How did Luke Donald ascend to the No. 1 spot in the world golf rankings in 2011? It wasn't through great driving.
Donald ranked 127th in the PGA Tour's Total Driving stat, which combines distance and accuracy figures. Contrast that with his Total Putting rank, second, and you see how important the putter was to Donald's success.
While Donald is just one example, it's widely acknowledged that the putter takes precedence over the driver when it comes to scoring. Given the wide gap in the two clubs' usage, it's easy to see why.
The typical par-72 course has 14 holes of par 4 or par 5, where driver is the likely choice off the tee. Contrast that with this stat: Putting accounts for about 40 percent of total strokes taken in an average round. That means the golfer who shoots 90 uses his putter 36 times – nearly three times as often as the driver.
Granted, the putting figure is a little misleading since it counts tap-ins from a foot or less. Nonetheless, you're far more likely to knock strokes from your scores via putting vs. driving.
The lesson: Devote plenty of practice time to putting, especially inside five feet. Become automatic from short range and you'll have an extra spring in your step on the next tee. It might even help your driving.
Most Important Club in Your Bag – Putter or Driver?
Golf is a game full of great debates. If you spend time at any of your local golf courses, you are sure to find players debating all sorts of topics related to this great game. There will be plenty of conversation over which types of clubs are the best, which players are the best on the PGA Tour, which courses are best, and on and on. One of the best things about the game is the way it spurs discussion between people – often leading to friendships that can last a lifetime. Even when having a debate with someone who completely disagrees with your point, you can bond over a common love of the game.
One interesting debate that has taken place more than a few times on golf courses around the world is the one regarding the most important club in the bag. More specifically, the debate is this – which club actually is most important? With few exceptions, most golfers will agree on the fact that this debate really comes down to just two clubs – the putter, and the driver. One of these two is almost sure to win the argument, if only because they are the two most-frequently used clubs in the bag for the average player. Most golfers hit their driver at least 10 times during a round, if not more. Of course, the putter is a club you would like to use as little as possible, but you are still going to hit somewhere between 25 – 35 putts or so over the course of an 18-hole round.
There is an important distinction to be made here between the most important club in the bag, and your favorite club. Those two are not necessarily the same thing. For many golfers, the driver is hands down the winner when it comes to their favorite club. After all, who doesn't love to blast the ball as far as possible down the fairway? Hitting a long and straight drive is a great feeling, which leads many to decide to that the driver is their favorite stick. However, there is a lot to be said for the feeling you can get from the putter when you sink a tough birdie putt or par saver. In the end, the club you decide to call your favorite is up to you, and there is no wrong answer.
But the debate around the most important club in the bag remains – which one is it, the putter or the driver? There are a number of ways to look at this argument, so we will go into greater depth on this question in the content below. By thinking about which club is most important, you will probably find that both are extremely important in their own right, and you are going to need both to cooperate if you are going to post better and better scores as the years go by.
The first thing we need to do in trying to settle this debate is to look at the numbers involved. For the purposes of this exercise, we are going to be discussing an average 18-hole round over a full size golf course. Naturally, the numbers would look different if you were only playing 9-holes, or if you were playing a shorter-than-standard layout. While numbers aren't going to tell us the whole story, they will be a good starting point in the quest to decide whether the putter or driver is the more important club.
First up, the driver. The numbers are pretty simple in this case – you are going to use your driver off of the tee on most par fours and fives. When you need distance more than anything else to start a hole off right, it is the driver that you will reach for time and time again. Unless a par four or par five hole is particularly short or has a hazard that you are trying to avoid, you are probably going to pull the driver. Some courses feature a narrow design that encourages you to hit more three woods and long irons from the tee, but by and large, it is the driver that you will be hitting to move your ball as far down the fairway as possible.
So, how many drivers are you going to hit during an average round? 10 is a pretty good starting point, as was mentioned in the introduction. If you are playing an 18-hole round of golf, there are probably going to be four par threes included in the design, bringing the total number of par fours and fives to 14 (obviously this can vary slightly from course to course). Among those 14 holes, a few are likely to be narrow, or short, or both, meaning you will opt for a club other than the driver. So, in the end, 10 seems like a good number for this discussion. You will have rounds where you hit more or less, but sticking with 10 as an average is a pretty safe bet.
On the other half of the equation, you are going to use your putter on all 18-holes (unless you happen to knock one in from off the green). So, without a doubt, you are going to have your putter in your hands more than any other club. The number of actual putts that you hit during an average round depends on your skill level both on the green and from back in the fairway. Golfers who miss more greens will usually hit fewer putts, because they will be able to chip onto the green to set up shorter first putts. Better players actually tend to have more putts per round than do high handicappers, because good players are regularly hitting the green in regulation – meaning they have longer putts on average. It is common for a professional golfer to shoot under par while having somewhere between 28-30 putts for the day. On the other hand, it is easy for an amateur golfer to finish a round in the same number of putts while shooting a score in the 90's.
Just looking at the numbers we have collected so far, it seems obvious – the putter is the most important club, right? After all, it is clearly going to be the most-used club in your bag for each and every round, so that would make it the most important to your success. Well, not so fast. It is true that the putter is the most-used club, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily most important. The question of most important really comes down to how much a given club has to do with your success or failure – how much do you stand to gain by playing well with a certain club? When looked at from that perspective, this discussion gets a lot more interesting.
Think about it this way – even if you putt brilliantly, you are unlikely to get below 25-or-so putts in a given round. Finishing an 18-hole round with 25 putts means you would have seven two putt greens and 11 one putt greens – which would be an impressive effort. So, for the sake of argument, let's set 25 putts as the low end of the spectrum. On the high end, most golfers are going to be able to get around the course in fewer than 36 putts, so we can put 35 down as the top of our putting range. For the vast majority of rounds that are played (by yourself or anyone else), the total number of putts recorded is going to be between 25 – 35. Therefore, you are looking at a variance of 10 strokes (at the most) between a great putting day and a bad putting day.
How do those 10 strokes compare to what can happen with your driver? Well, you can spend two strokes in a single swing with your driver if you happen to hit the ball out of bounds. Or, if you consistently drive the ball into the trees/rough/bunkers next to the fairways, you might find yourself losing a stroke or more each time you take the driver from your bag. However, if you can split the fairway with your drives, you will set up easy approach shots – and maybe even a few birdies (with the help of your putter). The variance with the driver is bigger than it is with the putter, since there is a chance for 'disaster' with the driver that simply isn't there with the putter. You aren't going to incur any penalty shots while putting (hopefully), but you sure can when you hit a wayward drive.
A Matter of Confidence
Getting away from numbers, the next thing we need to look at is the issue of confidence on the course. As you already know, it is extremely important to be confident on the golf course, as players who lack confidence have very little chance to play at a high level. Golf demands you to execute quality swings over and over for more than four hours – and that task simply isn't possible without having plenty of confidence to lean on when facing challenging shots. Whether on the tee or on the green, having plenty of confidence is a great boost to your chances of posting a low score.
With regard to confidence, it is hard to feel much better about yourself than you will when you continually blast your drives right down the middle of the fairway. With an accurate and powerful driver on your side, you will start to feel like you can do anything on the course. None of the holes you play will look at that difficult, because you will expect to knock the ball right into the middle of the short grass on each of them. Without the fear of a bad drive in the back of your mind, you will start to love your chances of playing a great round. Just as an inaccurate driver can rob you of confidence, accuracy with this important club can fill you with optimism for the rest of the day.
Before we give the nod to the driver in the category of confidence, we also need to think about what the putter can do for your mindset. When you are putting well, it almost feels like it is hard to make a bogey – even a couple bad shots can be overcome as long as you get a look at a par with the flat stick. When the hole starts to look bigger, which it will when you are putting well, you will be able to roll in tough putts time after time. Knowing that you have a great chance to make your putt every time you stand over the ball is an exciting feeling, and it can actually take pressure off the rest of your game. If you expect to make your putts when you get your ball on the green, you will relax on your other shots knowing the putter could always bail you out if necessary.
So, for the purposes of confidence alone, would you rather have your driver or your putter working at peak performance? The answer to that question has to be the putter. Even though it is a great feeling to drive the ball well, there are ways to work around a balky driver. When struggling with the big stick, you can consider hitting shorter clubs or picking safer lines in order to keep the ball in play. In other words, there are ways to hid your deficiencies when the driver starts to give you trouble. On the other hand, there is nowhere to hide from a bad putter. If you can't make putts, you can't score well – and you know it. It is almost impossible to stay in a good frame of mind when your putter turns against you, so it is crucial that you have this club on your side as frequently as possible.
Fun Counts, Too
It is easy to make this debate all about how many strokes you can save while playing a round of golf, but the game should be about more than just birdies and bogeys. Sure, you want to shoot the lowest score possible each time you play, but you also want to have fun along the way. After all, you probably aren't a professional golfer – this game is likely a hobby to you, and it needs to be fun if you are going to stick with it through the years.
From a fun perspective, the most important club in your bag just might be the driver. Nobody is doubting the fun that can be had when watching a 15-footer curl into the side of the cup for birdie, but that thrill is relatively tame compared to the experience of knocking the ball right down the middle of the fairway – and past your playing partners. Driving the golf ball is almost like its own game within the game. Players regularly compete on how far they can hit the ball, and the player with the longest drive in the group will always have bragging rights over the others.
Ask yourself this question – how much fun would golf be if you didn't get to hit the driver? If you were relegated to only par three courses, where you hit nothing but irons and your putter, would you even want to play very often? The game is about more than smashing the driver, but hitting long drives is definitely one of the fun parts of golf. Too many golfers these days take the game too seriously, and the experience suffers as a result. Don't be afraid to embrace the idea of having fun on the course, starting with the quest to drive the ball powerfully down the fairway time after time.
Of course, this is a point that is up for debate. Some golfers find it to be more fun to putt well than to hit the driver, and that is just fine. If you love to putt and you get great satisfaction from watching the ball track right into the center of the cup for a big par or birdie, you should enjoy that part of golf to the best of your ability. Whatever it is about golf that you happen to enjoy, feel free to enjoy it and always do your best to keep the focus on the fun parts of this great game.
In the end, the debate of the most important club in golf is going to continue to rage on – because we aren't going to be able to settle on a winner here. There are too many arguments in favor of both the putter and the driver to come to a fair and just conclusion. If you feel like the putter is the most important club in the game, you just might be right. And, if you think that distinction belongs to the driver, well, you might be right as well.
One of the problems with coming to a conclusive verdict is the differences between various levels of golfers. For a beginner player who is just trying to get the ball around the course in a timely manner, the driver is far and away the most important club. When a beginning golfer starts to understand how to control the driver, they will have a much easier time posting a decent score and keeping up with others on the course. Even if the beginning player is terrible with the putter, they will still be able to have some fun with the game as long as they are driving the ball reasonably well.
However, this line of thinking starts to shift as a player improves. Once you reach a level where your golf swing is relatively consistent and you are able to keep the ball in play most of the time, the putter will start to become a bigger and bigger part of your focus. Most players hit a point where they realize that if they want to play better, they have to putt better. Therefore, the average to above average golfer is likely to feel like the putter is more important than the driver, because they have already gained a level of control over their driver shots. In many ways, it comes down to perspective and your place in the game.
At the top levels of the game – among players who are competing for paychecks – the game is all about the putter. There is very little difference from player to player in terms of the golf swing, so many tournaments are decided by how players are putting that week. Those who putt well will almost always have a chance, while someone putting poorly will have basically no chance to win – even if they are hitting the ball beautifully.
To be sure, you need to have both your driver and your putter operating successfully if you are going to live up to your potential on the course. During your practice sessions, be sure to work on both your driver and your putter. Your putter should get more work just because it is used on every single hole, but your driver should not be ignored by any means. Only when you give both of these clubs the attention they need will you be able to expect improvement in your game going forward.
Where do you stand on this issue personally? Do you feel like it is the putter that is the most important club of all, or are you on the side of the driver? If you feel like having a lighthearted debate, bring up this question during your next round of golf and get opinions from those in your group. Most likely, there will be players on either side of the argument, which makes it all that much more fun to chat about while waiting to play your shots. Have fun on the links, and good luck with both your driver and your putter!