Golf By Numbers: Short and long behind Jason Day’s return to top spot in strokes gained putting

Sep 21, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Jason Day on the 18th green during the second round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Golf By Numbers: Short and long behind Jason Day’s return to top spot in strokes gained putting

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Golf By Numbers: Short and long behind Jason Day’s return to top spot in strokes gained putting

At the conclusion of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, Jason Day accomplished something no one had in the strokes gained era. With a strokes gained putting average of 1.13, the Australian became the first player to finish a season with an average above 1.0. That means, statistically, Day can claim to have had the best putting season on the PGA Tour since 2003.

A few weeks later, I wrote that Day might experience a regression and see a dip in his performance on the greens because maintaining a record-high level of performance was not likely. But even if Day’s strokes gained putting average went down, I noted that he probably would still putt at a high level and be good enough to contend for PGA Tour victories.

That’s precisely what happened. Day went from being No. 1 to No. 36 after his average slipped to 0.345 in 2017. So, instead of being nearly 4.5 shots better than the field based on the level of his putting over 72 holes, Day’s edge went to still-respectable but more-humble 1.38.

Then, something happened. Day got his mojo back and returned to the top spot in strokes gained putting last season, ending his 2017-18 PGA Tour campaign with an average of 0.849. It wasn’t record-shattering like 2016, but he can still lay claim to having been the best putter in the world.

The chart below shows each of Day’s season-ending strokes gained putting averages throughout his career.

Day has been a solid putter for nearly all his career. So what happened to make his strokes gained putting average fall in 2017 then rise again in 2018?

During Day’s record-breaking season, he was solid from short range, ranking 28th in putts made from between 4 and 8 feet (73.17 percent). He also tied for 25th in putts from inside 10 feet, converting 88.68 percent while the Tour average was 87.37.

But Day was also shockingly good from long range. While the PGA Tour average from between 20 and 25 feet during the 2016-17 season was 11.85 percent, Day holed 20.27 percent. He ranked second in putts beyond 25 feet, making 9.39 percent, compared to the Tour average of 5.23 percent.

The following season Day made fewer short putts, slipping to 115th from between 4 and 8 feet (67.9 percent) and 127th from inside 10 feet (86.75 percent). Not coincidentally, Day three-putted more often in 2017, with his three-putt avoidance percentage rising from 2.01 percent (15th) to 2.86 percent (T-89th).

Day also cooled off from long range, making 14.49 percent from 20 to 25 feet and 3.33 percent from over 25 feet.

Combined, making fewer short putts and not quite as many from long range caused Day’s strokes gained putting average to fall.

Improvement in most of those areas helped him bounce back. As noted in the table below, Day putted better from short range than he did during his record-breaking season. Day still did not make as many long putts, but he three-putted less often.

For a pro to rank highly in strokes gained putting, he has to make nearly all of his short putts because as a group, PGA Tour pros make about 87 percent of their 3- to 5-foot putts. Missing short putts hurts your scorecard and your season-long average. When Day broke the strokes gained putting record, the combination of good putting from short range and elite putting from long range separated him from the field.

By becoming elite from short range, Day rebounded in strokes gained putting and once again topped the category. He did not make as many long putts, so his average was not as high as it was two seasons ago, but it was still outstanding. Gwk

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