By In Stuff

Puttering Around With Putts

With the Midwestern blizzard doing its thing outside — and this is the worst I’ve seen since I was a kid in Cleveland — I find myself yet again thinking about golf. It’s better than thinking about how my efforts to clear the driveway have been made utterly pointless by another wave of blizzard.

Gary McCord said something kind of interesting over the weekend. I like Gary. For one thing — and I’m not sure how many people know this — he has made some money in his life doing close-up magic. That is magic that you do right in front of the audience, no more than a few feet away. You probably know that I love magic, and the close up stuff is my favorite kind … I mean, sure, I like the grand illusions, the Vegas stuff, but more than anything I would love to sit down at a table with Ricky Jay and watch the master at work. McCord showed me a few things. He was good.

Anyway … McCord said that last year Bubba Watson missed one putt from three feet. One. This seemed to me to be quite impressive. Wow! Just one missed putt! But, the more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had absolutely no context whatsoever to know if this was great or not. For instance, if I told someone who knew nothing about basketball that I once made 123 layups in a row, that person might think this made me one of the great basketball player in the world. What is a three foot putt? How crazy is it for a guy to go a whole year and miss only one.

As it turns out … it’s really not that big a deal. Professional golfers on the tour last year made 99.2% of their three-foot putts, and this included the lamentable Joe Durant who missed 15 of them. Fourteen golfers missed one or fewer three-footers on tour last year — and yes, two guys (Greg Chalmers and Padraig Harrington) didn’t miss any. In 2009, four guys didn’t miss a single three-foot putt (and Greg Chalmers only missed once). Basically, every year there are 15 or so golfers who miss one or fewer 3-foot putts. It’s a nice achievement. But it’s probably not as great as it sounds.

Looking this up, however, gave me he opportunity to look a bit at putting stats. Golf stats really are quite incredible … in this way the game is a lot like baseball. Every single thing is charted. Everything. Distance. Successes. Failures. How people do from the sands … from the fringe … from the rough … from 75 yards away … from 225 yards away … from the center of the fairway and on and on and on. On the putting page alone there are 88 different statistical categories, everything from total 3-putts from greater than 25-feet to one-putt percentage in Round 3 of a tournament.

Of course, the way my goofy mind works these statistics are like pints of Ben & Jerry Chocolate Fudge Brownie … I’m helpless against them. I’ve actually always wondered how often PGA golfers make putts of a certain length. Maybe you have too (probably not, you’re smarter than I am). Well … it’s snowing bullets out there so I have nothing else to do: Here you go. These are the numbers of the 192 golfers on the Tour who in 2010 actually played enough to qualify for the chart. One quick thing — the distances are a little bit misleading. By the PGA calculations, a 10-foot putt is actually longer than 9 feet and NO MORE than 10 feet. So a 9 1/8 foot putt would qualify as a 10-foot putt, but a 10 1/8 foot putt would not. Got it? I know, confused me too.

OK, so here we go:


Tour players make 99.2% of them.

Comment: An average PGA golfer who plays regularly on the tour might miss one of these every five or six tournaments. Some, as mentioned, won’t miss one all year. A 3-foot putt for these guys is about as big a lock as there is in sports. It’s more certain than an extra point (98.9% in 2010). Obviously some three-foot putts are much trickier than others. If you put these guys on a level green, or have them putting uphill all the time, they probably would make just about 100% of them. As it is, they’re pretty close to perfect.


Tour players make 90.9% of them.
Best in 2010: Padraig Harrington made 97 of 98.
Worst in 2010: Jeff Grove missed 19 of 78.

Comment: At 4-feet we’re still way ahead of a free throw. Harrington did not play that many tournaments on the tour, so his numbers are smaller than some others. Among those who played a lot, Jeff Quinney made 190 of 195. Golfers will miss 4-footers every now and again, though I’ll bet golfers who win tournaments don’t miss them that week.


Tour players make 80.2% of them.
Best in 2010: Paul Casey made 45 of 48.
Worst in 2010: Justin Bolli missed 20 of 51.

Comment: Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington were No. 1 and No. 2 when you consider all putts inside of five feet. I think golfers consider it a real failure when they miss a putt five-feet and in, kind of like an NBA player blowing a layup. Six feet — well, that’s when we start getting into the tricky zone.

6-foot putt

Tour players make 69.7% of them.
Best in 2010: Brian Gay made 74 of 85.
Worst in 2010: Steve Lowery missed more than half of his 6-footers — missing 29 of 57.

Comment: Yes, there seems to be a big gap between five foot putts (which are actually between 4 and 5 feet) and the six-footers. A golf pro once told me that this is the “body height” difference. He seemed to believe that if the distance of the putt was less than your height, it felt like an easy putt, and you tended to putt with confidence (and confidence is so important in putting). But, he said, if the putt is longer than your height, it weighs on the mind. I have no reason whatsoever to believe in this theory. But it is interesting.

7-foot putt

Tour players make 59.3% of them.
Best in 2010: Pat Perez made 52 of 63
Worst in 2010: Vijay Singh, poor guy, missed 31 of 53.

Comment: I once got into a fascinating discussion with Jack Nicklaus about why older golfers, in general, tend to lose their putting touch. Well, actually, now that I think of it, he was having the discussion with someone else, but I somehow wound up connected to it. I don’t remember his answer word for word, but he seemed to think that the older we get the less confident we get about everything. I suppose it’s true. On the positive side of sports, we call it “knowing your limitations.” This is why experience generally teaches quarterbacks not to try to squeeze the ball into double coverage and outfielders not to crash into walls for balls they’re not going to catch. But knowing your limitations is not a great trait in golf. Every 7-foot putt you miss is another one you have to try not to think about when you line up for a 7-foot putt. Nicklaus’ answer was in greater detail … I should see if I could get him to tell me that whole theory again.

8-foot putt

Tour players make 50.6% of them.
Best in 2010: Jeev Mikha Singh made 29 of 44
Worst in 2010: Vance Veazy missed 30 of 45.

Comment: I would say the 8-foot putt is the perfect middle ground. Any putt less than 8-feet, tour golfers will make more often than they miss. And any putt longer than 8-feet, tour golfers will miss more than they make. That’s a good thing to know when watching on television.

Phil Mickelson has had quite the history with 8-foot putts. In 2004, he led the tour by making 71.4% of his 8-footers. And, of course, he was regarded as one of the best putters in the world. In 2005, he was tied for 34th — still good. In 2006, he was 112th and made just 52%. Down another percent in 2007. He made just 49% of them in 2008. He made FORTY percent in 2009 — that was 174th on Tour. And last year he was at a still miserable 43.4%. And now everyone knows that Mickelson can be shaky on those mid-range putts. This does not seem to have had much effect on Mickelson’s overall results — he has done just fine since 2004. But it’s strange that he simply has lost his touch on these sorts of putts.

9-foot putt

Tour players make 45.5% of them.
Best in 2010: Retief Goosen made 23 of 34
Worst in 2010: Omar Uresti missed 35 of 47

Comment: Goosen is a marvelous putter. Of course, the only putt of Goosen’s I recall is the tiny little one he missed in at the U.S. Open Tulsa, forcing everyone to stick around one more day for a playoff.

10-foot putt

Tour players make 41.3% of them
Best in 2010: Alex Prugh made 28 of 44.
Worst in 2010: Greg Owen missed 22 of 28.

Comment: The best from 10-feet in 2010 was also Paul Casey … he made more than 90% of all his putts 10-feet and in. Retief Goosen also made more than 90%. Identifying the best putter from 10-feet in will generally give you a pretty good idea of who is playing well, or anyway who has a real chance of appearing on a Titleist commercial. Among the leaders in this category since 2002: Jim Furyk (twice), Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.

10-to-15 foot putt

Tour players make 29.9% of them
Best in 2010: Bo Van Pelt made 90 of 239
Worst in 2010: Lee Janzen missed 149 of 188.

Comment: When you get out to 10 or 15 feet away, the gaps between the players is not that wide. The best made a little more than 37%, the worst a little more than 20%. Being the best in 2010 saved Bo Van Pelt about 19 shots above average over the whole season, which is certainly important but it’s less than a shot per tournament. And it cost Janzen about 22 shots.

The question — and it is posed in an interesting way in the new book Scorecasting, is this: How hard are golfers TRYING to make their longer putts? The issue is risk management: How many golfers are willing to really take a run at a putt and risk knocking in 5-feet by and risk the three-putt?

15-20 foot putt

Tour players make 17.9% of them
Best in 2010: Ian Poulter made 18 of 59
Worst in 2010: Cliff Kresge missed 82 of 90

Comment: I follow Ian Poulter on Twitter and gave him a mention in this week’s back page, and I also mention Banksy: My thoughts on the remarkable “Exit Through the Gift Shop” will be coming soon*.

*I hope … depends on if I can actually make it out of Kansas City for Dallas at any point. Other posts potentially coming: The 32 greatest defenders in NFL history, my favorite movie line of the year, why Mike Tomlin fascinates me (by being throughly un-fascinating) and, of course, my iPad review.

20-25 foot putt

Tour players make: 12.5% of them.
Best in 2010: Michael Sim made 17 of 80.
Worst in 2010: Mark Calcavecchia missed 39 of 40. When putting goes …

Comment: From 20 to 25 feet, the best golfers in the world on the best courses in the world are about a 1 in 8 chance of making it, about the same odds you have right now of picking up two dice and rolling a total of five. You could do it on your first try, certainly, and maybe again on the second, but if they are fair dice you won’t role five very often. Think about this the next time that you see a golfer miss a 22-footer and groan like “How did I miss that?”

25-plus foot putt

Tour players make 5.5% of them.
Best in 2010: Paul Stankowski made 24 of 238.
Worst in 2010: Garth Mulroy missed 184 of 187.

In 2002 the great Miguel Jiminez tried 76 putts from 25 feet or longer. He made one. He still smoked cigars and raced cars and live his full life so I doubt he let those misses bother him too much.

In 2007, Phil Mickelson made just five of 205 putts of 25-feet or longer.

In 2010, Boo Weekley actually made the most long putts on tour — he made 33 of them. Unfortunately for him he also tried 346 of them, one of the highest totals on tour. Gotta get it a bit closer to the flag. Nobody, the numbers show, is THAT good a putter.

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26 Responses to Puttering Around With Putts

  1. Peter says:

    Is the Poulter 15-20 foot stat correct or a typo? If it’s correct it seems to be a MAJOR outlier and deserves quite a bit more discussion!

  2. Gil says:

    And yet the twice-mentioned Paul Casey – who at times in 2010 was performing like the guy you’d want playing for your life – couldn’t make the Ryder Cup team.

    What was the story there?

  3. Aaron "W.K." says:

    I think Samuel Beckett wrote a play about your iPad review.

  4. nedarby says:

    So based on my overly-simplified math (linear interpolation), in terms of success rate, a 2009-2010 NBAer shooting a 15-foot free throw would be similar to a 2010 PGA Tourer trying a 5-foot 5-inch putt (Earl Boykins’ and Ian Woosnam’s putting confidence threshold, incidentally). Likewise, the modern-day NBA 3-pointer (which admittedly is often lengthier than the 23-foot 9-inch distance from the line to the basket and usually has a defender trying to challenge the shot) would be somewhere in the vicinity of an 11-foot 3-inch PGA Tour putt.

  5. clashfan2003 says:

    +1 internets to Aaron W.K.

  6. nedarby says:

    On second thought, the average “5-foot” PGA Tour putt is probably a 4-foot 6-inch putt per their measurement scheme, so an NBA free throw would be more like a 4-foot 11-inch putt (just inside of a true 5-footer).

  7. davidpwcrowe says:

    I’ve always wondered why Golf never joined the Sabremetric revolution – I’m not aware of anyone who writes from this perspective. You are a National Treasure Joe.

    BTW – I don’t think you should ever post your iPad review – I think you should keep plugging it – just never publish it – it can never live up to this kind of build-up and will be much better as fodder for humourous asides.

  8. David says:

    Actually, in the 3 to 10 feet stats, the largest drop off is from 4 to 5 feet (10.7%), not from 5 to 6 feet (10.5%). So unless we have a lot of very short golfers, I’m not sure the the “body height” theory holds up.

    Not that it matters, but the smallest drop off is from 9 to 10 feet (4.2%).

  9. Kevin says:

    I believe that the “3-foot” category, as the smallest one, encompasses every put under 3 feet, therefore every tap-in, etc. So it’s not really 99% of all 3-footers as the title suggests. Of course those guys are going to make almost every single tap-in…

  10. NMark W says:

    I am maybe the odd guy who enjoys watching golf on TV but rarely play it because I’m an absolutely terrible golfer. (As someone said -George Carlin?, the ball’s too damn small.) So, Kevin’s comment above reminded me of my usual reaction when I see one of the pros spend most of an afternoon lining up a crucial 30 ft putt, then finally rolls it smartly up to the hole but not quite in. Then the golfer walks up and nonchalantly taps it in using the backside of his putter with his opposite hand while looking for friends and family in the crowd. Yes, 99.99% of the time the pro makes the short tap-in, but the use of another 5 seconds and they’d make each and every one every time. It’s just something that surprises me every time I see it and yet I see it time after time after time.

  11. says:

    “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is superb. I can’t wait for your article Joe.

  12. Nathan says:

    Haven’t they stopped making the ipad at this point?

  13. Perks says:

    Can’t wait to read your thoughts on Mr. Brainwash. Was he a hoax, created by Banksy? Or is the film meant as a slap in the face to all those who bought into MBW’s commercialization of street art?

  14. trentphloog says:

    There actually isn’t such a big gap between five-footers and six-footers… At 10.5%, the percentage difference is smaller than the gap between fours and fives (10.7%), and almost exactly the same as the gap between sixes and sevens (10.4%).

    Basically, every foot shaves off another 10% until you get to 9-10 feet, when it levels off some. I think that kind of nixes your golf pro’s “body height” theory.

  15. nedarby says:


    Your raised the issue of the amount of time a pro golfer spends preparing to putt. My beef is that the modern-day pro golfer takes too much time to putt. Watch Jim Furyk as an extreme example – I reckon that he and his caddy might spend upwards of 5 minutes reading and lining up certain putts (and probably not just the critical Sunday testers, either). I suspect that this has gradually gotten worse over the years and cannot be helping the pace of play, TV viewership, or the popularity of the sport in general (esp. in so much as hackers will emulate the pros’ mannerisms, extending the already too long weekend round still further). In some respects it seems that professional golf has deteriorated into a sport where the golfer spends 90% of their time standing on the tee or in the fairway while some other guy commits excessive time to a putt that is largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and said golfer’s round/season. While pro twosomes/threesomes that have fallen behind the group ahead of them are timed for overall pace of play (and very very seldom penalized), I’d almost be in favor of the PGA instituting a shot clock on putts of every golfer if the trend continues (similar to what some of the televised billiards tournaments have). While admittedly rather extreme, I’d wager that implementation of a shot clock would have no detectable effect on the overall putting statistics (make %, three-put prevalence, etc.).

  16. JohnG says:

    I am an avid golfer and I think the game would be much better if they assessed penalties for taking too long to putt. Nothing worse than staring at a guy trying to line up a 22 footer for a snowman.

    Joe, don’t post the iPad review. What can you say now that hasn’t already been said? Wait for iPad 2, coming out in April. Then promise the iPad 2 review for the duration of 2011 and early 2012. Then, around April 2012 start plugging:

    iPad 3 Review, This Time It’s For Keeps; kind of like a movie sequel.

    Except you never have to produce anything and you can pretend like you have. It would be brilliant.

  17. Ed says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Ed says:

    Those guys make an average of 45.5% of their NINE foot putts? Man, they are good.

  19. pokerpeaker says:

    Man I can’t wait for that iPad review. I’m just getting around to reviewing the second generation shuffles….
    Wait. What do you mean they’ve changed it?

  20. David in NYC says:

    “By the PGA calculations, a 10-foot putt is actually longer than 9 feet and NO MORE than 10 feet. So a 9 1/8 foot putt would qualify as a 10-foot putt, but a 10 1/8 foot putt would not. Got it? I know, confused me too.”

    That confused you? Well, pretend they are measuring down-and-distance in a football game. When the ball is 1-inch from the goal line, and the QB sneaks it in, he gets credit for a 1 yard TD run; if the ball were 37″ (i.e., 1 yard and 1 inch) away, he would get credit for a 2-yard TD run, etc. Same difference in golf.

    More substantively: I will chalk the recent bad spell in your usage of statistics to the miserable weather — must be the cabin fever or something. Yesterday, we had the 92-41 basketball score being unique; today, though, is even worse.

    “Comment: When you get out to 10 or 15 feet away, the gaps between the players is not that wide. The best made a little more than 37%, the worst a little more than 20%.”

    “Not that wide”? Are you kidding me? First of all, that’s a difference of almost 100% in success rate.

    Second, to make a sports comparison, you have just said that “not that wide” describes the difference between Mario Mendoza’s career BA and that of some guy named Ty Cobb. In fact, if the “Mendoza line” is .200, it is EXACTLY the same: 20% success vs. 37% success — or the difference between barely-hanging-on utility infielder and (perhaps) greatest hitter of all time.

    And the examples you use are just as bad. The gap beween Van Pelt and Jantzen is “not that wide”? A difference of 37.7% (Van Pelt) and 20.7% (Jantzen) — a difference of **41** putts in the season — is “not that wide”? I guarantee you that if you offered to take 41 strokes off of a season’s total for ANY PGA Tour pro, including Tiger*, they would take that offer in a heartbeat, even if you asked for their first-born child.

    *I don’t remember the year (must have been 2007, because it was Tiger’s last full season before surgery), but at one point toward the end of the season, every Tour player except Tiger had missed at least one three-footer, and Tiger had not missed anything under FOUR feet. That’s roughly equivalent to leading the NBA in 3-point shooting with a percentage higher than the best free-throw shooter. No wonder he used to win all the time. The announcers also mentioned several times this past week that the last time Tiger won at Torrey Pines in a Tour event, he was 50-for-50 within TEN feet. It took him all of one 10-foot putt this week to miss one — no wonder he finished 44th.

    I am sure I do not need to repeat Crash Davis’ soliloquy about flares, gorps, and dying quails while hitting .300, do I? That’s the difference you are talking about, and at the level of competition you are discussing, it is HUGE.

  21. Mark Daniel says:

    I didn’t know there were so many stats available for golf. I wonder if anyone has analyzed what one aspect of the game a player should practice the most. My father told me, “Drive for show, putt for dough” many years ago. But I always found that the key for me making birdies (or pars, actually) is hitting my iron shots on the green. I guess I would alter the saying to “drive for show, hit greens in regulation for dough.”

    But, I have no idea if this is true. It seems right, though. Especially if the average golfer putts as well as Joe describes above.

  22. nick says:

    reading this, picturing the snow, i can’t help but think of joe starring in a remake of the shinning…

  23. Rational Fan says:

    I once saw an “I am John Galt” t-shirt. I chuckled, nodding my head at the passer by. (I think, as I’ve gotten older that now, if I would run into a person with such a shirt on, I would shake my head. I regress.) It took a certain person to catch the general reference, and another kind of person to catch the entire reference. Why do I think about this?

    I want a “I read Joe’s iPad review” t-shirt. It would take a certain kind of person to understand it; and that is the kind of person that I would love to give me a chuckle and a nod as I walk down the street.

  24. Andy says:

    I suspect that this has slowly gotten even worse more than the many years and cannot be assisting the pace of play
    When we play the WOW, we need to try get the Cheap WOW Gold,thst’s to say, spend less money, do we have any good way to Buy World Of Warcraft Gold from trust friends or some way else? When we have that we can play the game becomes more quickly and update the levels more easy.

  25. cheeaudrey says:

    In Australia, surfing and golf are sports that most Aussies just love, the feeling of bearing down a wave with the wind and waves behind are only equaled by scoring a birdie on that tough Par5. It’s something that we strive to achieve. So it’s no wonder that the guys from down under developed a serious piece of Golf transport that combines the feeling of these two great Aussie pastimes. The Golf Skate Caddy and believe me this is no toy. Designed to increase the enjoyment factor associated with travelling down a fairway the Golf Skate Caddy adds a level of excitement and exhilaration that just seems to be missing at the moment. Like us at

  26. joel says:

    Remember these guys are playing the fastest, smoothest greens every single week and it’s considerably easier to make putts inside 8 feet on these greens. 3 and 4 footers are automatic if you just line up right which they all do. Come to the local muni where the greens are bumpy and rolling about 8 on the stimpmeter and see how well they putt.

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