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We're giving way too many gimmes, according to these real golfer putting stats

January 28, 2023
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The gimme is a fascinating concept. In our game where the objective is to get the ball into the hole, we often swipe away a two- … or three- … maybe even a four-footer instead of knocking it in.

Gimmes are common etiquette in golf—helping pace of play and preventing yip-induced heartbreak—but how rationally do we give (or take) them? Players of varying abilities have vastly different make percentages from short range, so what is considered a gimme for each should, in theory, be different.

To help us make sense of the gimme, we consulted our friend Lou Stagner, lead data analyst at Arccos Golf. Before diving into the calculations for average players, let’s take a look at the make percentages of tour pros at varying distances.

If we assume that a gimme is a putt a player will make the vast majority of the time—in other words, a foregone conclusion—then let’s say a putt is “good” if a player would make it 90 percent of the time. As you can see, the tour average is 92.1 percent from three feet and 81.6 percent from four feet. So, broadly speaking, a gimme for a tour pro is anything inside three feet.

Of course, not all three-footers are created equal. An uphill, straight putt will have a higher make percentage than a downhill, left-to-right slider. Don’t get too caught up in the details, just remember that a gimme for a tour pro is somewhere in the two-and-a-half to four-foot range, depending on the break.

Figuring out the exact make percentages on short putts for amateur golfers is a little trickier. GPS data inhibits the ability to get reliable data from close range, but Stagner gives us a good rule of thumb:

In general, the make percentage for someone who shoots in the 90s is about 60 percent of the tour average. That number moves to around 70 percent for those averaging in the 80s.

It’s worth noting that this is a rough estimation and doesn’t necessarily hold true for every distance. For our purposes, though, it gives us a great benchmark to measure gimmes.

Before we look at a few putts, let’s preface with this: We’re not advocating for the elimination of gimmes for the average player. They serve practical pace-of-play purposes and make our game more enjoyable. That said, if you’re set on having your handicap be fully reflective of your golfing ability, consider the below scenarios and whether you’re giving yourself too many putts.

Four Feet

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Tour average: 81.6
80s shooter (70 percent of tour average): 57.1
90s shooter (60 percent of tour average): 49.0

Is this a gimme? No. On average, tour players will miss nearly two out of every 10 putts from this distance, so this is far from good in your weekend game. Even on a straight putt, where the percentages will be higher than above, this is not a gimme for anyone other than a top-level pro. Again, the numbers we use for 80s and 90s shooters are rough estimations, but the point holds.

Three feet

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Tour average: 92.1
80s shooter: 64.5
90s shooter: 55.3

Is this a gimme? For a tour player, on average, yes. That said, a downhill putt with plenty of break would lower the percentage under our 90-percent threshold and would not be a gimme. An uphill, straight three-footer may also be a gimme for a scratch player. Everyone else? No.

You could argue that a 90s shooter averages better than 55 percent from three feet, and we won’t die on that hill. That said, even if the actual number is slightly higher, it is still nowhere near our threshold. If you’re giving yourself three-footers, that’s fine (and the pace of play diehards thank you), but just know that you’re likely artificially lowering your handicap.

Two feet

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Tour average: 98.2

Is this a gimme? For a tour player, yes. For a scratch player, yes. For an 80s or 90s shooter, it depends.

We didn’t include the percentages for higher handicaps because at very short distances, our previous rule of thumb starts to break down. By that estimation, an 80s shooter would average a tick under 70 percent from two feet. The actual percentages for 80s and 90s shooters will be closer to the tour average, but they certainly do not reach it. The point being, some two-footers may be gimmes for higher handicaps, but if a 90s shooter has a two-foot sliding putt, their make percentage is well below our 90-percent threshold.

One foot

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Tour average: 99.8

Is this a gimme? Yes. For all practical purposes, this is a gimme for every golfer. It is worth noting, though, that on a tricky downhill one-footer, a 90s shooter may miss from time to time.