2021 Tour Trends: Putting Performance

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·5 min read
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  • Louis Oosthuizen
    Louis Oosthuizen
    Professional golfer
  • Bryson DeChambeau
    Bryson DeChambeau
    American professional golfer

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The old adage is "drive for show, putt for dough" but that has become somewhat of a myth as analytics reveal more and more of the puzzle each year.

We know that being the #1 driver on TOUR would generally produce way better results than being the top putter. We know that even the best putters on the planet will lose strokes to the field in around 30 percent of their rounds. As for driving the ball, golfers like Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau outperformed the field in nearly 90 percent of their rounds played last year.

With that being said, the ability to putt the lights out is still a very useful tool that is often required in you want to win out on TOUR.

Let's take a look at the top putting performers from the 2020-21 season.

Prince of Putting

We've already declared Bryson DeChambeau the King of Driving but who rules the land when it comes to rolling the rock?

In 2021, the answer was Louis Oosthuizen. He averaged a whopping 0.764 strokes gained putting per round which is remarkable when you consider how hard it is to separate yourself from the world's best.

Here is the entire top 10 in terms of strokes gained putting, per round, from the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season:

Louis Oosthuizen
J.T. Poston
Ian Poulter
Patrick Reed
Zach Johnson
Jason Kokrak
Rhein Gibson
Brendon Todd
Sam Burns
Cameron Smith

If you were wondering how Poulter and Reed put so much pressure on their Ryder Cup opponents over the years, a big part of it comes from knowing they will make so many putts that they stand over. Poulter and Reed both ranked 12th or better in putting in 2020, as well.

Most Consistent

I already gave away the spoilers above. Louis Oosthuizen not only averaged the most strokes gained putting per round last season, but he also gained strokes putting in the highest percentage of rounds (70%).

Here are the top 10 when it comes to the percentage of rounds gaining strokes putting during the 2020-21 campaign:

Louis Oosthuizen
Jason Kokrak
Hank Lebioda
Patrick Reed
Ian Poulter
Zach Johnson
Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Harris English
Brendon Todd
Cameron Tringale

Just missing from this list was Mackenzie Hughes who is known for catching fire on and around the greens. The Canadian leaned heavily on his short game. He gained strokes ball-striking (off the tee plus approach) in just 32% of his measured rounds last year but gained with his short game (around the green plus putting) in 59% of rounds.

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Most Improved

Next let's look for the golfers that saw the biggest year-over-year improvement in average strokes gained putting.

The largest gain came from Bill Haas who ranked last on TOUR in SGP during the 2020 season (-1.068) but actually gained strokes putting in 2021 (+0.17). In general, he's usually around TOUR-average or slightly worse in putting so 2020 was the outlier year and 2021 was him going back to his usual levels.

Here are the rest of the top 10 in most improved putting when comparing 2020 and 2021:

Bill Haas
Hank Lebioda
Jason Kokrak
Emiliano Grillo
Ryan Armour
Robert Streb
Jimmy Walker
C.T. Pan
Chesson Hadley
Josh Teater

Jason Kokrak is the most notable name on here for me. He took a huge leap in terms of putting in 2021 and it probably wasn't a coincidence that he also broke out in terms of winning. It was the final piece of his puzzle as he's always been known as an elite ball-striker.

Biggest Decline

Now let's look for some potential bounce-back candidates by viewing the largest year-over-year declines.

Here is the top 10 in terms of biggest year-over-year decline in putting performance:

Michael Gellerman
Bronson Burgoon
Wyndham Clark
Patrick Rodgers
Nick Watney
Kevin Na
Matt Kuchar
Tommy Fleetwood
Joseph Bramlett
Denny McCarthy

Kevin Na is an interesting name here because he's often regarded as one of the top putters on TOUR. It should be noted that he was one of the top improvers in around-the-green performance last season. Basically, he finds a way to get the job done on or around the greens. I would expect his putting stats to improve in 2022 while seeing a dip in his around-the-green numbers.

Average Earnings by Tier

For this last checkup, we will divide the TOUR into three groups, based on their 2021 putting performance.

Tier 1 consists of the golfers that were at least one standard deviation higher than the TOUR average in strokes gained putting last season. In other words, the top short-game wizards on the planet.

Tier 2 is basically the "average" golfer out on TOUR. These are all of the golfers that sit between Tier 1 (elite) and Tier 3 (not elite).

Tier 3 contains the golfers that struggled with the putter. Everyone that is at least a standard deviation below the TOUR average.

Now let's see how much money each tier earned, on average, per start last season.

Tier 1 = $120,650
Tier 2 = $68,002
Tier 3 = $47.277

These numbers fall closely in line with around-the-green tiers but both of the ball-striking categories produced much higher average earnings in Tier 1. That is what I would have expected going into this exercise, so it's important to remember that off-the-tee and approach performance should be top of mind when looking for week-to-week fantasy options.

That does it for all four sub-categories of strokes gained so let's recap.

Here are the Tier 1 earnings by each category. This is the average earnings per event from golfers that stand out in each category.

Off-the-Tee: $152,546
Approach: $152,145
Around-the-Green: $118.317
Putting: $120,650

Like I said above, lead your weekly research with ball-striking stats and then layer in short-game standouts from there.

I hope this series has helped highlight the top performers from 2021 while also suggesting some bounce-back candidates to monitor early in the year.

Happy New Year and best of luck in all your 2022 fantasy golf contests.