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Line vs. speed: What’s really more important in putting?

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In the many years that I’ve been studying putting statistics, at all playing levels, there is one lesson that stands out above all others:  There are putts golfers must try to make, and there are putts that only require a two-putt.

Putting to Make: There’s a distance range where line matters much more than speed. From these distances, golfers need to be focused on making the putt, which means they need to get the ball to the hole. Leaving the putt short on these putts is a serious error.

Putts to 2-Putt:  There’s also a distance range where speed matters much more than line. On these putts, it’s not very important that you get the line exactly right, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to make the putt. What matters is that you give yourself a realistic chance to 2-putt.  Getting your putt to the hole is far less of a priority.

By itself, this information is actually not very helpful.  Golfers really need to know what distances require their focus on line and what distances require their focus on speed. In this article, I’m going to focus on the latter, share some critical data, as well a practice strategy for putting that will take strokes off your game.

The Average 2-Putt Range  

The Average 2-Putt Range is something I discuss regularly with my PGA Tour players. It’s the distance from which the average player on the PGA Tour will average two putts. It’s also important for average golfers whose shots aren’t measured by ShotLink.  Thanks to the real golfer database I’ve been collecting over the last two decades through Shot by Shot, my Strokes Gained Analysis program and App, I can also share the Average 2-Putt Range for handicap golfers.

On the PGA Tour, the average 2-Putt Range is 35 feet. What this means is that putts longer than 35 feet will result in more 3-putts than 1-putts for PGA Tour players.  Putts shorter than 35 feet will result in more 1-putts than 3-putts.

As you can see in the chart, average golfers make far fewer long putts – and they also 3-putt with far greater frequency.  For example, the average golfer (15-19 handicap) has a 2-Putt Range of 16 feet.

I’ve shared this data with countless golfers through the years, and they’re almost always shocked with how likely they are to 3-putt on mid-range putts. It’s also incredibly powerful and useful. If you’re a golfer with a handicap between 15-19, what I’m suggesting is that you take a conservative approach on putts longer than 16 feet. I’m betting you’ll be amazed with the results.

A “Negative Approach” Disclaimer

I’m going to share a bit more data in this piece, but before I do I want to address the thoughts that some of you might be having about a potential side effect of this approach — “trying not to 3 putt.” Our game is lucky to have several wonderful sports psychologists who advocate against such a negative approach, and I believe that they’re right about this. We don’t want to be negative on the golf course – especially when the putter is in our hands.

Without getting too deep into this issue, I want to make it clear that what I’m suggesting is that golfers adjust their expectations on putts outside their Average 2-Putt Distance. Ideally, they want to hit a putt with a speed that will allow the ball to fall just over the edge of the cup. An approach that’s more aggressive than that is likely going to cost them strokes. That said, when the circumstances are right, uphill and fairly straight, by all means, give the ball a chance to go in.

Putting This Data To Work

As most seasoned golfers have learned through the years, we can shoot good scores without a lot of 1-putts – but we can’t shoot good scores with a lot of 3-putts. For that reason, it’s important that we practice distance control to minimize our 3-putts. But, from exactly what distance should we be practicing?  The chart below sheds light on the issue.

To me, there’s no question — at least for amateurs — the optimum practice distance is 11-30 feet. I say that with confidence for three key reasons:

  1. 51% of the average golfer’s first putt opportunities take place from 11-30 feet.  A distance you will face on about NINE greens each round.
  2. From 11-30 feet, amateur golfers 3-putt SEVEN times more frequently than the average PGA Tour player.
  3. From beyond 30 feet, average golfers putt much more like PGA Tour players. They only 3-putt four times as frequently.

A Great Drill

Place two tees 20 feet apart on a reasonably level section of your practice green. Roll two balls back and forth between the tees until you can consistently lag 6-8 in a row to within 2 feet. I also like to expand the drill until I can lag 6-8 to or past the hole and within 2 feet.  When you can do this from 20 feet, move your tees to 25 feet and then even 30 feet.

This drill is important when getting ready to play a new course and especially under competitive conditions. It will help you to face that first lag opportunity on the course with confidence.

Stay tuned, in my next article I will address the important LINE distances.

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, go to www.ShotByShot.com

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. joro

    Apr 3, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    A few years ago the Golf Channel had a TV show with what were considered a few of the best Putters on Tour in a “Crackerbarrel” type discussion.. The group included Crenshaw, Trevino,Lorne Roberts,Dave Stockton, and others, all great Putters.. They All said to a man that the first thing they did was to work out the line, then after getting the line they focused of the distance, and felt that was their key to success with the Blade. If you don’t have the speed right the line will not help.

  2. Blake

    Mar 30, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    One of the best Wrx articles I’ve read.

  3. Benny

    Mar 30, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    Awesome article. Thank you for dumbing it down as well. Something I think these other engineer brains above didn’t understand and instead needed to argue the data, information and explanation.
    Looking forward to the next and thanks again!

  4. Hoeness

    Mar 30, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Awesome analysis and drills to improve.

  5. John Butler

    Mar 28, 2019 at 9:09 am

    The conclusion of the article is great, but the premise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Line and speed are not independent of each other, nor do they come at the expense of one another. You cannot have the correct line without the correct speed. Its impossible. Velocity determines momentum which determines curve. Line literally *is* speed.

    If you get the speed wrong you get the line wrong. You can never have a putt go in because you got the speed wrong but the line right. That’s silly.

    So, you should attempt optimal speed on every putt. That’s it.

  6. Luke Kitzan

    Mar 16, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Great article! As speed and line play such important factors, let’s not forget area misses.
    On those long lag putts, good speed will get you to a relative circumference from the hole. A good line will put you in an position to make an easier 2nd putt. Ie: I’d rather be 4 feet with a dead uphill putt than 2.5 feet with a 2 cup break.

  7. C

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:48 am

    There are other things to consider.
    There are some older courses out there that are not overly long, but very tricked out, that have very small greens compared to the modern, new PGA style courses that have huge, massive, gigantic greens to provide, on purpose, far ranging options for more pin positions and to make it essential to be a good lag putter.
    The courses with the smaller greens instead make it essential that you are a great chipper of the ball around the greens, because, not only are the greens smaller, they are also very undulated and sloped. If you miss the green by a little bit, you’re chipping. So, your accuracy into the greens becomes vital if you don’t want to chip. But you may not have to make long lag putts over 50, 60 feet, ever.
    Whereas, with the huge greens, you may hit the greens, therefore are not chipping, but now you are lag putting anywhere from 60 to a 100 feet, sometimes.
    The smaller greens puts a massive premium on your approach accuracy. That missed green shot on smaller greens might be a GIR on a huge green.
    Your GIR stat might be great with the huge greens, but you’re going to be lag putting a lot.

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IMHO, one of the most overused and abused pieces of golf advice is that which tells us to “accelerate through the ball.” Not that this is a bad thing—all teachers agree that the club should be on a constant acceleration from the start of the downswing to and through impact. But from my observation, the vast majority of golfers are taking the whole bottle of that advice, instead of just one or two pills.

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