A few months ago, the GolfWRX Editorial Team emailed me three story ideas. The first two have worked out quite well (you can read them here and here), so I decided to dig into the third. Being somewhat of a grizzled veteran, I thought that I knew the answer to the above question… but could I prove it by researching the ShotByShot.com 160,000+ round database?
From the very beginning, 27 years ago, I have enabled ShotByShot users the flexibility to categorize their rounds by what I believe to be meaningful filters. Two of these filters are germane to this topic: Green Speed (fast, medium or slow) and Format (non-tournament vs. match play or stroke play tournament rounds). With considerable help from my genius programmer, we selected 17,000+ fairly recent rounds that represent the average 15-19 handicap golfer. We then sliced up the putting analysis according to the above green speed and format filters.
Let me try to anticipate and answer some obvious questions.
- Aren’t one man’s fast greens another’s medium or even slow? Absolutely! But as we have no way of knowing, I decided to ignore this variable and accept the indicated speed at face value.
- Do average golfers actually use these filters? Yes! The program has defaults for those who choose not to, but again, we can only evaluate the information provided.
The default for green speed is medium, and 71 percent of the selected rounds were medium. The default for format is non-tournament, which accounted for 84 percent of the rounds. These numbers made sense to me, as the average 15-19 handicap golfer tends to not participate in many tournaments, especially not stroke play where one must hole out on every hole.
It was what I expected, but nowhere near as dramatic. Putting was slightly better on slow- and medium-speed greens, and the putting on non-tournament greens were slightly better than tournaments.
- 1-Putt Percentages: These were within one percentage point across all categories, from a high of 18.9 precent on medium greens to a low of 18.1 percent of fast greens.
- 3-Putt Percentages were a bit more interesting. A low of 12.5 percent on medium greens vs. a high of 14.3 percent on fast greens. Again, not a great difference.
- Tournament vs. Non-tournament: Rounds recorded as stroke play also showed themselves to be more difficult, which makes sense.
What I found most interesting was the incidence of Four Putts. I used to say that the vast majority of golfers go through an entire career and never 4-putt. Why? They simply pick up after three putts. I was wrong when it comes to our ShotByShot.com subscribers, as they do record their 4-putts. I know that I generally 4-putt once a year. When it happens, I am never happy but always tell myself: “Look on the bright side, we got that out of the way and now won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the year.”
In a Putting Distance Control study of the 2015 PGA Tour, I learned that there were 88 four-putts and five 5-putts recorded by ShotLink last year. More than I would have guessed!
But here’s what I found interesting about our average golfer study; the incidence of 4-putts more than doubled from medium, non-tournament (one 4-putt every 20 rounds) to fast, stroke play rounds (one every nine rounds). This clearly demonstrates the added pressure of having to hole out when it counts.
How often do you 4-putt? Do you fall into the NEVER category, or one of the handicap ranges in the chart above?
In conclusion, fast greens (or at least greens golfers consider to be fast) are more difficult for the average golfer. They pose a greater challenge for distance control, leading to more 3- and 4-putts. That’s why before starting a round on an “away” course, I recommend golfers spend some time on the putting green to get a feel for the speed. I like to place tees 30 feet apart, and putt two balls back and forth until I have a great feel for my 30-foot stroke. As the vast majority of lag opportunities fall in the 20-40 foot range, you can measure most of yours lag putts as a slight variation of that 30-foot stroke. You will also avoid a big surprise if the greens are what you consider fast.
The 19th Hole Episode 159: Howard University coach Sam Puryear
Host Michael Williams talks with Howard U. coach about the trials and triumphs in the fledgling golf program. Also features Adam Martin of Haig Point (SC) and Eduardo Mestres of Los Siete Misterios Mezcal.
The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
Club Junkie: Reviewing Titleist TSi3 drivers and fairways! (Finally!)
The moment you all have been waiting for: I finally have a TSi3 driver and 3-wood in my hands! Talking about how they performed and maybe some shaft changes for each in the future.
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