I am a bad golfer and a statistical Luddite, but recently I started to hit greens in regulation more frequently than once in a blue moon and it got me thinking.
The thing is, greens in regulation (GIR) is one of those stats that can be easily comprehended by mere mortals. For proper golfers it’s the gateway to birdie attempts and low rounds. For me it’s the gateway to a three-putt bogey.
And don’t get me wrong; I may be heard muttering obscenities as I leave the green, but in the fullness of time I mark it down as double-bogey avoidance (DBA), an inestimably good thing. You won’t find DBA in any PGA Tour stats, by the way. Trust me, I looked.
As I write this, the PGA Tour has just concluded for the year, so the Tour stats are at their most informative. Anyone who has watched Scottie Scheffler miss putts on a regular basis understands what an incredible ball striker he is.
He is in contention whenever he plays, despite his putting. His average score this season was the best on Tour, 68.629, yet he finished 150th in strokes gained on the green, almost 100 places lower than he was last season.
Wondering how Justin Thomas lost the plot this year? Look no further than 137th in the putting stats, 52 places below last season. In numbers that people can actually understand (by people, of course, I mean me), he went from gaining five-and-a-half strokes during the season to losing 14.
Drive for show, putt for dough is the old maxim, but no one would watch golf on the television if it were merely a putting contest. Watching badly dressed people wandering in apparently aimless circles before hitting the ball softly is no way to build an audience. What the audience wants is violence and since in golf it is considered unsporting to actually thump your opponent, the best way is to hit your tee shot as far as possible. Cue Rory.
McIlroy led the Tour again in average driving distance, beating it 326.3 yards (just shy of 300m), five yards further than his average last season when he was beaten into second (by 10cm) by Cameron Champ.
Let me put that into context. My average drive is around 200m, so if I were playing with Rory (yeah, right), Usain Bolt would need to be at his best to reach Rory’s ball from mine in 10 seconds. That’s not fair, but it explains rather neatly why Rory’s average round is 30 shots better than mine. Well, it doesn’t explain everything; you’d have to add in his superior GIR, scrambling and putting, the fact that he has a flat stomach, etc, etc.
Anyway, here’s the thing: you have to go down to No 95 in the rankings before you reach the poor pantywaists who don’t average 300 yards (274m) or more off the tee.
Proving the old saw, however, is Brian Harman, 140th and averaging a mere 294 yards off the tee, but 22nd in putting, 43 places and 0.3 of a stroke better than Rory. And if you think that’s insignificant, ask Rory what he would rather remember this season for, driving the ball further than everyone else or winning The Open?
– This column first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.