After writing about the importance of greens in regulation, it seems like a logical step to talk about some putting stats. People tend to get very interested in the PGA putts per round and there is something we can all learn from these stats. It is actually worth digging into them a little bit further to get the full value though.
The PGA Stats Archive
I enjoy looking at stats and I use them in various areas of my professional life as well as my leisure, golf included. The PGA now provide a stat-nerd’s dream in terms of facts and figures, but this wasn’t’t always the case. If we go back a few years, the three stats that were generally tracked were fairways hit, greens hit and total number of putts. Of course, we can still find this sort of information and the PGA putts per round numbers are quite interesting reading. They do need a bit of context to get the most out of them though.
How Useful is Putts per Round?
You can find the actual numbers for putts per round here. This is updated constantly so any stat that I actually quote here will be out-of-date as soon as I type it of course. However, the overall picture is always fairly constant.
As I write this article, Tony Finau is sitting on the top of the leader board, averaging just over 26 putts per round (26.33). The bottom of the leader board is Kyle Stanley with 33 putts per round. These stats are based on early season form and a relatively small number of rounds played, so they should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.
Let’s took a look at last year’s statistics instead. Topping the leader board after 59 rounds was Lucas Herbert with 27.7 putts per round. Propping up the leader board was Russell Knox averaging 30.16. The difference between these two is around two and a half shots per round, or close to ten shots over a four round tournament.
When we look at the overall FedEx cup rankings for last season, the results are not quite the same. Lucas Herbert, leading the putts per round stats, was 46th overall. Russell now was 87th. The total number of golfers ranked was 247. Herbert was still ranked above Knox, but the difference was actually relatively small, certainly nothing like the potential ten shot tournament swing we might have expected.
Lies, Damn Lies and (Golfing) Statistics
The bottom line is that putts per round on its own doesn’t really tell us very much at all. This is why we need to have more information to really understanding the putting stats. For example, the PGA now give us tow more putting stats that really are far more useful in telling the average golf fan how well a golfer is really putting year to year, tournament to tournament and in relation to the other golfers playing and to his or her own historical performance.
Putts Per Green in Regulation
The first one of these stats is putts per green in regulation. This is something that a lot of us should track if we want to rate and improve our performance on the greens. This is exactly what it sounds like. For every green you hit in regulation, you count the number of putts and then find an average. A green in regulation is when you are on the putting surface in 1 shot from the tee on a par 3, 2 shots on a par 4 and 3 on a par 5.
This stat is known as putting average on the PGA site. Cameron Smith lead the league with a putting average of 1.679 last year. Our friend Lucas Herbert was 16th, still very good, with 1.73. Russell Knox was 176th, so still near the bottom.
This stat is very useful because it really tells how well we, as golfers, are doing when we hit the green. Given that a par score is calculated by adding 2 shots for the putts to the GIR number, anything under 2 is doing better than expected. 1.679 is really insanely good. Even Knox’s 1.795 is excellent. Suddenly, the difference between the best and the worst seems a lot smaller and they are both significantly better than the rest of us.
Of course, there is a potential problem with this stat, especially for the average golfer who isn’t hitting many greens. For example, an 18 handicap golfer might hit one green in regulation. If he sinks that one putt for birdie, he is averaging 1.00 as putts per GIR. This is ridiculous and not very helpful for him either!
Comparing a Golfer to the Field
This is actually also true for our professional golfers on tour. The average over a season is useful, but shorter term, it might not tell us that much at all. In one round, or even one tournament, a golfer might hit far fewer (or more) greens that usual and his stats will be skewed by this.
This is where the idea of strokes gained comes into play. Strokes gained tells us how a player is playing compared to the rest of the field. Strokes gained putting tells us how much better or worse a golfer is compared to the other golfers playing in the same tournament under the same conditions.
For example, Lucas Herbert was once again top in 2022 compared to the field. He was gaining, on average, 0.853 strokes on the greens compared to the rest of the field. This tells us that he really is good on the greens because his putting was responsible for over three shots per tournament on average over 4 rounds compared to the best golfers on the planet!
This number is calculated by comparing the amount of putts a given golfer makes from a particular distance compared to a statistical baseline of thousands of putts on tour. The difference between this number and the field average gives the putts gained number.
strokes gained putting is almost more interesting when looked at on a tournament by tournament basis. You can see when someone is just having an absolutely amazing day on the greens, especially when we compare this to his performance over the season or even a career. For example, players will be hitting a putts gained per round number in excess of 2 in some tournaments. This means that over the four rounds, they are scoring perhaps ten shots better than the other golfers playing that particular week.
Compared to simply looking at the number of putts per round, strokes gained will give a much more complete picture of who has actually got their putting boots on in any given tournament.