What are the keys to going super-low--driving distance, accurate irons, great putting? Using mathematical models I developed called Riccio's Rules to study performance stats, it's clear that just about everything has to fall into place to post a sub-60 score. A great day tee to green won't do it alone, nor will great putting. The player has to hit almost every green in regulation (GIR), and it helps to hit par 5s in two or drive short par 4s.
But it's not only hitting the greens, it's how close to the hole the ball ends up. The shorter the first putt, the better the chances for birdie or eagle. Of course, the player has to roll in just about every makable putt, plus a couple of long bombs. My models indicate that to break 60, the player who hits 18 greens can take 25 putts. You can do it hitting fewer than 18 greens, but you have to take fewer putts.
Let's look at the stats from two rounds of 59 shot in 2010, Paul Goydos at the John Deere Classic and Stuart Appleby at the Greenbrier Classic. Neither hit 18 greens--Goydos 16, and Appleby 15. (PGA Tour players average about 12 GIRs per round.) Eighteen is a very rare event. In fact, of all the players who have shot 59 or 60 on the PGA Tour in the last 10 years, none of them hit all 18. But in almost all cases they hit more than 15 and took fewer than 26 putts. So putting lights out is a must. Goydos took only 22 putts in his 59, and Appleby 23. (The PGA Tour average in putts per round is just more than 29.)
Let's look at the approach shots and putts made for both 59s. In a typical round for a tour player, the average first putt after an approach shot is about 36 feet and the average putt made is between two and four feet. In Goydos' 59, his average first putt was 24 feet, one inch. For Appleby, it was 17 feet, five inches, or about half the distance in the typical tour round. As for the putts they made, Goydos averaged 11 feet and Appleby seven feet, seven inches. Listed below are the putts they made on each hole to shoot 59:
On consecutive holes on the front nine, Goydos holed putts of more than 17, eight,18 and 12 feet. On consecutive holes on the back, he made from more than 39, 19 and 24 feet. Those are some serious bombs! Appleby made only one bomb of 27 feet, six inches, but he made 10 of 13 first putts from 15 feet and in. Most amateurs can't make 10 of 13 three-footers.
To shoot 58, a player will probably hit 17 or 18 greens, have an average first putt of about 15 feet, and make 10 to 12 of those first putts. The reason nobody has shot 58 is that those things are very hard to do. But I think someone will do it this year.