Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Differences Between Scratch vs. PGA Tour Pro

I just read the June issue of Golf Digest’s article ‘How Low Can You Go?’ This article discusses the differences between the scratch golfer (considered a 0 to 2 handicap) and the PGA Tour pro.

I thought it brings up some good points, but I think it was lacking in some areas and in other areas I think it just completely missed the mark. Based on my statistical research, here’s my thoughts on the differences between the average scratch amateur and the average PGA Tour pro.


The article claims that power is not important. But I disagree. The average PGA Tour player hits it further than the average amateur with the driver and the irons. Take a look at these stats from Miles of Golf Range and Pro Shop in Michigan, who used their Trackman to record the swings of golfers in the 2010 Michigan State Amateur.

Category…………..PGA Tour Avg……….Michigan State Am Avg
Clubhead Speed………..112 mph……………….109 mph
Ball Speed……………......165 mph……………….161 mph
Launch Angle……………....11.2*……………………9.9*
Spin Rate……………….....2685 rpm……………..2920 rpm
Carry……………………......269 yards……………...257 yards
Total Distance…………..293 yards……………...280 yards

I would say say that the average PGA Tour player is also about ½ to 1 club longer with their irons as well. So, if they were to play a 450 yard par-4, the average Tour player would likely have 157 yards into the green versus the Michigan State Amateur having 170 yards into the green. For me, 170 yards is a 7-iron (give or take 1 club) and 157 yards is an 8-iron (give or take 1 club). If the Tour player hits their irons about 1 club longer as well, you could see the Michigan State Amateur hitting driver and 7-iron into the green with the PGA Tour player hitting Driver and 9-iron into the green. After 18 holes of golf, that makes a difference. Particularly on par-5’s where the correlation between going for a par-5 in two and par-5 scoring average is almost absolute.

Don’t get me wrong, one can play on Tour with a 109 mph clubhead speed. But in general, the PGA Tour players generate more clubhead speed and because they have access to better equipment and fitting, they can optimize their launch and spin conditions to hit it even further.

And obviously, there are golfers like Tim Clark (106 mph) and Brian Gay (104 mph) that don’t hit the ball very far at all. But, they make up for that with…


One thing I liked about the article is that they didn’t overblow putting as being too important. One has to remember that between experience on the greens, the caddy and the smoothness of the greens…just about any golfer would start making more putts in that situation. Again, given time and a bit of experience. I believe at first they would have a lot of 3 putts, but would also make a lot more putts as well, particularly from 15 or more feet away. But, the 3-putts would be in part due to not being used to the speed of the greens and being in a bad spot that even the Tour pros would probably 3-putt from.

Anyway, putting on the Tour is important. But my research shows that it’s not the be all end all and really not even close. Bubba Watson is 128th in the’s ‘Putts Gained’ category this year and has already won twice this season and is the leader in FedEx points. Helps when you are driving the ball as well as he is and he’s #2 in driving distance.

If there’s an advantage to hitting the ball long and a disadvantage to hitting the ball short, it’s this:

If you hit the ball short on the PGA Tour, you need to be in the top 1/3rd in putting to have a good season.

That’s why somebody like Heath Slocum can struggle while Robert Garrigus can do well. Slocum is on average, a better driver of the ball all around than Garrigus. Garrigus is an excellent long approach player, but so is Slocum. Slocum has a much better short game and both are awful (by Tour standards) with the flatstick.

The difference is that Garrigus is usually in the top 3 in driving distance and Slocum is below average.

I think the reason why this plays out is on par-5’s. Being able to go for it in two means that they can have 2-putts for birdie or a short up-n-down for birdie. Whereas the shorter hitter will need to hit a 50-80 yard wedge into the flag and inevitably be left with longer putts more often than not.

But when it comes to putting, in general I think the shorter hitting amateurs don't putt nearly well enough and the amateur bombers just don't have the accuracy and consistency.


In the article, I liked what Martin Laird said about gameplanning. He realized that when he had a wedge in his hand, he now realizes he doesn’t need to fire at the flag every time and that many times he’s better off leaving himself with 15 feet if it’s a safer play.

This is important to note because there’s been a big misconception that the PGA Tour players have the most pristine wedge play that you will ever see and the old theory of ‘if they get a wedge in their hands, they are making birdie.’

That is simply not true.

Currently, the AVERAGE proximity to the cup on the PGA Tour from 50-125 yards out is 18 feet 11 inches. Furthermore, that is just from the fairway. On average, the Tour is 30% less accurate from the rough. The leader on Tour, Luke Donald is averaging shots 13 feet and 7 inches to the cup. And currently the average made on Tour from 15-20 feet is 18.8%

So those birdies that ‘automatically’ come up when a Tour player has a wedge in their hands is really pure fallacy.

But where the difference really lays is with the Danger Play from 175-225 yards away. Also remember that the scratch amateur is typically shorter off the tee than the Tour player, so the scratch amateur will likely find more times in the Danger Zone as well…and hitting about 1 more club from there as well.


Here’s where I probably agree with the article the most. The article discusses how the average PGA Tour player doesn’t make a lot of double bogeys or worse out on the course. For instance, they cite that the average PGA Tour player hits a shot O.B. 1 in every 84 rounds vs. 1 in every 11 rounds for the scratch golfer. And they hit a shot in a 1-stroke penalty hazard, 1 in every 10 rounds vs. 1 in every 4.6 rounds for the scratch amateur.

That’s probably the biggest weakness of my game right now as I’m playing to a +2 to +3 right now. I have the power. I have the accuracy. If I take a so-so swing, I’m usually still pretty accurate. But, I don’t have the consistency yet. I am still good for about 1-5 awful swings a round. And depending on how many awful swings I have and what type of trouble there is, I can shoot anywhere from 67 (low this year) to 79 (high this year). And even when I shot 67, that came with 2 awful swings that I just got lucky enough to avoid trouble.

One thing I noticed at the Colonial on Sunday was despite Charlie Wi leaving one in the fairway bunker on his second shot and having to just punch it out there on the 3rd shot is that he kept his composure. The average scratch golfer would’ve probably lost it (myself included) and thought they had a good round ruined. Instead, Wi remained mentally tough and figured a way to salvage bogey and keep himself in the tournament. One thing I tell myself now is ‘you can’t shoot a great round because of one hole. But you can shoot a bad round because of one hole.’



Nick said...

If you wrote nothing but articles like these, I would read your blog for the rest of my life. Great, great insights

Shaun said...

I too think you have a great blog going on. Thanks, Bub's

Rich H. said...

Thanks, guys.


cockles said...

REad your blog most days-its very good. This is a very interesting article. Cheers

golfguru407 said...

Not discrediting tour players but there is rarely OB on any tour courses. Probably bc it's the worst rule in golf.

golfguru407 said...

Not discrediting tour players but there is rarely OB on any tour courses. Probably bc it's the worst rule in golf.

Louise Speth said...

Very informative. I like that you keep showing statistics and historical facts all throughout. I also appreciated how you countered some of the article's arguments without being disrespectful to it. That's the sign of a true golf fan. Lastly, your thoughts on the importance of power and being more consistent, combined with your accurate insight and solid research, made this article such a fun read.

Louise Speth @

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