Putting average on the PGA Tour is much like a pitcher’s won-loss record in Major League Baseball, in that it doesn’t tell the whole story. You get a plot, but no subplots.
As reported the other day in the Wall Street Journal, however, a better way of measuring putting prowess is on the way, under the moniker “putts gained per round.”
The problem with putting average is that it’s not really a true average, as it excludes a significant portion of actual putts while also failing to account for the accuracy of approach shots, which naturally alters the “makeability” of the ensuing putts.
Putting average only measures the number of putts executed after a player hits the green “in regulation,” which nullifies approximately 30 percent of putts. And even when the green is hit in regulation, putting average makes no distinction between the length of the ensuing putts. The statistic of “putts per round” suffers from similar weaknesses.
According to the article, the new metric “evaluates each putt a pro makes based on distance and compares the result to the expected average of pros hitting putts of the same length, eliminates biases that distort other statistical putting measures and better identifies pure putting skill.”
Needless to say, it’s a rather complicated but apparently effective formula.
The metric of putts gained per round was developed by researchers at MIT, and the PGA Tour is embracing it. The metric is being incorporated into the tour’s ShotLink system, and should appear as an official statistic by the end of the year.
Under the new metric, Luke Donald and Tiger Woods are ranked first and second for 2009 (the first complete year analyzed for putts gained per round), with Ben Curtis occupying the third slot. Curtis is perhaps the most startling example among the leaders, as he ranked 122nd in putting average and 104th in putts per round. Brad Faxon, who’s known for his sweet putting stroke, is in the fifth slot. He ranked just 56th in putting average.
Meanwhile, Steve Stricker, who was first in putting average in 2009, ranks 15th in putts gained per round. Anthony Kim ranked 2nd in putting average, but just 63rd in putts gained per round. Oops!
While the PGA Tour seems giddy about this new putting statistic, you wonder if it also might feel a bit sheepish about promoting flawed stats for so long?