File under: “Misleading Stat of the Week”

Rickie Fowler went 57 of 57 putting from inside 7′ in winning the Honda Classic at PGA National the past four days, and the statistic is being touted across the Internet and on Morning Drive as an astounding statistic.

Rickie Fowler was fifth in strokes gained putting (SGP) for the week. So that’s a great week of putting. But was it his success from inside of 7′ that vaulted him to the top of the SGP list and the leaderboard? Rickie putted really, really well this week.

But did he putt as well as “57 of 57 inside 7′” implies?

No.

I’ll be quick about this. Here are the distances, in inches, of the putts he faced (and holed) in the four rounds he played:

Round 1: 4, 37, 9, 33, 20, 34, 5, 40, 31, 39, 15, 13, 28, 17
Round 2: 27, 29, 57, 20, 7, 38, 20, 76, 16, 46, 2, 32, 74, 4
Round 3: 16, 28, 22, 59, 17, 54, 15, 45, 19, 25, 32, 32, 6, 35, 15
Round 4: 30, 22, 12, 19, 23, 13, 33, 5, 15, 42, 17, 38, 72, 30

The average distance of the putts made is 23″, 32″, 28″, and 27″ each of those four rounds.

Sorted in order of distance of putts made (with every tenth putt bolded), we get this list:

2, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 13, 15, 15, 15, 15, 16, 16, 17, 17, 17, 19, 19, 20, 20, 20, 22, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 28, 29, 30, 30, 31, 32, 32, 32, 33, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 38, 39, 40, 42, 45, 46, 54, 57, 59, 72, 74, 76

Some things should stand out in this list:

  • A dozen of the 57 putts were 13″ or less.
  • More than half of the 57 putts were no longer than 25″.
  • 34 of the 57 putts (60%) of the putts were inside 3′. PGA Tour pros average 96-97% from 3′.
  • Only six putts were from outside 4′.

In a graph, that looks like this:

Credit to Rickie Fowler for making six putts between 48″ and 84″ (or 54″ and 76″ as it turns out). Bear in mind that from eight feet (96″), PGA Tour pros make 50% of their putts. Rickie, though he had a really good week putting, really only faced 6 of 57 putts where his make percentage dipped below about 85%.

It’s interesting to note, too, that in the round where Rickie had the highest SGP (2.929), he shot the highest score for the week: 71. His other rounds of 66 (twice) and 65 had SGP totals in the mid-1s, like his first-round SGP of 1.356 that accompanied his first 66 of the week.

“Rickie Fowler putted great – he made 57 of 57 putts inside 7′ this week!” is a good conclusion as a result of a faulty or misleading statistic. The above illustrates why, but I’ll close with another example. Last year we found a player who made every putt inside of 14 feet across 36 holes… in missing the cut by six strokes. He hit a reasonable number of greens, but simply didn’t hit many of his shots inside of about 20′. Thus, almost all of his putts inside of 14′ were from three feet and in. If I recall correctly, he made a 5-footer, an eight-footer after a bunker shot, and missed a putt from 14’3″ or something (which is why we can cut off the “made every putt inside 14 feet” at 14 feet).

Statistics are great. They reveal a lot about how players are scoring. But the more you abstract data, the more misleading they can get. “57 of 57 inside 7 feet” sounds great… and again Rickie definitely had a good week putting. It’s just not nearly as good as “57 of 57” implies.

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