ARE PRO GOLFERS THE SAME AT PUTTING?

I’ve been copying down some golf stats for a few projects, but one thing stuck out to me very quickly. How similar the putting stats looked for all PGA Pro’s.

Let’s take for example, “Putting from Inside 10 feet.”

The average player in 2009 made about 86% of his putts from inside 10 feet and took about 925 attempts on the season. Adjusting everyone out to 925 putts, the minimum was 765 and max was 836 with a standard deviation of almost 12.

I ran a simulation assuming the average putter makes 86% of his putts, and take 925 attempts. The standard deviation was smaller at around 9.25*, but the minimum and maximum were pretty similar at 775 and 830, respectively.

*Not too surprising considering there is a certain variance probably in the data from factors like different length on average putts, different courses played, different number of attempts.

One more important thing to note is that the top-10 putters on tour took an average of around 805 attempts from inside 10 feet in 2009 and the bottom-10 took an almost identical average of around 805. Obviously with an average of around 120 less putts, that increases the variance. There was a small correlation (around r=.2) between number of putts taken and distance away from average.

It’s certainly not conclusive, but it’s worth thinking about the next time some announcer tells you what a great putter player x is. Putting especially from inside of 10 feet requires such a lack of natural physical talent that it’s not out of the question that pro golfers have essentially mastered it.

I’m not sure how much of this I believe, but it could be possible that all pros are basically the same from 10-feet and in(or maybe putting in general) with the only difference being variance.

Just something to think about.

This raises the question is Tiger Woods really a great putter?

I’m not so sure. Maybe his clutch ten footers are a result of his superior ball-striking and scrambling around the green giving him more total ten footers. That is, it appears Tiger makes a ton of big putts from inside 10 feet because his superior ability to get it there gives him more opportunities than everyone else. Tiger’s skills approaching the green, specifically at distances that are hard (long iron, approaches to par 5s) or important (scrambling on missed greens) make him seem like a better putter.

This is what no one realizes. Over the past decade almost no one has hit it closer than Tiger approaching the green from the fairway and scrambling. Tiger looks like a great putter because a 3-footer is so much easier to make than an 8-footer or his tap-in 2-foot birdie is much more likely to fall than a player who wedged it to ten feet.

I doubt it surprises anyone who knows golf, that Tiger’s long game and scrambling are what have really separated him from the competition, but it’s interesting to wonder: Is there anything separating Tiger’s putting from the competition?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “ARE PRO GOLFERS THE SAME AT PUTTING?

  1. N.

    Interesting, the <10ft putting stat variance seems to be almost entirely explainable by randomness!

    You say: "There was a small correlation (around r=.2) between number of putts taken and distance away from average." What does "distance away from average" mean? Maybe you can clarify, but I think it means difference in % <10ft putts made and average % <10ft putts made.

    On the general point you were making in that paragraph, perhaps a simulation that also varies the "number of putts taken" (a nuisance parameter) could line up even more with the data. But then you still have unaccounted-for causes like tee times, course difficulty, actual precise distance from hole, etc. (With these removed, it appears certain that there will be only basically insignificant differences in <10ft putting between players.)

    Thus, to get really conclusive results about putting (and all other shots) we need the ShotLink data. I strongly wish the PGA Tour would provide this stuff to fans, because then we could get a tighter grip on what we're seeing: how the players compare, how much psychology (streaks? putting for par/birdie? putting for the win? putting to make the cut?) plays a role and how wrong commentators are. Don't you agree with me on this point? (By the way, I did find http://www.pgatour.com/stats/academicdata/ )

  2. You say: “There was a small correlation (around r=.2) between number of putts taken and distance away from average.” What does “distance away from average” mean? Maybe you can clarify, but I think it means difference in % <10ft putts made and average % <10ft putts made.

    Yeah should have clarified that a little. Distance away from average meant percentage of putts made-subtracted from the average pga tour percentage. So, if someone made 90% of their putts they were around 4% better than average. Most of the guys on the high and low ends in relation to average had taken fewer than the average of 925 putts in this range.

  3. Another interesting case in this debate is Ricky Barnes. Just glancing at stats, Barnes was one of the worst putters on tour in 2009 and has completely turned that around in 2010. Obviously, made a huge difference in his game, but is that random?

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