Imagine you could have a PGA Tour player hit one of the following for you: all your putts, your short game, your long game or your sand shots. Which should you choose? I’ve asked this question to a number of golfers, and judging from the various responses I’ve received, the answer isn’t obvious.
So I decided to find out with a research project that combines my academic and golfing interests.
Using a unique dataset containing thousands of individual shots of amateur and professional golfers in regular and tournament play, I developed a method to analyze these and other questions related to the play of golfers of various skill levels.
It’s probably not surprising that professional golfers are better than amateurs in every aspect of the game. But having a PGA Tour player putt for a single-digit handicap golfer would only help by about two shots per round. The short game accounts for less than two shots per round. And the sand game accounts for less than one shot — not enough to make a big difference in the overall score.
However, the long game accounts for over nine shots in an 18-hole round — by far, the biggest contributor to scoring differences between pros and low-handicap amateurs.
Now suppose we split the long game into two groups: tee shots on par-four and par-five holes, and all other shots over 100 yards. Long tee shots account for a four-shot difference per round, and the other long-game shots account for about five shots per round. Either group is more important than putting or short-game shots.
Why isn’t putting more important? It’s partially because the amateur golfer has almost 12 putts per round within 2.5 feet of the hole that are rarely missed, so having a pro hit those putts wouldn’t help much. Of course, the difference in the number of putts taken is greater between pros and higher-handicap golfers — a difference that would be made greater by the very fast greens of the Masters Tournament.
The long game is more important because PGA players drive the ball about fifty yards farther and straighter than low-handicap amateurs.
Now if I could only figure out how to drive the ball fifty yards farther.
Professor Broadie’s research will be presented at the fifth World Scientific Congress of Golf in Arizona at the end of March and will be published in a proceedings volume. A PDF of the paper can also be downloaded here.