In this four-part series, Golfweek has focused on the PGA Tour players who made the biggest improvements last season in strokes gained off the tee, approach the green and around the green. This week, we look at the most-fickle aspect of the game, putting.
Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at tournament sites, you will see players grinding away on the practice green. They employ all manner of devices and training aids to improve their strokes, sharpen their distance control and enhance their green reading skills. Putting gurus whisper advice into players’ ears as caddies dutifully rake missed putts away from holes and roll them back.
The chart below shows all the players who had official PGA Tour stats at the end of the past two seasons, along with how they either improved or worsened in strokes gained putting. Hover your mouse over a dot, or touch it on a touchscreen-enabled computer, to see the player’s name, his season-ending strokes putting average and his year-over-year change.
As a group, the pros are automatic when it comes to making short putts. Last season, the PGA Tour average on putts from 3 feet and closer was 99.42 percent. Thirteen players were perfect from inside 3 feet for the season, never missing a single putt. They included players who are well known for their putting, like Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Kisner and Beau Hossler, along with a few names that might surprise you, like Jon Rahm, Jimmy Walker and 49-year-old Ernie Els. The Hall of Famer who once six-putted the first green at Augusta National made 357-of-357 last season from inside 3 feet.
To improve strokes gained putting, a pro must not only avoid missing from short range, but he also has to make more putts from mid- and long range. The player who improved the most overall has the dot in the top-right corner of the chart, Jordan Spieth.
Last season was the first time Spieth finished with a strokes gained putting average that was negative (-0.034, 123rd), but he bounced back during the 2018-19 season to finish second in strokes gained putting with an average of 0.862. He three-putted less often, led the tour in one-putt percentage (45.43 percent) and was blistering from mid- and long range.
Unlike Spieth, who went from being a below-average putter to elite, Denny McCarthy went from being solid to the best on tour by lifting his average from 0.449 to 0.926, the 14th biggest rise last season.
Other notable golfers who made big strides last year with their putter include Sam Ryder (0.776), Aaron Baddeley (0.711), Adam Scott (0.633) and Ryan Palmer (0.569).
On the other side of the spectrum, Emiliano Grillo fell a massive -1.179, dropping from 10th in strokes gained putting to 185th.
It was also a rough year for Phil Mickelson, who dropped from an average of 0.51 to -0.16, the fifth-largest decline on tour. Justin Thomas also dipped significantly, -0.458, from 0.272 to -0.186. His wrist injury in late spring may have been responsible for some of the decline, but it was still the 10th largest on tour.
Other well-known players who saw their performance on the greens dip include Jason Day, who went down -0.414, Bubba Watson (-0.345) and Tony Finau (-.335).