3-putts are the bane of all amateur golfers, but particularly for those who have higher handicaps. Nothing can take the wind out of your sails as quickly as a 3-putt. Getting on the green in regulation, only to walk away with a bogey, can be disheartening and destructive to your confidence, not to mention the adverse effect it can have on your scorecard.
As you would expect, low-handicap golfers 3-putt far less often than high-handicappers (but more often than you might have guessed). Scratch golfers 3-putt approximately 7.8% of the time, or about 1.4 times per round on average.
At the other end of the spectrum, 20-handicappers 3-putt almost 20% of the time, and 25+ handicappers 24.5% of the time! If those 20+-handicap golfers were able to eliminate 3-putts altogether, that one single improvement would save them from 3 ½ to 4 ½ strokes per round.
3-Putts Per Round by Handicap
Distance Control is the Key
As explained in the previous chapter, the linchpin of successful 3-putt avoidance is distance control. Good lag putting is essential to put yourself in a position where you have a reasonable probability of making your next putt. But lag putting itself becomes progressively harder the further away that you are from the hole.
Take a look at these numbers. At a distance of 18 feet from the hole, for example, PGA Tour pros average 1.92 putts to hole out. They only make about 17% of these 18-footers, but they also only 3-putt from there about 3% of the time. That’s pretty solid. But as they get further from the hole, these percentages obviously change, and 3-putts become a little more likely.
At twice the distance away, from 36 feet out, their make percentage goes down all the way to about 5%, while their likelihood of a 3-putt increases to about 8%. And by the time they get out to 60 feet, they 3-putt almost a quarter of the time. Or, looking at it from a more positive perspective, they 2-putt from 60 feet 3 out of 4 times. As the saying goes, “these guys are good.”
But don’t get lost in these numbers. The trend is the message. Improving your proximity to the hole makes all the difference. First, by positioning yourself so that you have a closer starting point on the green (through better approach, pitch and chip shots), and then demonstrating better distance control on your lag putts and greenside chips to minimize the likelihood of a 3-putt, you’ll begin to unlock the formula to immediately knock several strokes off of your scorecard.
Make Percentages vs. 3-Putt Likelihood
The following chart illustrates this concept. From data taken from PGA Tour statistics, putting coach James Jankowski formulated this graphic to highlight the changing probabilities of 3-putting as a function of how far you are from the hole.
LIKELIHOOD OF A 3-PUTT BASED ON PROXIMITY TO HOLE
Although it represents PGA Tour data, the implications (albeit, of course, not the actual probabilities) are relevant for golfers of all levels. Avoiding 3-putt holes is difficult to do consistently if you regularly position yourself 30+ feet from the hole and if you aren’t able to then manage the distances on your lag putts.
You Need to Make the Short Ones, Too
Although we will spend more time in Chapter 4 on the topic of making short putts, it’s important to mention it here also as a key component of eliminating 3-putt greens. If you make a great lag putt or a great chip to within 3 feet of the hole, and then proceed to miss that putt, all of your good work will have gone for naught.
3-putt avoidance is a 2-step process. Not only do you need to execute a quality first putt, but you then need to capitalize on that effort by converting the next one. To reiterate, getting close on the lag putt is mostly about distance control. And, as we’ll discuss later, sinking the short putt is about delivering a square putter face at impact, and confidence.