Just how often do Tour pros miss short putts? Here’s some context

July 31, 2019

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.

What can the PGA Tour's putting stats have to do with Steph Curry and Drew Brees?
USA Today

3 FEET

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.

4 FEET

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%).

5 FEET

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.

Landon Donovan is a good bet from the penalty spot.
USA Today

6 FEET

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.

7 FEET

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…

8 FEET

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!

9 FEET

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.

10 FEET

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.

Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 — the last baseball player to crack the .400 mark for a full season.

11-15 FEET

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.

15-20 FEET

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.

20-25 FEET

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.

25+ FEET

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.