We took stopwatches to a busy public course and the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Top 100 teacher and CBS Sports analyst Peter Kostis explains what we learned.
ABOUT THIS STUDY
For the Tour pro data, we timed every shot 45 players hit over nine holes at Orlando's Bay Hill during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. We started the clock only when a player had arrived at his ball and it was his turn to hit. Some of the groups we followed we selected at random; other groups we chose because they included a player, or players, who have a reputation for playing either slowly (e.g., J.B. Holmes) or quickly (e.g., Rickie Fowler). Cumulatively we clocked 1,497 shots. For the amateur data, we timed 91 players at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course at North Carolina State University on a Saturday in April. Using the same guidelines that we employed with the pros, we tracked every shot the amateurs hit on the 1st and 18th holes (a par 5 and a par 4), or 581 shots in all. For both groups we omitted tap-in putts from our calculations.
I often hear the assertion that amateurs play slowly because they mimic the pre-shot routines of their favorite Tour pros. These charts show that's not true. Still, the amateurs we timed did take a grueling average of 4 hours and 58 minutes to complete their rounds, which means that while "Joes" may not spend much time over their shots, they do spend too much time between shots. To liven your pace, be smart with your cart management; save small talk with your buddies for when you're walking or driving to your balls, not when you're preparing to hit; and above all be considerate of your fellow golfers. A little respect goes a long way.
AMATEUR DATA: Amateurs spend less time with each successive shot, which suggests that they lose focus or grow increasingly frustrated. This variation also tells me that amateurs don't have a consistent pre-shot routine. Take it from the pros: the first step toward building a consistent, repeatable swing is to have a consistent, repeatable routine. Which doesn't have to mean a slow routine.
It's striking how little time amateurs spend over their chips and putts. Don't shortchange your short game. Those shots count just as much on your scorecard as your drive and your approach. One of the keys to speeding up play is to shoot lower scores, and when you invest time in your putts the way the pros do, your scores will go down and your pace will go up.
PRO DATA: Perhaps not surprisingly, the two shots the pros take the most time over are those that can lead to a birdie: the approach and the first putt. That's why you see pros taking additional time to commit to their strategy and stroke on these important scoring opportunities. Notice how the pros also invest a good chunk of time over their bogey attempts, which is a good lesson for amateurs. I'm not suggesting you eat up the clock grinding over bogey putts, but if you want to score, you should show as much respect to those putts as you do your par and birdie tries.
Of the 1,497 shots we timed at Bay Hill, 279 of them - or 18.4 percent - exceeded the Tour's 45-second limit. Over nine holes, here are the players who most frequently exceeded 45 seconds to play a shot, including the percentage of the time they were in violation:
Kevin Na: 58% (18 of 31 shots)
Nick O'Hern: 52% (16 of 31)
J.B. Holmes: 47% (15 of 32)
John Senden: 44% (14 of 32)
(Shot totals exclude tap-in putts)
Other facts and figures from our PGA Tour study*:
Most time per shot (avg.): Nick O'Hern (55 seconds)
Least time per shot (avg.): Rickie Fowler (16 seconds)
Avg. time per tee shot for the field: 31 seconds
Avg. time per putt for the field: 37 seconds
Most time over a single tee shot: Hunter Haas (119 seconds, par-3 second hole)
Most time over a single putt: Kevin Na (91 seconds, 9'11" inch birdie putt on par-5 12th hole; he missed)
Tiger Woods's avg. time per tee shot: 38 seconds
Tiger Woods's avg. time per putt: 39 seconds
*These statistics include averages of all 45 players we timed.