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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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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Speed release patterns and restriction removals for the best golf of your life

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If you’ve been keeping your head or practicing to steer your golf club towards the target. Or worse, restricting your backswing because you feel a loss of control, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment because your anatomy was designed to yield.

 

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On Spec: Club fitting isn’t magic! Also, Lydia Ko and Stewart Cink win again

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On this week’s episode, host Ryan Barath covers everything from Lydia Ko’s comeback win on the LPGA tour, to why club fittings aren’t some magical thing that’s going to instantly lower scores.

It also covers Stewart Cink’s win at the RBC Heritage and offers a sneak peek at the GolfWRX Best Iron list of 2021.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) here

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Opinion & Analysis

Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others. 

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.

Step 1 – The Importance of Assessment

Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab

Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns

Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury

Introduction

Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track. 

In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!

– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back

– Poor Posture

– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances

– Weak Core Muscles

Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.

With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.

Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility

1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side

2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side

Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds

2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds

3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side

Step 2.2 – Improving Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.

Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles

1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs

2) Posture Cue – 60 secs

3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side

4) Arm Press – 15 reps

Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.

For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.

In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.

If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App (iOS)
Online Training
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