Tom Tucker is a World Golf Teachers and United States Golf Teacher Federation-certified golf instructor. He may be contacted via his website or at the Plum Creek driving range in Batavia, NY.

After last issues’ article on analytics, Mark W. emailed me a question about how the PGA Tour “Putts Gained” statistic works.

Thanks for the question Mark. I leaned heavily on research done by Mark Broadie, Columbia University, for this answer.

Prior to the Putts Gained statistic, all that was measured for putting was basically putts per round. This stat doesn’t always tell the tale because it doesn’t take putt distances into account.

Another misleading scenario arises when one player gets it up and down with a great chip and a 3 foot putt, and another hits the green and two putts from 30 feet. Does this make the one putter a more competent putter than the player who hit the green and two putted? Of course not, and that’s the deficiency of simply counting total putts to gauge putting competence.

Here’s the equation the tour uses for Putts Gained:
Putts gained = PGA TOUR Average putts to hole out minus Actual putts to hole out

For example, suppose a golfer lands on the green 33 feet from the hole and then sinks the putt. For PGA TOUR golfers, the average number of putts to holeout from 33 feet is 2.0, so the one-putt represents a gain of one stroke (2.0 average putts minus 1 actual putt). A two-putt from 33 feet corresponds to zero putts gained, since the actual number of putts matches the PGA TOUR average from that distance. A three-putt corresponds to a putts gained of minus one (2.0 average putts minus 3 actual putts), i.e., a loss of one stroke.

In most cases the putts gained or lost on a hole will be fraction of a stroke. For example, suppose a golfer lands on the green eight feet from the hole and then sinks the putt. For PGA TOUR golfers, the average number of putts to holeout from eight feet is 1.5. The putts gained equation for the above scenario results in a one-putt from eight feet equalling a gain of a half-stroke.

Putts gained is a simple, intuitive, and pure measure of putting skill.

By taking into account the initial distance of each putt, putts gained does not suffer from the deficiencies of putts per round or putts per green in regulation. The putts gained stat is made possible thanks to the PGA TOUR’s ShotLink data collection system, which measures the location of putts to an accuracy of one inch.

Putts gained doesn’t penalize a golfer for an approach shot that stops sixty feet from the hole nor does it reward a golfer for a chip to tap-in range. Sinking longer putts gains more relative to the field than sinking shorter putts. Conversely, a three-putt from six feet costs more than a three-putt from fifty feet.

This becomes relevant when you consider a round that Angel Cabrerra had in 2010 at a Tour Event. He only carded 26 putts, less than the PGA average of 29 putts per round. Sounds good, but his putts gained statistic was -2.8, which means he lost 2.8 strokes to the field due to his putting.

What was misleading about the 26 putts was that he holed out from off the green twice, and had more putts than average from other distances during the round, including two three putts from under twenty feet.

Putts gained is the best statistic to use to get an accurate measurement of putting proficiency.

Love your practice, enjoy your golf,