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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.