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You’d be hard-pressed to find a more interesting and intelligent person in the game of golf than Scott Fawcett.
Fawcett is a former professional golfer turned golf mathematician who pioneered the DECADE approach to course management. He was also a recent presenter at the GOLF Top 100 Teacher’s Summit last year (which you can watch in full above) where he spoke on a wide variety of topics, including one that’s become especially close to his heart recently: Putting.
Fawcett says that speed is king when it comes to putting, a lesson he learned himself back in 1999, when he qualified for the U.S. Open as a young pro. He was practicing his putting when he saw a legend stroll onto the green.
“When I was getting to leave the putting green in 1999, [Vijay Singh] was walking on,” he said. “He was the biggest practicer ever back then, and I was like: ‘alright, sucker, I’m going to out-practice you.’
Fawcett said he started “randomly rolling balls all around the putting green,” but noticed Vijay practicing differently.
“This guy just sat over there on the side of the putting green and did speed drills the whole time,” he said.
Years on, Fawcett said he came to understand why: Because “putting is easy, once you realize speed is all that matters.”
The stat you need to improve: Approach putt performance
Fawcett says the key stat for pros an amateurs alike is “approach putt performance,” or how closely you lag your first putt to the hole. It’s the best predictor we have of whether you’ll end up two putting or three putting, and it’s a skill that his heavily dependent on speed. Sure, line is important, Fawcett says, but speed rules all. Even on an incorrect line, if you can lag a putt to 5 feet or less, you’re virtually guaranteed to two putt.
“It’s why Zalatoris, who struggles sometimes with putts, was able to be a zero Strokes Gained putter last season,” Fawcett says. “His approach putt performance, which is the average length of your second putt, is really, really good. He’s trying to lag it up there as close as he can so he can tap in as often as possible.”
“Between 3 and 5 feet, the average number of those putts you’ll have during an average round is about 2.6%. Even if you’re 10 percent worse than average — which doesn’t sound like a lot, but really is monumental. If you manage to be more than 10 percent worse…you lose about a quarter of a shoot. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world.”
It all goes back to the underlying philosophy that drives Fawcett’s work: That the secret to scoring isn’t trying to gain strokes, it’s making sure you don’t lose them.