The Loop

A new (and improved?) way of measuring putting

March 12, 2010

Measuring putting prowess has always been an inexact science. As it stands, putts per greens in regulation and putts per round are the two most common putting statistics. However, both have major flaws, with the first not taking average proximity to the hole on approach shots into account, and the second being more of a reward for a player's ability to get up-and-down.

But now thanks to a group of scientists crunching numbers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there may be a more accurate way to gauge the best putters on tour.


The Wall Street Journal has a story on a team of researchers from the school in Cambridge, Mass., who have been working with the PGA Tour to come up with a new method that could wind up as the go-to stat in determining greatness on the greens. The new term is called "putts gained per round", with the goal to isolate true putting performance from other factors that can affect the statistics currently used by the Tour.

Using a measurement known as "putts gained", a player's putting performance is determined by comparing the results of each of his putts to how an average player would fare when faced with the exact same putts. This new way of keeping track of putting, which the PGA Tour has already begun to incorporate into its ShotLink system and could become commonplace in the near future, also takes into account both the difficulty of the greens and the strength of the field.

Translation: A 10-footer holed for birdie at this year's Masters will be weighted more heavily than a 10-footer drained at the Reno Tahoe Open when evaluating a player's putting. Of course, to find out exactly how much more it will count, the MIT team uses complex mathematical formulas akin to the ones Matt Damon solves in "Good Will Hunting."

Using this new metric, Luke Donald was No. 1 in putting during the 2009 season, while Steve Stricker, who led the Tour in putts per GIR, only placed 69th. Skeptical? Keep in mind this is the same institute of higher learning that produced the famed MIT Blackjack Team, which used sophisticated card-counting methods to strike fear into the hearts of casinos around the world.

Need some more relevant evidence? Tiger Woods, who has made more than his share of big putts in his career, comes in close behind Donald at No. 2 in these rankings. Tough to argue with that.

--Alex Myers

(Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)