Drive for show, putt for dough?
Golf myths and what we think we see, or are told, might not always be the reality of what’s actually happening. Here we dissect how good Mickelson’s short game is, how bad Spieth’s putting has become and what’s more important – the driver or putter?
1) Drive for show, putt for dough
Since the start of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour Season, the top five putters worldwide have earned a combined $3,819,365, or an average of $763,873.
One of these five is ranked inside the top 100 in the world.
In the same period the top five players off the tee have earned a combined $6,101,017, or an average of $1,220,203. Four of these guys are top 100 in the world.
Talking purely in terms of ‘dough’, year after year the best drivers make more money than the best putters.
Here’s how some of the world’s best players performed over last season on the PGA Tour for SG: Putting –
Johnson 25 Koepka 68 Rose 21 Thomas 47 DeChambeau 32 McIlroy 97 Fowler 43 Schauffele 66 Rahm 147 Molinari 182 Fleetwood 38 Woods 48 Spieth 123 Reed 72 Day 2
2) Does Mickelson have the best short game on the planet?
No, he definitely does not. His short game isn’t even the best area of his game. In fact, it’s not even the second best area of his game. His success is centred around being excellent on approach and on the greens.
Since the start of 2018, he has ranked 272nd worldwide Off the Tee (OTT), 65th on Approach, 170th Around the Greens and 55th in Putting.
He hasn’t ranked inside the top 25 of Strokes Gained Around the Green on the PGA Tour since 2012, and has never featured higher than 5th in that list.
Of the top 100 shots around the green that were played on the PGA Tour last year, he doesn’t feature at all.
Unquestionably Phil is an excellent player, and anecdotal evidence suggests he has the ability to pull off very impressive shots when required. But there’s no argument to be made that he’s got the best short game in the world, or ever had.
3) Has Spieth’s putting gone?
Cooled down is probably a fairer way to put this. Putting fluctuates naturally from year to year in almost all players. Unlike SG Off the Tee, which can be reasonably predicted year to year, SG Putting in any given year has almost no correlation to a players SG Putting the following year.
People’s opinions on Spieth’s putting originate from a questionable starting point to begin with, particularly his short putting.
In what was arguably his best year in 2015, he holed 88.2% of his putts inside 10 feet, ranking 51st of 184 players on the PGA Tour. It was above average, but not amazing. Last year, it was 87.42%, so far this year that’s dipped to 84.59%. This drop of around 3.5% is approximately one putt every two rounds.
Looking at his putting from 15-25 feet, that was where he really made the difference in his early peak years. His absurd hole %s of 26%+ were amazing at the time but were always destined to level out at some point.
He regressed back to well below average in 2018 but has been improving in this range recently. It’s probably unlikely he’ll ever get back to 26% as it’s so rare for anyone to have seasons like that but we’d expect him to get back to the top end of this ranking in the next couple of years.
Spieth’s 15-25ft range
2015 – 27.19% (1)
2016 – 26.31% (1)
2017 – 22.16% (3)
2018 – 11.65% (185)
2019 – 16.13% (98)
Sure, he’s in a dip, and in a game of extremely small margins at the top level, it will affect his results and scoring. But his mid-range putting where he previously excelled is on the up, and putting his short putting in perspective we can safely say his putting is not ‘gone’.
4) Is professional golf all about length?
You could never say that professional golf is all about any aspect of the game but it is fair to say that different skills have varying levels of impact on a player’s consistency and overall performance.
Being strong off the tee and gaining strokes there has clearly become a prerequisite for a consistent ranking inside the top 10 in the world. Since the start of 2018 the top five ranked players in the world all feature in the top 10 of the SG OTT rankings.
Luke List at 71 is the only one of that top 10 who ranks outside the world’s top 25. For comparison, only one of the top-10 putters ranks inside the top 25 – Jason Day.
Distance has always been a major advantage but the relative importance of accuracy has diminished. Players can be long and inaccurate and rank highly but a short, straight hitter will never be ranked highly in SG OTT.
As an example of this, on the PGA Tour, Rory ranks 6th in Distance and 171st in Accuracy but tops the SG Off the Tee rankings. Jim Furyk ranks 1st in Accuracy but is 214th in Distance and, as a result, is down in 111th in SG OTT.
If you’re a professional, and could choose to be ranked 1st in Driving Distance, or 1st Driving Accuracy, take the Distance all day. It’s also much more fun to hit it 350 yards than 280.
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