2011 was quite an interesting year for golf; sure we didn't see Tiger return to form (signs are pointing to that occurring this year), but there were a number of things happening that kept golf fans entertained. We were treated to three different number ones in the world in Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald and saw four first-time major winners (Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke, and Bradley), which is something that we haven't seen since 2003.
One of the biggest trends that picked up in 2011 was many players moving towards long or belly putters. It had always seemed like the long putter was for old guys or those that got the yips but the idea has become more popular as of late. Recently we have seen Adam Scott put the broomstick in the bag and the move gained even more steam with Keegan Bradley being the first to win a major with a long putter as he captured the PGA Championship in August. Three straight wins and the steady play of other long putter users such as Webb Simpson (who contended for the money title) only added to the intrigue.
Regardless of your feelings on whether or not long putters should be legal, they are here for now and more and more players, both amateurs and professionals, are putting them in their bags. The question is this: are long putters just a fad and something to be forgotten in a few years or are they the real deal? Do they actually help the players using them sink more putts or is just between the ears? We'll look at some stats from the PGA tour to see if 1) players using the long putter putt better than those with standard length putters and 2) if players who have made the switch improved upon their own putting regardless of where they ranked before.
Long vs. Standard: Is One Sinking More Putts?
Looking at various statistics from the PGA Tour, there is little evidence to suggest that putting a belly putter or broom stick in the bag will catapult you to the top of the field when it comes to performance on the green.
Overall Putting Average
RANK PLAYER ROUNDS AVG # OF PUTTS # OF HOLES ---- ------ ------ --- ---------- ---------- 1 Y.E. Yang 18 1.521 438 288 2 Retief Goosen 13 1.523 329 216 3 Greg Chalmers 26 1.524 686 450 4 Rory McIlroy 14 1.535 221 144 5 Jonas Blixt 21 1.542 583 378 T6 Jason Day 14 1.546 334 216 T6 Brandt Snedeker 27 1.546 668 432 8 Jeff Overton 25 1.547 696 450 9 Phil Mickelson 22 1.548 613 396 10 Chris DiMarco 25 1.551 698 450 (Stats from PGATour.com, Y-T-D Stats trough Transitions Championship)
Three Putt Avoidance
RANK PLAYER ROUNDS % TOTAL 3 PUTTS TOTAL HOLES ---- ------ ------ --- ------------- ----------- 1 Fredrik Jacobson 13 0.93 2 216 2 Paul Goydos 16 1.04 3 288 3 Matt Kuchar 24 1.11 4 360 4 Brian Gay 24 1.16 5 432 5 Jim Furyk 15 1.19 3 252 6 Greg Chalmers 26 1.33 6 450 T7 Luke Donald 13 1.39 3 216 T7 Bob Estes 16 1.39 4 288 T7 Sergio Garcia 13 1.39 3 216 T7 Brian Harman 24 1.39 6 432 T7 Spencer Levin 32 1.39 8 576 T7 Hunter Mahan 22 1.39 4 288 (Stats from PGATour.com, Y-T-D Stats trough Transitions Championship)
Looking at the PGA Tour's Overall Putting Average, the top two are using belly putters and with the rest using standard length. Late last year, Mickleson had experimented with a belly putter but has since returned to the standard length.
The Three Putt Avoidance stat shows much of the same. Of the twelve players listed, only Kuchar and Levin use the longer putter. Jim Furyk has also used one in the past but beyond that all of these guys are using standard length putters.
Obviously these are just a couple of the many putting stats available, but really they all look this way with one or two guys in the top ten using a long putter and the rest using a short putter. This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody though, as you must remember that the vast majority of the players on tour are still using a standard length putter. Even at the Tour Championship last year where a whopping 20% of the field was using a long putter, 80% still were using standard putters. So while that was a huge increase over the previous use, there just are not enough players using them for them to really dominate the stat charts.
Another thing that must be remembered when looking at these statistics is that they are dependent on other factors not relating to the putter. To some point, even something like driving distance will effect these stats because the guys driving it longer will have shorter irons into greens which often time will lead to shorter putts. Obviously guys who have the shortest putts will have an advantage sinking putts.
Really though, as I said above this shouldn't be a shocker. I think that most of us know that putting a long putter in the bag isn't going to make one a putting god, but the question still remains, does it help improve one's putting at all? For that, we'll take a look at a few individuals who have made the switch and see if their putting has improved.
Perhaps no other golfer has served as figure head for the popularity of the long putter more than Adam Scott. Since Scott broke onto the pro scene there hasn't been a golfer with more potential in many people's opinion, yet he has never been able to win when it mattered the most - at the majors. In an effort to change that, he started toying around with the long putter to see if it would lead to better putting for him, because according to him his putting from 10 feet and in was horrible. So let's take a look at Scott's putting over the last four years and see if he really improved.
Distance 2012 2011 2010 2009 -------- ---- ---- ---- ---- Inside 5 94.64% 94.5% 93.75% 94.71% 5-10' 54.8% 59.11% 46.55% 47.67% 10-15' 33.33% 24.35% 25.68% 23.01% 15-20' 33.33% 21.05% 22.77% 13.43% 20-25' 20.00% 10.53% 17.11% 12.5% > 25' 2.94% 5.85% 6.28% 5.97% (Stats gathered from PGATour.com)
Looking at the numbers, he has always been pretty consistent from inside of 5 feet. Of the four years sampled, his best was with a short putter in 2009, but not by much, and his worst was also before the broomstick. From 5-10' feet however, there has been a noticible improvement for him. To this point this year he has made nearly 55% of putts in the 5-10' range and he was even better in his first year with the long putter at nearly 60%. This is up about 14% from 2010, and if stats from the Tour tell us anything its that there is not much separation between the best on tour and those further down the list so a 14% increase is huge. As he gets further from the hole, things tend to level out a bit more. So far he has made more putts this year from the 15-20' range and the 20-25' range but that just may be because of the number of opportunities he's had to date this year. Looking at 2011 (the first full year with the long putter) he made significantly less putts from 20-25' than he had the year before. That gels with the general thought that long putter help with the shorter putts but longer and lag putting becomes more difficult.
Garrigus is another player that has made the switch to the long side, although for him the switch is even more extreme. His old putter, which he nicknamed "Mini-Me" was only 28 inches long. However, starting at the Humana Challenge this year he started using a long putter (46 inches) which he has named "Dr. Evil." Here are his stats from this year and last.
Distance 2012 2011 2010 2009 -------- ---- ---- ---- ---- Inside 5' 93.59% 95.06% 96.3% 95.89% 5-10' 47.5% 53.73% 56.63% 56.54% 10-15' 30.0% 28.35% 26.6% 24.89% 15-20' 11.43% 17.69% 19.01% 11.76% 20-25' 6.67% 12.36% 12.68% 11.58% > 25' 12.16% 6.42% 5.2% 6.54% (Stats gathered from PGATour.com)
So far he actually hasn't performed quite as well with "Dr. Evil," as he is making fewer putts from every range with the exception of those in the 10-15 foot range (only a slight increase) and those greater than 25 feet. Just this last week he missed a relatively short putt in the first playoff hole to lose the Transitions Championship to Luke Donald.
The bottom line is that the statistics don't really show one way or another if long putters really give an advantage to those that use them. There are a few players scattered about in the top ten in various putting stats but it's hard to say that many of them wouldn't be there if they used a standard length putter. Adam Scott has improved slightly using one, and so far this year Garrigus really hasn't. I think one thing that both Garrigus and Scott have gained is confidence with their flat stick. No matter what the stats say, if confidence is lost in a club then it may be time for a change. Scott felt like he wasn't performing up to his abilities with the short stick and making the change has helped his game and even if Garrigus' putting stats have declined he is at least playing well enough to get into playoffs.
My feeling on the long putters is pretty simple… if you play better with one or feel more confident, then you should go with it. Questions have been posed on this forum about whether or not they should be banned and while I think I would support a ban of some sort, until it happens they are legal to use, and if it's legal and it helps then go with it. Just know that the numbers don't show that you'll actually improve.