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The Importance of Putting is Vastly Overstated (and its Contribution to Winning on the PGA Tour)


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Excellent post. The 'putt for dough' thought probably arose primarily due to the recency bias and the granular / binary nature of make or miss.

If you don't hit to penalty it's hard for a player let alone a spectator to appreciate the small gains of a slightly better long shot, but it's memorable when an opponent drops a long putt.

The 'Strokes Gained' or lost on individual strokes sort of feel like 'statistical illusions' describing which shots on a hole helped or hurt you. You may have hit to a position that on average gains an incremental advantage over the field, but that advantage is not actually realized in your score until you follow it up by ultimately draining the putt the good shot put you in position to have a better chance to make.

Edited by natureboy
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An image I like is to think of the area around the hole as a gravity well. Inside 3' and you're sucked in and can't get out (you really need to stuff up to miss), then you get the sharp walls that every inch is a huge difference out to about 15', then it flattens out (to estimated 2 putts). Works on chips too.

568b492300e4b_GravityWell.thumb.jpg.1d8b

The closer to the purple part of the well you can get the ball, the less you're relying on a 'luck' (probably better put as a less statistically likely event) to make the putt.

 

Edited by alleztom
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14 minutes ago, alleztom said:

An image I like is to think of the area around the hole as a gravity well. Inside 3' and you're sucked in and can't get out (you really need to stuff up to miss), then you get the sharp walls that every inch is a huge difference out to about 15', then it flattens out (to estimated 2 putts). Works on chips too.

568b492300e4b_GravityWell.thumb.jpg.1d8b

The closer to the purple part of the well you can get the ball, the less you're relying on a 'luck' (probably better put as a less statistically likely event) to make the putt.

 

Gofer1: Is that a gimme?  Golfer2: No, it's not inside the event horizon.

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Roughly…

568bdd86af71e_FullSwingMotionvs.Putting.

Note that the axes are not proportional or anything. The area under the curves is not the same. This is an illustration more than anything. And the "Playing Level" scale I'd say is not linear, except depending on how you view skill, it could be - if you realize it's easier to go from 18 to 9 than it is to go from Web.com to PGA Tour, then the scale probably makes plenty of sense. Just don't take it to be a "difficulty" scale, but rather, a playing level scale as written.

What you'll note:

  • There's way more overlap in putting. Even a 90s golfer can out-putt a PGA Tour player 10% of the time. A scratch golfer can do it 30% of the time. There's less separation in putting.
  • There's no overlap in the full swing motion from the scratch golfer to even the bad rounds Web.com Tour players have.
  • Better players have a significantly narrower window of performance than poorer players, whose performance varies more day to day, shot to shot, etc. with the full swing. Putting, on the other hand, has similar width curves. Even Phil Mickelson has days where he three-putts from three feet a few times, and even you have days where you make a lot of long putts you don't normally make.
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25 minutes ago, iacas said:

Roughly…

Note that the axes are not proportional or anything. The area under the curves is not the same. This is an illustration more than anything. And the "Playing Level" scale I'd say is not linear, except depending on how you view skill, it could be - if you realize it's easier to go from 18 to 9 than it is to go from Web.com to PGA Tour, then the scale probably makes plenty of sense. Just don't take it to be a "difficulty" scale, but rather, a playing level scale as written.

What you'll note:

  • There's way more overlap in putting. Even a 90s golfer can out-putt a PGA Tour player 10% of the time. A scratch golfer can do it 30% of the time. There's less separation in putting.
  • There's no overlap in the full swing motion from the scratch golfer to even the bad rounds Web.com Tour players have.
  • Better players have a significantly narrower window of performance than poorer players, whose performance varies more day to day, shot to shot, etc. with the full swing. Putting, on the other hand, has similar width curves. Even Phil Mickelson has days where he three-putts from three feet a few times, and even you have days where you make a lot of long putts you don't normally make.

Great illustration of your points. Those long game distributions for pros are daunting.

Was the difference in the width of the putting distributions at all intentional, or just to illustrate? If intentional, why the greater putting consistency for scratch...putting easier greens?

Edited by natureboy
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10 minutes ago, natureboy said:

Was the difference in the width of the putting distributions at all intentional, or just to illustrate? If intentional, why the greater putting consistency for scratch...putting easier greens?

No. I'd probably change that if I was going to revise the graph. I simply tweaked the sizes and positions of the top three, then pasted in the bottom three and did the same to them, and forgot to make sure the two sets of three were consistent with each other.

I think the general point of the illustration still holds.

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15 hours ago, boogielicious said:

Nice post @iacas.

+1 on this. However, I simply trust the conclusion that is written in LSW and in the plots above showing the correlation to handicap rather than trying to figure out everything in that post. :whistle:

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I done wore out my page down key.-But it was worth it.

Then again we already knew all of this, kinda.

But I think the thing we did not have before is the idea of repeatability and how much that changes. You are right-Putting is not highly repeatable over a few holes or even a single round. Sometimes you get hot-Sometimes you are not.

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16 minutes ago, Lihu said:

+1 on this. However, I simply trust the conclusion that is written in LSW and in the plots above showing the correlation to handicap rather than trying to figure out everything in that post. :whistle:

You're an engineer are you not? I am and I understood it all. The math is easy. 

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4 minutes ago, boogielicious said:

You're an engineer are you not? I am and I understood it all. The math is easy. 

Yes, but I'd rather spend the time to enjoy golf!

It's like I can figure out how to make an OS from scratch and I've done simple RTOS back when they didn't have pre-canned ones, but now I use a pre-canned one. Why re-invent the wheel when there is one that I trust already made?

However, I do like that that @iacas has data to prove his theories and all, but am too busy to go through the data in the detail that is needed to re-produce the conclusions. That and I completely trust Erik's capability and knowledge.

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2 minutes ago, Lihu said:

Yes, but I'd rather spend the time to enjoy golf!

It's like I can figure out how to make an OS from scratch and I've done simple RTOS back when they didn't have pre-canned ones, but now I use a pre-canned one. Why re-invent the wheel when there is one that I trust already made?

However, I do like that that @iacas has data to prove his theories and all, but am too busy to go through the data in the detail that is needed to re-produce the conclusions. That and I completely trust Erik's capability and knowledge.

It's was 9F outside this morning here in Boston. This is all I can enjoy!

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1 hour ago, iacas said:

Roughly…

568bdd86af71e_FullSwingMotionvs.Putting.

 

I have to admit I haven't finished reading the full post, but I will!

This interesting data visualization above jumped out at me. It would be interesting to apply this style of visualization to just the PGA players during tournaments. For example, on average for the top 10 players of each tournament, how did their "playing level" that week compare full swing vs putting. And then throw in "short game" somehow.

From the scatter plot showing that 35% is that average contribution of putting to winners, we'd see more skew in the full swing for the winners. But the overlaps would be quite substantial for both full swing and putting- enough to give many people the anecdotal sense that you "putt for dough" or make your money "around the greens."  While many people might have trouble reading the scatter plot, this style of visualization might hit home more.

Since I've regained an interest in golf, the idea of variance in performance has been an area of interest for me, since we are not machines who perform at the same level round-to-round, or hole-to-hole. So the bell curve shapes tell an important story to me.

Great thread.

 

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Just now, boogielicious said:

It's was 9F outside this morning here in Boston. This is all I can enjoy!

Ouch, I feel for you. . .

It's raining here, but I thought I could get much more work done so I might have a chance to take a late lunch round later on? :whistle:

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As others have said, great post @iacas.

From my own playing experience and observing the tour players at events, it makes a lot of sense to me. Tour players are the best in the world because of they're the best ball-strikers in the world. You can survive on the PGA Tour while not being a great putter (Boo Weekley John Senden), can't keep your job with a great short game and poor ball-striking.

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15 minutes ago, RandallT said:

Since I've regained an interest in golf, the idea of variance in performance has been an area of interest for me, since we are not machines who perform at the same level round-to-round, or hole-to-hole. So the bell curve shapes tell an important story to me.

Cool. Quick note, which I think you already knew, but still worth mentioning… the plots aren't generated from anything but my history, etc. I kind of assumed bell curves because people are familiar with them, and because over a large enough sample size, you tend to get bell curves in stuff like this, but they might be bell curves with longer tails to one side (i.e. not a "centered" bell curve), they might actually have some flat spots… etc. Especially if you're talking about individual golfers over 100 rounds or something, you'd see very different looking shapes. Again, I don't think so for 1000 golfers and 100,000 rounds, really, but I can't say for certain.

2 minutes ago, mvmac said:

You can survive on the PGA Tour while not being a great putter (Boo Weekley John Senden), can't keep your job with a great short game and poor ball-striking.

Well, Boo lost his card for a bit there, but his putting was a-tro-cious. I think if my daughter putted for him he might have kept his PGA Tour card. That 30% a scratch golfer beats a PGA Tour player? They weren't using Boo in that example. I don't even want to say the number would have been flipped to 70%… because I think it would've been higher!

He was B-A-D. At putting. Like middle region pink bad.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I found your topic interesting.  I read a book by Bob Rotella about short game and putting a few years ago.  He talked about the chipping and pitching being more important than the putting.  His reasoning was that the closer you get the ball to the hole the better your chances of making the putt.  I'm not sure if this correlates to your article exactly, but I thought I'd share this.  I think I'd rather have great putting and chipping and be a decent putter than having to try and make long putts for par all the time.

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