable putt, hopefully, more often than not.

So, most conversations about single-length irons should be limited to that subset of “Positioning Clubs,” from your longest iron through that iron of 38-40 degrees. While many golfers may not see the distance separation between clubs that you would ideally like to have in that subset, others might. I’ve long observed that the distance a club can be hit is a combination of loft AND club shaft length. I just don’t see how you can get the range of distances from the longest to shortest in the set by changing loft only. I have tried several of these sets and just do not experience the distance differentials I want from that subset in my bag.

But I can certainly assure you that you simply cannot be as accurate with wedges that are 37 or 38 inches in length as you can with those clubs being 35 to 36 inches. It’s simple golf club physics. With very few exceptions, the shorter the club, the narrower your distance dispersion is going to be.

Consider that a “wide” shot with a 45-inch driver might be 30-40 yards off-line, while even the worst “wide” shot with your 35-and-three-quarter-inch pitching wedge is not likely to be more than 15 yards offline. In between, your lateral dispersion is progressively narrower as the shaft length is reduced.

So, I just cannot see why anyone would want to make their wedges the same length as their 5- or 6-iron, 37.5 to 38 inches, and give up the naturally more accurate dispersion that the shorter shaft delivers.

I am looking forward to hearing from those of you who have tried single-length irons and longer wedges to share your experiences.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Sharing some time with one of the best PGA Professionals in America

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Meet Jimmy Stewart. From his early childhood junior days in Singapore and Thailand, to golf course and driving range operator in California. We talk Turkey, where the game was, where it is and to where it’s going.

 

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