It’s funny how on the PGA Tour, it’s almost a badge of honor not to be a good putter. Because if you’re not a good putter, you must be a good ball-striker—and pros like to be admired for their ball-striking.
Pros tend to downplay their putting for this very reason. It just feels better to be known as a great ball-striker who can’t make enough putts than a marginal ball-striker who makes his living on the greens.
There’s a limit on things, though. It’s not really a good thing to be one of the worst putters on Tour. We can now identify those in that category thanks to the Tour’s new putting stat, strokes gained putting. In this case, it’s really strokes lost.
This stat compares a player’s performance to a Tour average performance from the distances he putts from in every round. A plus figure means he’s gaining strokes on the field, a minus figure means he’s losing. In previous posts, I’ve looked at the best putters and the putting performance of the top players. Now the worst putters get their “due.”
Here are the worst dozen putters on Tour since 2004 (a minimum of five years on Tour required, with the number representing an average of a player’s yearly totals for strokes lost per round):
Joe Durant -.644
Omar Uresti -.584
Greg Owen -.537
Will MacKenzie -.510
Boo Weekley -.484
Rocco Mediate -.478
Alex Cejka -.459
D.J. Trahan -.450
Charles Warren -.423
Billy Mayfair -.419
John Daly -.352
Kevin Stadler -.350
There actually are worse putters than these populating the PGA Tour, but bad putters often lose their cards—these are the worst who have still managed to play well enough to keep themselves on Tour.
With a couple of exceptions, these players have managed to either win a tournament, or come close to winning one, in the 2004-11 period covered by the data. That’s in part because there’s a lot of variation in putting from week to week, so even these players have some weeks where the putts are dropping, and also because it’s possible to win or contend in a tournament with great ball-striking and mediocre putting. But, overall, these guys are putting themselves behind the eight-ball with their work on the greens.
You will note the absence of some players with a reputation for being bad putters. I’ve already noted that Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, and Adam Scott have had enough periods of adequate putting that they don’t rank among the worst for 2004-11—though all are around -.2 in strokes gained over the whole span and all have had years when they’ve been among the worst.
Robert Allenby carries the label of being a terrible putter, but he’s an interesting case. He’s actually had a couple of years when he’s been better than average (2006 and 2010) and only one really awful year (2009). Overall, he’s below average at -.173 but not abominable.
Then there’s Woody Austin, a self-proclaimed terrible putter who is not as bad as he thinks he is. Actually, he’s just garden-variety below average at -.153, with only one really bad season (way back in 2004).
Garcia was on display with a schizophrenic performance at the HP Byron Nelson Classic last week. He took a share of the 36-hole lead by shooting a pair of 66s that featured good putting—five putts made in the 10-to-19-foot range and nothing missed inside seven feet. Then under the glare of the spotlight on the weekend, he made nothing, finishing at 74-77.
In the first two rounds, he gained three strokes against the field with his putting but in the last two rounds he lost five strokes. It wasn’t just the putter. Garcia has struggled to put four good rounds together this year despite occasional signs that he is close to regaining his form, and pretty much everything went awry in the third and fourth rounds. With average putting, his scores would have looked something like 68-67-71-75. Still, those strokes lost on the greens made a difference. An average performance on the greens for the week would have earned him a T8 instead of a T20. And if he had followed up his good putting in the first two rounds with average putting on the weekend, he would have been right in the mix for the title. If all else were equal (no way of knowing that), he would have finished one shot out of the playoff at 278 with average weekend putting. With just a semi-hot putter down the stretch, he could have won.