Useful Measurement: Putting Handicap

December 9, 2010

The one number that defines golf for most people is their handicap.  This number, in and of itself, is useful for characterizing a general level of accomplishment in golf. A 25 handicapper, for example, is probably looking for consistent contact while a 10 handicapper is looking for direction on how to consistently shape shots.  A scratch golfer, in that respect, is probably looking to drop a few more putts and improve his or her mental game.  While this number tends to be the sole focus of the amateur golfer, I submit that it has little value in helping the golfer improve his or her overall game.

If we only use the handicap to guide our practice, we have very little guidance on how to become better golfers.  A scratch golfer is one who goes around a “standard” course in 72 strokes.  This feat can be accomplished without hitting a single fairway or a single green in regulation.  It could also be accomplished with the golfer taking 36-38 putts.  While neither of these scenarios is likely, they do provide support for the idea that the game needs to be dissected into its component pieces to focus our practice.

Regardless of your handicap, however, putting is the single skill that will influence your handicap more than any other.  To this end, I think it’s useful to have a “putting handicap” that helps the average golfer understand whether putting is a strength or weakness of his game.  This system is derived from a Golf Digest article.

The chart below is used with the putting handicap system.

Here’s how the system works.  Just like any other stat you would keep on your scorecard (score, green, fairway, putts), write down the amount of feet holed on a putt.  What that means is, when the putt goes in the hole, write down on the scorecard how far away you were from the hole on that particular putt. If a putt is closer than 2 feet, then it counts as 2 feet.  If a putt is farther than 15 feet, then it counts as 15 feet. Once the round is over, add up the feet holed for the entire round.  If you have made any 3-putts, subtract 4 feet from the total for every 3-putt you make.  At the end, you have your “total feet of putts holed.”  Match it up to the chart above, and you will have your handicap.  While this sounds complicated, here’s an easy way to keep track right on your scorecard:

(Personal aside about this scorecard: HAD I been able to make a putt on the back nine here, I’d have finally broken 80.  SOON!!!)

Just like other handicaps, the lower=the better. Thus, if you’re consistently shooting in the 70s but you’re putting at a 16 handicap, you should really focus on your putting and work to figure out what the problem is. Likewise, if you’re shooting high 80s and putting at a 2 handicap, you really should find out another statistic that is impeding your ability to shoot lower scores, because your putting is perfectly fine.  You can make this statistic more robust by writing down the distance of your first putt as well.  Over time, this will give you an idea of length of putts you are “comfortable” with.  If you find yourself making more 6 footers than the average joe (55-65% is tour average), then maybe you need to work on lag putting.  If you miss those knee knockers more often than not, perhaps the short putting drill is your “quick-fix.”

As stated earlier, this is only one tool in the array of analyses available for your golf game. However, it the putting handicap can really help you understand if there’s room for improvement. I know it worked for me.

A quick caveat to keeping stats:  While they can certainly improve your game, PLEASE don’t take so many notes that you are slowing down your play as a result.  Try keeping one or two new stats each time you play to see if you are getting any benefit out of them at all.  For me, hitting fairways and getting up and down more often are my keys to shooting lower scores, so I keep stats that reflect my progress in those areas.  Figure out what will work for you and go to it!  You should be able to fill out all of your stats before you reach the next tee, so please don’t slow down everyone behind you!

Please post in the comments section on any questions you may have.

5 Responses to “Useful Measurement: Putting Handicap”

  1. This is an excellent article for golf stats. It’s refreshing to see a consciencious statistic keeper…
    I use Scorecard with my iPhone to track those specific stats that you keep on your scorecard. I have just to play with a Men’s league and these numbers are telling me a lot about how to play golf and what to learn after each round…

    • LG Says:

      I’m glad you like the statistic! I’ve personally found it very useful, but also find it useful to look at other statistics too when you start hitting the proverbial wall with one. For example, I’ve started examining my sand game more as I feel it is the weakest part of my game now. I am currently working on my own statistic to help improve this part of my game. Best of luck, and thanks for reading!

  2. Dan Says:

    I like the idea but I don’t think the theory always works. Assume each green is hit in regulation by a scratch golfer but the ball finishes 30-40 feet from the hole. If the player were to two putt each green, with the first put finishing by the cup and tapping in for par, he’d have scored 36 feet of putts – equal to a 28+hcap. Yet he’s shot level par for the course, and putted very nicely from a great distance. His focus and future practice would obviously be on his approach shots, but a 28+ putting handicap suggests he should be working on his putting also? What if he missed every green in regulation, chipped beautifully to within 2 feet and tapped in. Again the putting handicap doesn’t reflect his potential putting ability.

    • JK Says:


      I love that you’ve thought through this and provided some very useful criticism of the method. Here’s what I see–just food for thought. A person who keeps a “feet of putts holed” stat is likely to keep a “greens in regulation” stat as well. If a person misses all 18 greens, that person should probably know that his putting is not what is holding him back. Although unlikely, if a person hits a high percentage of greens and manages to putt the ball to within a few feet on every lag putt, he should probably understand that his proximity to the hole is what is keeping him from scoring. Note, though, even one 30-footer made would add a good number of feet to the statistic, and if a player takes eighteen 30-foot putts–and he is consistently putting to a foot or two from that range–then he is bound to make one here or there.

      Of course, it’s also more likely that this person has a number of putts in the 5- to 15-foot range, regardless of the type of round he is playing. If this player consistently misses greens, it’s unlikely that he will chip to only a few feet on every shot, simply because of the variability of the lies he plays, the spin of the ball, the trickery of the shot, etc. If a player is accurate enough to hit greens consistently, it’s unlikely that every putt will be 30+ feet away. So the inaccuracy you’ve pointed out seems quite an unlikely scenario.

      A player cannot hope to improve much by improving his consistency on 30-foot putts or on 1-2 foot putts. However, from 2 to 15 feet, that player can make large strides. As such, the statistic (measuring putting from 2- to 15-feet) gives the player an indication of his ability on the putts that make a difference. If a player is hitting 10-14 greens per round and has only 50 or so feet of putts, he is likely missing opportunities in his putting game. If a player is hitting 8 greens per round and making 80 or so feet of putts, he is missing opportunities in his long game to get close enough to the hole to score.

      Thanks for contributing, and we welcome more feedback on this.

    • LG Says:

      I completely agree with you that this system is not perfect, but even in the two isolated instances you’ve identified, the system works. It is important to remember that this measurement is only related to putting, and does not speak to the golfer’s ability in other respects. For example:

      A scratch golfer who has 36 putts per round is clearly a fantastic ballstriker and a “good” golfer, but his putting handicap reflects that he has some room for improvement. This statistic would be very useful to him if he didn’t realize that 1/2 of his strokes per round were coming from putting. Just knowing that this measurement ranks this player as a 28+ handicap should throw a big red flag in the air to say that something is wrong. Because, as you point out, he is a good lag putter, he would probably realize that he is putting from 30-40 feet out every single time and could probably use some work on improving his first putt distance.

      In your second example, someone who has 18 2 foot putts per round due to amazing chipping may not know that their chipping is what is saving them, and that they need to work on their approach shots to avoid putting so much pressure on their short game.

      The goal is to provide information for narrowing practice, not to stand as an indicator of golf prowess, but I agree with you that this measurement alone may not be useful unless it is considered in the context of the entire skill set.

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