Drive for Show, Putt for Dough?

A look into key stats on the PGA Tour

If you like golf or pay attention to the sport, you have probably heard this saying. Driving the golf ball well is just showing while putting well is most important and will lead to more success. This is no more eminent than in the world’s #1 golfer right now, Jordan Speith. I decided to go back and see how he ranked in key putting and driving statistics in 2015. He ranked 8th in stokes-gained-putting, 78th in driving distance and 80th in driving accuracy. In total driving (combining distance and accuracy) he was 52nd on the PGA Tour. 52nd is above average and is coveted by many players, but for being the best player in the world, 52nd is lower than one would expect. Spieth is one of the best putters in the world and you can tell by watching him play. The kid, after all he is only 22, makes everything he looks at. He ranked number 1 in one-putt percentage. He one putted 44.26% of the holes he played. From 15 to 25 feet, he made just over 27% of those putts. Those two statistics will win you a lot of golf tournaments.

Looking at the best and worst PGA Tour players in each stat and comparing them to each player’s finish in the FedEx Cup, we can test to see if this saying is true beyond Speith. I took the top 10 and bottom 10 in each statistic: total driving and strokes-gained putting. I just wanted to see if good putting or driving led to success and if bad putting or driving did not. When looking at the top 10 in both total driving and strokes-gained putting, there is some evidence that this saying is accurate. 7 of the 10 in strokes gained putting finished in the top 63 players while only 4 of the 10 in total driving finished in that range. Looking at the 10 best and 10 worst in each category, I looked at the correlation between the two aspects and how they finished. Both total driving and strokes gained putting had a fairly strong correlation with final ranking. The correlation for putting and finish at the end of the year was slightly higher at a regression value of .77 compared to that of .73 for total driving and FedEx Cup rank. After reviewing these stats, putting appears to be slightly more important but not by much. Both are obviously important for success on the course. As professionals, none are really bad when it comes to either statistic either. But coming down to which one a Tour pro would rather be better at, putting is the winner. Missing a fairway or leaving the ball 10 yards behind the average player is impactful, but when it comes to Sunday, making those 5-foot par putts and the 20-foot birdie putts is the difference between a good week and a week ending in the winner’s circle.

Cover Photo via Fox Sports

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