TOUR Insider: Like a fine wine, Garcia's putting ages well with time


April 19, 2014
By By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent PGATOUR.COM

It’s the kind of statistic that jumps off the page and slaps you in the face. The kind of number that makes you ask, “Is that right?”

You check. Then you double check. Then you mumble out loud, “Sergio is the best putter on the PGA TOUR.”

Say it proud and sing it loud, sister. Sergio Garcia leads the PGA TOUR in strokes gained-putting.

If you believe strokes gained-putting measures the game’s most efficient player on the greens -- and many say it’s the best metric ever devised to measure putting -- then you have to draw the same conclusion: Garcia is the game’s best putter this season.

The Spaniard is at .918 in strokes gained-putting. That means he picks up almost one stroke on the field in an average round with his putting.

This is the same category that Brandt Snedeker led last year followed by Jonas Blixt and Luke Donald. I doubt anyone questions that trio’s putting credentials.

In 2011, it was Donald followed by Steve Stricker in the strokes gained-putting category.  Donald also led in 2010 and 2009.

These are not “hit and hope” players. History shows us strokes gained-putting identifies the game’s best putters.

That means the player who just missed a putt to win The 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie is the best putter on the PGA TOUR.

A little history lesson.

The PGA TOUR started the ShotLink Academic program in 2007. It encouraged members of the academic community to use statistical data to create new golf metrics. Professor Mark Broadie of Columbia Business School and Professor Stephen Graves from Massachusetts Institute of Technology devised “strokes gained-putting.”

The PGA TOUR defines it as follows:

“Strokes Gained-Putting is computed by calculating the average number of putts any PGA TOUR player is expected to take from every distance based on ShotLink data from the previous season.  The actual number of putts taken by a player is subtracted from this average value to determine strokes gained or lost.”

It turns out, a PGA TOUR player makes 50 percent of his putts from 7 feet 10 inches. That means, when a player one-putts from that distance, he picks up a half stroke on the field. If he two putts, he loses a half stroke. You compute the misses and makes for every putt from every distance over the course of a year and then compare it to other players and you have strokes gained-putting.

Now, the reason it’s so shocking to see Garcia atop the rankings is because history tells us putting has never been the strength of his game.

In 2010, he ranked 159th in the category. That was rock bottom and started his experimental stage.  Garcia worked his way through the long putter, left-hand low and “the claw.”

Short game master, Dave Stockton, likes to tell a story from that summer. He was talking with another player while Garcia was working on the putting green and Garcia could not help but overhear the instruction.

Stockton stresses the left hand never breaks down with the back of the palm moving toward the target.  Stockton chuckles when he says he later heard Garcia telling another player the same putting mantra later that week.

Is that putting by osmosis or eavesdropping?

Since bottoming out in 2010, Garcia has steadily improved his putting.  In 2011, he was 144th in strokes gained-putting.  Garcia improved to 26th in 2011, ranked 26th last year and is now No. 1.

Garcia is a phenomenal athlete, a golfing savant, and nothing should surprise us when it comes to Garcia’s game. But name me another player who became a better putter in his 30s than he was in his 20s. 

In most cases, a player’s putting deteriorates as he ages. That’s not the case with Garcia. He ranks as the best putter on the PGA TOUR this season.

You can look it up.

OBSERVATIONS

Conditions: Sedgefield Country Club went to a great deal of expense and member inconvenience to provide PGA TOUR players with the best possible putting surfaces. That meant replacing bentgrass greens with Champions bermuda last summer. The new surface is much more heat tolerant and provides much firmer putting surfaces. It was admittedly a rush job to get the greens ready for last year’s Wyndham Championship but this was the season the investment should have paid off, at least that was the plan. Bermuda thrives in heat and needs warm temperatures to grow. Wouldn’t you know, the entire southeast had a wet, cool spring and summer? It was just in the last month the greens started to thrive. Data shows, bermuda greens are the absolute correct choice given the climate, but Mother Nature is laughing just a bit this week.

Back to back: Donald Ross courses are considered gems and a great experience to play.  Golfers enjoy the traditional layout, the shot values and the strategy involved. That’s why it’s a treat for players to enjoy a Ross course in back-to-back weeks. Oak Hill, site of last week’s PGA Championship, is a Ross design, too.

King Carl: Carl Pettersson is a former winner at Wyndham and the tournament’s all-time money leader. So what’s he doing ranked 107th in FedExCup points? Pettersson has been a cut-making machine, qualifying for weekend play in 18 of 22 events. He just hasn’t scored well on Saturday and Sunday. Pettersson averages 71.82 in the third round and 72.29 in the fourth. Those numbers ranked 159th and 163rd on TOUR, respectively. Maybe Sedgefield is the right course at the right time for Pettersson to have a breakthrough tournament.

Winner, winner: If you want the chalk, you know where to head. Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and Webb Simpson are all good picks this week. Here’s a player that is under everyone’s radar: Morgan Hoffmann. He’s made $860,085 this year and is 105th in FedExCup points. That means he’s kept his TOUR card for next year and is qualified for next week’s Barclays. Hoffmann is still hungry but not desperate. This tournament has a history of producing first-time winners and Hoffmann falls into that category.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.  For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here

© 1995-2013 PGA TOUR, Inc | All Rights Reserved. PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR and the Swinging Golfer design, and PGA TOUR Champions Tour are registered trademarks. Web.com is also a registered trademark used here with permission, and used in the Web.com Tour logo with permission.