Putts Per Round (PPR) vs. Strokes Gained: Putting
For many years, the standard Putts-Per-Round (PPR) statistic has been one of the key mainstays of how a player’s putting performance is evaluated. It’s obviously an easy calculation and provides straightforward information: for 18 holes of golf, you simply add up the number of putts you had.
It’s a basic barometer of your effectiveness on the greens, and because it’s been used for such a long time, many studies have been conducted to show what the average number of putts is for every level of golfer. Consequently, it’s a simple matter for amateur golfers to compare their own putts-per-round numbers with the “average” golfer in their same handicap range.
As with almost all golf statistics, the stark difference between low handicappers and high handicappers is obvious, and to be expected. As you can see, 25+ handicap golfers average just under 39 putts per round. Since par is established assuming two putts per hole (or 36 putts in a round) these high handicappers are obviously well above this standard. Clearly, several three-putts are a normal feature of their games. What’s interesting is that the differential between scratch and high handicap players is so wide. There’s a full seven stroke difference between the two extremes.
But remember, these statistics reflect average putts per round. By definition, that means that there are a whole lot of high handicappers who regularly have many more putts than the 38.6 average, and many who have less. So it’s not uncommon at all for golfers at this level to rack up between 40-45 putts. That’s a lot of strokes given away during the course of their round and, as we’ve said before, this represents an ideal target to focus on to lower their scores. With some commitment and practice, this group of golfers who experience 40+ putts in a round has the best (and easiest) opportunity to shave five or more putts per round off their score!
Since we all love to compare our own performance with that of the PGA Tour pros (as unrealistic a comparison as there could be, however), we included a column reflecting the current Tour leader in the Putts-Per-Round statistic. We all know how skilled those guys are, but to see that the difference between the very best amateur players (scratch golfers) and this Tour player is a full four putts per round, is still somewhat surprising.
What’s a Good Putts-Per-Round Average?
If you are simply basing your evaluation of your own putting performance by adding up the number of putts that you took in the round, here are some general rules-of thumb that you can use, depending on your handicap level:
- 30+ Handicap golfers should aim for fewer than 40 putts
- 20+ Handicap golfers should aim for fewer than 36 putts
- 10+ Handicap golfers should aim for fewer than 33 putts
- 1-10 Handicap golfers should aim for fewer than 30 putts
Putts-Per-Round Doesn’t Always Tell the Whole Tale
The Putts-Per-Round statistic serves a purpose in letting you know, at a very basic level, if your putting is in line with where it should be or if you’re consistently taking more putts than the 36 that are “allotted” for par golf.
However, there are some defects in Putts-Per-Round as a realistic metric with which to measure a player’s putting performance.
The following example illustrates the shortcomings of PPR:
Example 1: There are two golfers, Player A and Player B. For 18 straight holes, Player A hits every green in regulation, leaving his ball 40 feet from the hole, and 2-putts each time. In the process, he shoots a Par 72 and tallies 36 putts for the round.
Player B, on the other hand, misses every green in regulation, but chips close enough to 1-putt all of these holes. His tally for the full round, then, is just 18 putts.
Simply using the Putts-Per-Round metric, you would conclude that Player B was the better putter. After all, he only took 18 putts compared to Player A’s 36. But was Player B’s putting performance really better, considering that he made nothing longer than a 2- foot putt?
Putts Per Round vs. Putts Per Round “GIR”
As illustrated in that example, by using the basic Putts-Per-Round analysis to measure your performance on the greens, you will not always get the complete picture. Why? PPR counts every putt as the same, a 2-footer or a 40-footer, regardless of how you arrived at the spot on the green from which you then putted.
This example of Player A and Player B’s comparative performances reveals that a refinement is needed in the PPR calculation to factor in the effect of missing greens and chipping the ball close to the hole. Consequently, a metric called “Putts-Per-Round GIR” (Greens in Regulation) has been created which offers a more nuanced approach to measuring real putting performance by only taking into account how you putted when you actually got on the green in regulation.
So let’s now update our Player A/Player B example to make it a little more realistic regarding Player B. After all, 18 one-putts is obviously not a likely scenario for any level of golfer. Because only greens hit in regulation factor into this measurement, it’s more accurately reflected as Putts Per Hole rather than Putts Per Round.
Example 2: In this example, Player A again hits every green in regulation, each time leaving his ball 40 feet from the hole, and he proceeds to 2-putt each time. His total number of putts is again 36, or 2 putts per hole (36 putts divided by 18 greens in regulation).
This time, however, Player B has a slightly more realistic performance. During this round, he misses 10 of the greens in regulation, but he’s still able to chip close enough to one-putt each of those holes. On the other eight holes, he does hit the greens in regulation, but he 2-putts four of them, and 3-putts four of them. His total number of putts, therefore, is 32.
Once again, we might be tempted to conclude that Player B had a better putting performance if we were to simply look at Putts Per Round (32 vs. 36). But when using the Putts-Per-Round GIR metric, we see a different result.
Since Player B missed 10 greens in the round, the remaining eight greens that he hit in regulation are the only ones that are used in the calculation. On those eight greens, he had 20 putts (four 2-putts and four 3-putts). So, when we take those 20 putts and divide them by the 8 greens he hit in regulation, we realize that that he actually took 2.5 putts per hole, revealing that Player A’s putting performance of 2 putts per hole was, in fact, better.
A New Method: “Strokes Gained: Putting”
In 2011, the PGA Tour introduced a new tool called ShotLink, which is a real-time scoring system that captures data on all shots taken during a PGA Tour event. It measures how far balls are from the hole, and categorizes shot types like tee, fairway, rough, sand, and green. If you watch PGA golf on TV, you’ve probably heard many references to ShotLink by the announcers.
Mark Broadie, who is a professor at Columbia Business School, took the data from ShotLink and created a new way to analyze putting performance. He called this new statistic “Strokes Gained: Putting.” This new statistic measures the number of putts a golfer takes as compared to the PGA Tour average from that same distance. Strokes Gained: Putting recognizes that sinking a 40-foot putt is actually a better performance than sinking a two-foot putt, even though they both count as a single putt and a single stroke on the scorecard.
So, put simply, Strokes Gained: Putting measures how many strokes a player gains (or loses) on the greens compared to PGA Tour averages.
There is a somewhat complicated formula that the PGA uses to calculate Strokes Gained that we won’t go into here. But, suffice it to say, it adds in some refinements to the process of assessing a golfer’s putting performance that the basic Putts-Per-Round measurement doesn’t contemplate. It factors in how your performance compares to other players in the field to determine if you have gained or lost strokes based on your putting performance from various distances.
However, because Strokes Gained: Putting requires voluminous data gathering to build the database from which to make the comparative calculations, it will probably remain as a tool and a statistic for use by the PGA Tour exclusively. For amateur golfers, at least for the time being, the standard metric of Putts-Per-Round or Putts-Per-Round GIR will remain as the benchmarks to measure basic putting performance in a round.
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