The Most Important Club in the Bag

By Alex Conner

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Improving efficiency with the putter is commonly preached to golfers as the easiest way to save a couple strokes each round. However, does this prove to be the case with pros? The PGA Tour houses the best golfers in the world, and fans love watching them pull off amazing shots and bomb 350 yard drives, because just a small fraction of people have been gifted the abilities possessed by pros like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Phil Mickelson. But when analyzing tour performance during recent seasons, we find that those 350-yarders don’t always get results unless they’re paired with efficiency with the putter.  Take Jordan Spieth for example: he’s arguably the best putter on tour, but compared to his colleagues he’s mediocre in driving distance. Regardless, golf fans worldwide never fail to be amazed by Jordan Spieth’s golfing abilities.

The young gun’s game has been red hot ever since turning pro in 2012 at the age of nineteen. Today, most twenty-four-year-olds are only a fresh two years out of college, but Jordan Spieth is a rarity as the star already has 11 PGA tour wins to his name—10 of which have come since 2015. His entire game has been stunning recently; Spieth has generated 32 top-10 finishes and only missed 9 cuts in his last 66 PGA starts. But where did this crazy number of top finishes come from? How can a twenty-four-year-old finesse a golf game that has allowed him to consistently score low enough to have 11 PGA wins to his credit with top finishes galore?

The answer: his efficiency and skill with the flat stick.

In recent seasons, Spieth’s rankings across various putting categories have been eye-opening to say the least. The kid has been dominating the categories of putting average, birdie conversion, one-putt percentage, and putts per round, among others. His consistent top 3 ranking in most categories is a feat of a true champion, considering that Spieth competes against world-class professional golfers week in and week out. Yet Spieth placed 1st in putting average for the 2015 and 2016 seasons and is currently 2nd in that category, averaging just 1.71 putts per hole played, on the PGA Tour in 2017.

Spieth has notched 11 wins—the most victories on tour—since 2015, and he has acquired the lowest putting average per green reached in regulation (GIR) from the 2015 season to present—1.707 putts/hole. Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, the two players T-2 behind Spieth in most victories on tour since 2015, rank 2nd (1.720 putts/hole) and 3rd (1.727 putts/hole) respectively in putting average per green in regulation (again 2015 to present). To give more perspective, these three players—Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson—have been the best three putters on the PGA Tour in terms of average over the past 3 years. They’ve also won seemingly nonstop.

Player Total number of wins on PGA tour since 2015 PGA ranking in number of wins since 2015 Putting average since 2015 (number putts/GIR) PGA ranking in putting average since 2015
Jordan Spieth 11 1st 1.707 1st
Jason Day 8 T-2nd 1.72 2nd
Dustin Johnson 8 T-2nd 1.727 3rd

This can’t be a coincidence. Although they’ve also had to convert extremely well in other facets of their golf games in order to win a combined 27 tournaments in three years, when breaking down tour performance, it is evident that putting average (putts/GIR) is one of the few categories in which they all 3 ranked in the top 10 from 2015 to 2017, let alone going 1, 2, and 3 in the category.

Additionally, this year’s leader in wins on tour is Justin Thomas. The Alabama alum has won 5 tournaments with 11 top-10 finishes. Can you guess his current ranking in putting average?

Spoiler alert: he’s ranked 1st, averaging 1.695 (putts/GIR).

There’s an obvious trend here: it seems that if golfers on the PGA Tour can roll putts after hitting greens in regulation, they can win tournaments. This isn’t in any way to say that the other 13 clubs in the bag don’t matter, but statistics show that putting should be a focus if winning is the goal. There seems to be a correlation between top golfers’ recent success on the PGA tour and their putting statistics. Numerous articles have been published about PGA players’ insane driving abilities, but I would argue that putting still lies at the heart of the game. Jordan Spieth is only 24, but will go down in history as one of the best professional golfers of our era—all because his game is money when he gets the golf ball on the green.

Everyone loves to pull out the driver and smash a 280-yard drive down the center of the fairway, but what might go unnoticed for the casual golfer are those four 3-putts they didn’t pencil in on their scorecard—two of which were originally 8-footers for birdie. We don’t notice how important putting is until we really dig into the numbers. Sure, for the typical golfer, a few missed putts here and there will go unnoticed, but these missteps truly do build up when you’re playing for a few bucks per hole or when you’re calculating your handicap. And evidently for the pros, the short game is most essential to success. A bit of advice for the casual golfer, however: if you find yourself cursing after every 10-foot putt you hit because half the time you can’t even find the lip of the cup, go over to the practice green for a couple of hours.

Leave a Reply