By the numbers: Putt for dough? Stats show something different

Apr 7, 2018; Augusta, GA, USA; Phil Mickelson lines up a putt on the 10th green during the third round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

By the numbers: Putt for dough? Stats show something different

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By the numbers: Putt for dough? Stats show something different

Mark Broadie, an economics professor at Columbia University, introduced many coaches, pros and recreational golfers to the concept of strokes gained in his 2014 book, “Every Shot Counts.” One of the most talked-about points Broadie made using strokes gained statistics was that putting is over-rated and that the old cliché, “You drive for show and putt for dough,” is wrong.

Some pros and coaches are still clinging to the notion that the guys who win on the PGA Tour are the ones who putt the best. But most players have adopted the attitude that it’s superior driving and iron play that get them into contention. The difference between earning a top-10 and winning is complementing that great ballstriking with a hot putting week.

Broadie referenced a stat in his book called putting’s contribution to victory (PCV), defining it as the winner’s strokes gained: putting divided by his strokes gained: total. He noted that from 2004 to 2012, PGA Tour winners had an average score that was 3.7 shots better, per round, than the field and had a strokes gained: putting advantage of 1.3. That means only 35 percent of the average PGA Tour winner’s edge over the field came from putting, and the remaining 65 percent came from tee shots, approach shots and short game shots.

Data defeats the cliché, 5 and 4.

Going inside the numbers this season, Broadie’s findings still hold up. The chart below shows each PGA Tour event this season where ShotLink recorded data in each round played.

The average strokes gained: total for winners during the 2017-18 PGA Tour season has been 14.66, and the average strokes gained: putting for the week has been 4.56. That means the PCV for winner’s this season through the Zurich Classic of New Orleans has been 31 percent.

As can be seen in the chart, PCV can vary widely from player to player. Brenden Steele won the Safeway Open with a PCV of 15.5 percent, and Dustin Johnson took home the trophy at the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a PCV of just 17.1 percent.

But three players have won this season after their putting contributed more to their overall strokes gained than their combined shots hit from tee to green. Patton Kizzire won the Sony Open in Hawaii in January with a PCV of 57 percent, and Phil Mickelson had a PCV of 55.25 percent when he won the WGC-Mexico Championship. Rory McIlroy rode a hot putter at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and won with a PCV of 55.8 percent.

Those results, however, are fairly rare. Strokes gained statistics go back to 2004, and Mickelson has won 21 times since then. But he has only won twice with a PCV over 50 percent, the aforementioned WGC-Mexico Championship and the 2009 Tour Championship (57.2 percent). McIlroy’s previous best PCV was 43 percent when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2016.

According to the PGA Tour, since 2010 about 21 percent of all PGA Tour winners, 65 of 313, have had a PCV over 50 percent.

Seeing a player dramatically hole a putt on a Sunday afternoon can make fans, and even some analysts, over-emphasize putting’s value to the win. Sure, making a birdie putt on 18 to win is great, but typically a pro only gets a chance to make that shot after he hits a good drive and approach shot. If either of those two shots goes awry, there is no attempted birdie putt.

Every golfer should aspire to improve his or her putting. But the numbers show that when it comes to winning on the PGA Tour, putting is important but strong play off the tee and from the fairway is usually the foundation of victories. Gwk

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