Who is the best putter on the PGA Tour? It's hardly a new question, with the answer always varying depending on the criteria.
Now the tour is trying to change that with a new metric.
Has John Merrick really been the best putter on tour in 2011?
"Strokes gained-putting" has come to the stats page of PGATour.com and it could very well become the best way to measure a golfer's prowess on the greens. It's already the most complex of putting statistics, having been devised with the help of researchers from MIT.
In its simplest form, the new stat takes into account how often an average player holes a putt from every conceivable distance. It then calculates how many strokes gained (or lost) a player picks up based on how he does on each putt he takes. Using the example on PGATour.com, a tour player averages getting the ball in the hole in 1.5 strokes from a distance of 7 feet, 10 inches. So, "if a player one-putts from this distance, he gains 0.5 strokes (1.5 - 1). If he two-putts, he loses 0.5 strokes (1.5 - 2). If he three-putts, he loses 1.5 strokes (1.5 - 3)."
Of course, not all putts of 7 feet, 10 inches are the same, since certain courses have tougher greens and certain tournaments draw stronger fields. Therefore, a final calculation is made where the strokes gained/lost are compared against everyone else in the field of a certain event. Aren't you glad there isn't a quiz?
Seriously, while many may wonder what purpose this new stat serves, it's important to remember how flawed all the other putting stats are. Putts per greens in regulation don't factor in approach shot proximity and don't factor in any holes that a GIR isn't registered. Total putts again doesn't differentiate distances holed and is more of a reflection of a player's short game in getting up-and-down. Then there's measuring the total distance of a player's putts holed, which can be skewed due to one really long putt or a lack of long putts attempted.
So according to strokes gained-putting, who are the top two putters in 2011? John Merrick and Greg Chalmers. But before you start judging, consider that recent winner Brandt Snedeker is third, followed by Steve Stricker. Noted strong putters Nick Watney, Luke Donald and David Toms are all in the top 10 as well. It also seems to be right on with Ernie Els, whose putting woes got him to recently switch to a belly putter. The Big Easy is ranked dead last of the 185 players shown in the ranking.
Also, it's important to note that as a new statistic, there's a chance it will be tweaked over time. Strokes gained-putting may not be perfect yet, but it seems like a step in the right direction and you can expect the PGA Tour to devise new ways of measuring strokes gained in other areas as well.
What do you think about this new stat? It could wind up having an impact on how you watch the pros, even if it won't affect your weekly game. Unless you start packing a computer in your golf bag, of course.
-- Alex Myers
Follow on Twitter: @AlexMyers3