Just how often do Tour pros miss short putts? Here’s some context
Of all the differences between pro golfers and ams, the most acute may be what happens over a three-foot putt. Consider that from 2002-2005 Tiger Woods faced 1,540 putts from three feet — and made 1,536 of them. Most weekend warriors are happy to go nine holes without missing a bunny of similar length.
As lethal as that stretch was for Woods, it has become the standard on the PGA Tour. Pros convert three-footers (defined as longer than two, and up to three feet) at a rate of 99.4%. That’s almost the exact percentage of extra points that NFL kickers made — 99.3% — before the league decided the extra point was essentially a useless play and the line should be moved back (an argument for gimmes on Tour, I guess).
The way we consume numbers in sports varies greatly — as do our perceptions of makes and misses. How do missed putts translate to missed field goals or missed free throws? Did you know that MLB pitchers throw strikes (62%) at about the same rate as NFL kickers make 57-yard field goals (62%) or Tour pros drain 7-foot putts (61%)? The 57-yard field goal certainly feels like the most impressive of the three feats, but the percentage is the same.
With enlightenment in mind, let me guide you a short way down the rabbit hole of Tour putting percentages (inspired by this Potters Putting post) and their cross-sport equivalents. From now on, you’ll see kick-ins, soccer kicks and field goal kicks in a whole different light.
PGA Tour percentage: 99.4%. Ice cold.
Context: As addressed above, this is slightly higher than the rate of old NFL extra points, which were made at such a high rate (99.3%) they were deemed useless and the league changed the rule.
PGA Tour percentage: 91.43%
Context: Landon Donovan, arguably the best sharpshooter in U.S. men’s soccer history, converted penalty kicks at a 93% rate. More context? Tiger Woods has gone on to win 93% of the time he has held at least a share of the 54-hole lead. And Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks led the NBA in free throw percentage, also at 93%. Steph Curry shooting free throws (at 91.6%) would provide a near-exact equivalent to Sungjae Im, the Tour’s most average four-foot putter (91.45%).
PGA Tour percentage: 80.72%. Here’s where it starts to get a little interesting.
Context: Penalty kicks in soccer are rarer, louder and generally of much greater consequence, but they’re converted at a similar percentage (82.2%) to your everyday five-footer on Tour.
PGA Tour percentage: 70.21%
Context: Drew Brees holds the NFL’s all-time record for career completion percentage among quarterbacks at 67.3%. I’m guessing most of you, dear readers, would rather face down a six-footer than complete an NFL pass — but I haven’t seen your putting strokes.
PGA Tour percentage: 60.6%
Context: Serena Williams, who made the Wimbledon final again this summer, has gotten 61% of her first serves in this year. Roger Federer is similar, at 62%. Of course, they’re hitting the ball a bit harder…
PGA Tour percentage: 52.86%
Context: Steven Adams was the worst free throw shooter in the NBA this season, staring down 292 tries from the line and converting 146, exactly half (50%). Bad news for Adams in his current profession, but if he did that on 8-foot putts, he’d be Tour-ready!
PGA Tour percentage: 46.38%
Context: Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris led the NBA in 3-point percentage this year at 47.4% — not too shabby. But the wildest part of this point in the proceedings is that it takes this long for Tour pros to get under the 50% mark when putting. A coin toss from 8-9 feet should be all the reminder you need to keep practicing those shorties.
PGA Tour percentage: 41.25%
Context: Ted Williams was the most recent baseball player to hit the .400 mark for a season — and he did so with a .406 mark in 1941. Over the last 100 years, the highest single-season batting average belongs to Rogers Hornsby at .423. Both numbers are eye-popping now, some 78 years removed from a .400 hitter. There’s a little more variability in 10-footers on Tour, though. Consider that Jim Furyk has drained 19 of 27 (70.4%) from 10 feet this season.
PGA Tour percentage: 30.1%
Context: At last, to the rink! In the NHL, skaters make 29.4% of their shootout attempts. That’s a serious contrast to soccer’s PKs or NBA free throws — but it’s right in line with a mid-length putt.
PGA Tour percentage: 18.3%
Context: Now we’re starting to get deeper into longshot range. Since 2000, NFL kickers have made exactly 20 percent of their field goal attempts outside of 60 yards. Granted, a made 17-footer on Tour feels rather routine, while a 61-yard field goal feels like a triumph of mankind. But those stats don’t lie.
PGA Tour percentage: 12.47%
Context: In the last decade, NFL teams have converted onside kicks at just a 12 percent clip. That number dropped further last year after more restrictive rules were put in place. Either way, this is the comparison that seems most apt — in each case, the 25-footer or the onsides kick, you’re hitting the ball and hoping for a lucky roll.
PGA Tour percentage: 5.45%
Context: Yeah, I realize that “25+” is a bit vague, but that’s the way the Tour keeps their long-range stats. Either way, the chance of a Tour player making a bomb is most similar to the chance Albert Pujols, MLB’s active leader in career home runs, has of hitting one. Pujols has gone yard at a 6.18% clip over the course of his 650-homer career.