Putt for Dough? Apparently Not

It’s an old saying that you’ve likely heard as a golfer: “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough.”

This saying has been passed down through the years and golfers of all abilities have accepted it as fact. If you improve your putting, you will drop strokes and play better. There is no argument there! Better putting can certainly lead to lower scores.

What about on the PGA Tour? Wouldn’t the same hold true? By looking at something called Strokes Gained we can see what’s really important and what’s not.

Strokes Gained — What is it?

Strokes Gained PuttingThe new “strokes gained-putting” stat measures the number of putts a golfer takes relative to the PGA Tour average, taking into account the initial putt distance on each green. Here’s how the stat is computed. Suppose, for example, a golfer one-putts from 33 feet. The Tour average to hole-out from that distance is 2.0 putts, so a one-putt gains one putt on the field. A two-putt neither gains nor loses, but a three-putt represents a loss of one putt (or stroke) against the field.

This is just an example for putting, but the same is calculated for tee shots, tee-to-green, overall strokes gained and other categories.

Why is it important?

Strokes-gained takes into account the starting and ending position of the ball. Another example of this could be between you and your buddies. John steps up to the tee and hits a drive 250 yards down the pipe. Steve then steps up and hits his shot only 220 yards. Since John will statistically take fewer shots to hole out from that position he would have gained strokes on Steve.

This happens on every shot. Where you are and how many strokes it’s supposed to take you to get in the hole.

It’s also a better measure than traditional stats such as Greens In Regulation or Total Putts per Round. For example, would you rather be on the fringe only 8 feet away OR on the green but 30 feet away? Of course, you would rather be 8 feet. But one shot counts as a ‘green hit’ even though it is 30 feet away while the other one does not count as a Green in Regulation.

So you can see that someone could potentially hit more greens but score worse. These stats can be misleading. Strokes Gained is very accurate and gives a more complete picture of which part of the game correlates most with your score.

Tour Player Strokes Gained Analysis

We are going to look at three categories: Strokes Gained Total (SGT), Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green (SG T2G), and Strokes Gained Putting (SGP).

  • SGT is the total number of strokes gained per round
  • SG T2G is strokes gained outside 100 yards
  • SGP is strokes gained through putting

What do you think separates the best in the world from the others? Most people say, “putting!” Let’s find out.

First we start with SGT:

Strokes Gained Total

This chart shows the Top 5 players in SGT, how much money and wins they have and the total money and wins earned by the group this season through June 2015.

It is no surprise that these players are also ranked 1, 2, 6, 3 and 14th in the OWGR (Official World Golf Rankings).

Strokes Gained Tee to Green

Here we see the SGT2G as well as the percentage of Total Strokes Gained that came from this category. Take Rory for example. His SGT is 2.172, and his SGT2G is 2.001 meaning that over 90% of his advantage is from outside 100 yards!

He is a great putter, but he crushes fields and wins tournaments because he is so much better (two strokes to be exact) than everyone else with his tee shots and approach shots. He gains two strokes per round from his driver and irons alone. That is eight shots per tournament.

Strokes Gained Putting

Now we look at SGP. Keep in mind the following list includes the best putters on tour!

The OWGR of these players is 12, 89, 133, 192, and 211th in the world. This should be a HUGE wake up call for you! As you can see, some of these players get over 100% of their strokes from putting. This means that they actually lose strokes in other areas.

The Top 5 SGT2G leaders earned almost three times more money than the Top 5 in SGP.

Even Jordan Spieth who is heralded as an amazing putting (and he is) STILL gets over 75% of his strokes on the field from his driver and irons.

3 of the Top 5 in SGT are also in the Top 5 for SGT2G.

What does this mean for you?

Which of these scenarios would you choose?

  1. You hit the first two shots, and a pro plays in from there
  2. The pro hits the first two shots, and you finish the hole from there

If given the choice, you would be better off choosing option 2. There are a couple reasons for this. The pro hits far fewer tee shots out of bounds or into hazards. The distance is usually greater, leaving shorter second shots. Those second shots tend to end up closer, leaving easier pitches and putts.

At the end of the day, your scores will likely drop more significantly by improving your long game compared to improving your short game, but don’t discount the importance of your short game either! So go see your local GolfTEC coach, get an evaluation to see how you can improve in all areas, and start playing better golf!


  1. Mark,
    Great Blog Post. I think TEE Box performance is most critical for all golfers. If a golfer can’t get off the TEE Box they are going to play sparingly, if at all or quit leaving the game. To many come & go because Instructors do not take the time to ensure above average TEE Box performance from their students. They are off teaching some other aspect of golf leaving TEE Box skills under-minded which is a mistake. Keep them training on the TEE until you know they’ll perform!


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