Putting Precision Revisited

In Monday’s post, I wrote about how the European team felt like they had the late Seve Ballesteros looking over them and that while their victory would be difficult, it was also inevitable. So that’s where they began the day.

And as the evidence mounted throughout the day, as each blue flag was added to the leaderboard, they actually saw that there was some substance to their belief.

The problem was, so did the Americans. And as the noose was tightened, the Americans began to play differently, to be more careful. I used the examples of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker:

So to stave off that inevitability, players become overly cautious to insure their very best performance. Not to pick on them, but the two best examples of that were Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, two of the best putters on the PGA Tour. As the closing holes of their late matches grew fewer, the time they took to read a putt grew exponentially.

For their part I’m sure they felt like they were being conscientious and responsible, but all of the tedious stalking and squatting and peering sucked the spontaneity right out of their extraordinary talent. It seemed the longer they looked, the fewer putts they made. Those long looks were all about indecision.

The key to great golf is freedom and there are few who would argue that indecision produces more freedom. Once freedom is lost, the rest is inevitable.

There was one other follow-on point I wanted to make about all of the tedious analysis poor Furyk and Stricker were going through. And I completely understand how their sense of thoroughness demanded that they approach their putts that way; they are two of the very best.

Furyk is currently ranked T24 in Strokes Gained – Putting, while Stricker has slipped to T65. While Strokes Gained – Putting is the definitive measure of putting skill on the Tour, another would be that Stricker was the guy Tiger sought out when he was trying to get his putting sorted out (he’s currently ranked 36). So these two guys are good.

But what exactly is good? Here are the current Tour putting stats for various length putts to include the best at each distance, the median and the worst percentage made.

5-Foot Putts:

  • Best — 95.89%
  • Median — 80.22
  • Worst — 62.79

10-Foot Putts:

  • Best — 68.00%
  • Median — 41.38
  • Worst — 19.05

15 to 20-Foot Putts:

  • Best — 27.27%
  • Median — 18.00
  • Worst — 8.33

20 to 25-Foot Putts:

  • Best — 22.41%
  • Median — 11.38
  • Worst — 00.00 (2nd worst was 1.59%)

Greater Than 25-Foot Putts:

  • Best — 11.11%
  • Median — 5.51
  • Worst — 2.21

So the point here is that the best Tour player from 20 to 25 feet only makes 22.41% of their putts, less than a quarter of them…the best on Tour. Note that the median player only makes 11.38%.

And the odds become a little longer over 25 feet with the best only able to make 11.11% of their putts, just over ten percent. And the median player does half as well at 5.51%.

The other part of all of this that isn’t easily quantifiable is the green surfaces themselves. The greens out on Tour are spectacular because they are slowly nurtured to fast speeds over a period of time with the idea for them to peak during tournament week. And then they turn the water off. They will “syringe” them on an as-needed basis to keep them alive, but that little amount of hand watering wouldn’t be enough over a longer period of time.

So as good as those surfaces are, they aren’t billiard tables. They still have variability that the naked eye can’t see. The eye is very good at picking up the trend of a putt, but there is nuance and subtlety to the line of a putt that the eye can’t see.

I routinely have the experience of being able to see more detail in a putt than my first impression. But in general, the first look is pretty accurate. And it is more likely that the stroke will be off more than any minute re-aiming of the blade.

We should always do our best to solve the riddle of each putt, but there are so many variables and so much blind luck, it does more for our faith in ourselves and the resultant freedom if we just get up there, take a look and let ‘er roll.

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