Which is more important - short game or long game?
By mustang6560 on 7/6/12
Thanks to oober bkuehn1952 for the tip.

The old golf saying, "Drive for show, putt for dough" is not statistically correct, according to Mark Broadie.
In 2011, the best putter on Tour was Luke Donald, who gained 0.84 strokes on the field per round on the greens. The sixth-worst putter, sadly, was Ernie Els, who lost 0.7 strokes to the field. That's a 1.6 strokes per round difference.

In the long game, the difference was much more marked. The best in 2011, big-hitting Bubba Watson, gained 1.5 strokes per round on the field, of which 1.1 strokes came from his driving alone. The worst long-game players lost about 1.3 strokes to the field, for a 2.8-stroke difference compared with Watson.
Mark, who is the brains behind the new PGA Tour stat Strokes-Gained Putting, is not saying putting isn't important to a gofer's game, rather, he's saying you simply can't make up as many strokes on the putting green as you can by hitting the fairway off of the tee or by landing your approach shot inside 15 feet of the flag.

A strong short game is critical to recovering from bad shots, but think about how many strokes you'd save by not putting yourself in positions where you need to recover? In my round yesterday, I was a smooth 9-iron away from the green on hole six, but my approach shot leaked to the right and ended up in the greenside bunker, which lead to a bogey. Sure, if I was a better bunker player and/or putter, I may have saved par. But, had I hit a better approach shot and not put myself in the bunker, I wouldn't have needed to hit a shot out of the bunker and/or putt from the fringe.

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Image via Flickr, Wodgie


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[ comments ]
bducharm says:
I think you cannot pinpoint 1 and only 1 stat that will say do this and you will be a better player. It differs for all of us. I look at my stats and my fairways are tremendous but my GIR is down a bit. My scrambling could be better. My putting stats are strong. My current focus is hitting more greens so better iron play for me. For some, you could be better putters or better drivers of the golf ball.
7/6/12
 
clevelandstever says:
Can't wait to hear what the Wedge Guy has to say about this.
7/6/12
 
GolfSmith7 says:
I would like to see how scrambling equates to winning bc those who save par the most win and that's short game bc not even the pros hit all the greens.
7/6/12
 
bkuehn1952 says:
We are constantly told that we have to improve our short game and I buy into the idea for the most part. However, if you can't get near the green in a reasonable number of strokes, having a competent short game doesn't solve the problem. One has to be able to drive the ball in play and get one's approach shots close enough to the green and in a reasonable location before one's short game can come into play.
7/6/12
 
mjaber says:
You can save par with a good short-game & putting. You can make birdies by playing from the fairway and hitting it close in regulation.
7/6/12
 
GBogey says:
I know that if my short game is moderately okay I won't have a really bad score and I never have a really good score on a day when the short game is off. On the other hand, I've had good scores on bad swing days due to good scrambling.
7/6/12
 
Mr_X says:
The long game is more important. Duh!

I have 2 clubs in my bag which are difficult to hit 110 yards. I have a dozen other clubs that go well past 110 yards. 85% of my bag is designed for Tee to Green. Yes, flop shots, sandies and drilling 30 foot putts are fun, but the golf industry is not building par 3 courses because they are boring! You can argue which is more important to the pros. (This is a an academic exercise for statisticians.) Personally, I don't care about the PGA stats. For me, I need let the big dog out to enjoy a round of golf.
7/6/12
 
Dusty23 says:
For as much work as my short game needs, one thing I hoped to improve on this year was my driving. So far, even though this is the first year that I have tracked playable drives and not just FW's hit, it has. Close to 80% of my drives are now playable which now allows me to worry more about improving my short game. But not having to manufacture recovery shots has also taken strokes off my rounds. Ultimately for me, which is more important?, right now its a 50/50 split.
7/6/12
 
CodeSlinger says:
There's a giant factor that doesn't get accounted for in Broadie's statistics: risk.

Let's say you're four strokes back of the projected cut line on Friday after 27 holes. You have 9 holes to make 4 birdies. You have to play risky. But where does your game get penalized for that risk? Are you going to possibly *lose* a stroke to par by trying to sink that 30' putt instead of by lagging it up there? No. Are you going to possibly *lose* a stroke to par by trying to hit driver across the corner of a dogleg over water to try to reach that par 5 in two? Absolutely!

Aggressive play penalizes the long game WAY more than the short game & putting. That explains the variability in long game stats. Does that mean the long game is "more important"? Depends entirely on how you define importance.
7/6/12
 
CodeSlinger says:
What's also interesting is to check the Comments on the WSJ article. The author posted more info:

"[Short game champion Dave] Pelz and Broadie agree that for almost everyone, the best and surest way to lower your score is to work on the short game, because rapid improvement is possible there, quickly. Making substantial improvements in the long game takes months and years of hard work. But that's a different issue than where players actually lose the most strokes to par or to the field."
7/6/12
 
aaronm04 says:
By that rationale, the long hitters would consistently be the better players and that's not always the case. Bubba, JB Holmes, Robert Garrigus, and Gary Woodland litter the Top 10 over the last five years. Up until last year, Bubba was known purely for how far he hits the ball and not a tour winner. Looking at Bubba's scrambling this year, he's 107th. Garrigus is pretty low too. Woodland is almost dead last.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying this but I remain skeptical. I'd love to see a stat for both pros and ams called "quality misses." I think that would be a telling stat though difficult to ascertain, especially without talking to those who hit the shot.
7/6/12
 
SteveMM says:
If I had a nickle for every time I said what bkuehn1952 said above, I'd be a rich man. My short game has always been good for someone of my level of play, and it's continuing to improve. My problem has ALWAYS been from the tee to about 100 yards out. I can be the best putter on the course, but if it consistently takes me five strokes to get on the green, I won't score well.
7/6/12
 
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
I average close to 70% GIR. Its been like that for years and acrring 2-4 HCP. Not until I lowered my putts per round from 33 to about 30 did I start breaking par. Short game wins. Yes its easier to hit a green from 120 than 160 but its easier to hit that same green from 160 in the fairway than the woods at 120. The average golfer aint playing 6500 plus yards every week either. so i good drive of 230 in the middle will yield a mid to low iron anyway. And to what Stevemm said, if if takes you 5 stokes to get to the green, you need more range time not course time anyway. But continue to work on BOTH your short game and long game. when you long game starts to improve you will be glad you have that short game.
7/6/12
 
Duke of Hazards says:
yeah - it's both. I did things the exact opposite of SteveMM - 6 years into this game and thousands upon thousands of range balls struck have developed into a respectable full swing, but way too little time on short game/putting and very few rounds (until 2011) left me scoring big numbers with way too many shots lost around and on the greens. been trying to remedy that with more practice time devoted to my weaknesses. that's what makes this game so engaging - it's multifaceted and there's always something to work on and get better at.
7/6/12
 
jpjeffery says:
Pesky gofers...
7/6/12
 
hp says:
I personally think the long game is more important, especially if you DON'T play golf for a living. I call it staying on offense. If you are down the middle with reasonable length, then you are staying on offense. If you spray your tee shot into the woods, into the thick rough, or into a fairway bunker, you most likely have to play defensively on your second shot. It's hard to score when you are on defense!

Ever play a SHAMBLE where you take the best tee shot from the group, and everyone plays their individual ball from that best tee shot? My guess is you probably had a fun day, and shot a relatively good score.
7/6/12
 
Werepuppie says:
The long game IS the most important factor for amatuers by far.On the pro circuit everyone hits the ball reasonably long and not too far off line.

In addition,the courses they play are far more forgiving than what the weekend hacker faces out there.Sure the built in trouble that was designed into the course is worse,however they do not play on courses that did not have enough land to begin with.On many courses I play you have 5yds of rough and then certain doom.Things like yards,cliffs,roads,swampland,or underbrush so thick you cannot find your ball let alone hit it out of there.

As I have said many times,drive for show putt for dough is complete BS for the average golfer.How many of you have ever taken a penalty stroke on a green?How many have lost a ball on a green?I thought so.
7/7/12
 
joe jones says:
What long game. If I didn't have a reasonably good short game and a very good putting stroke I would have quit a long time ago. Years ago when I was suffering from a terrible case of the yips my wife told me to "quit playing golf or blow your brains out because you are a miserable SOB to live with right now". Luckily I discovered side saddle putting and it either saved my life or my marriage.
7/7/12
 
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
i know a 70 year old man who doesnt hit the ball far but has and up and down game that would beat every single person saying long game is more important. what gets the ball in the hole? chipping and putting does. Ill use a number high enough for most of yall to relate to. A man shoots 85. chances are at least 50-60 of those shots are within 100yds. you improve your short game you can shed 5-10 strokes off your score ( which is what poeple want )
7/7/12
 
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
another example. I shot even par today hit 35% fairways and 55% of greens. SHORT GAME WINS!!
7/7/12
 
Werepuppie says:
How many of your missed fairways were penalty shots?The point is that the drive must be playable or nothing else matters.The 70yr old man you mentions probably hits every fairway.
7/7/12
 
SweetJazz says:
Really, it is a mixed bag. If you are able to get reasonably close to a GIR then short game will be most important to you. If you have a hard time driving off the tee or hit OB too often then the long game is more important to you. This is why you should take good stats so you can see where you lose the most strokes and work on that.
7/8/12
 
Duffer 83 says:
I think a lot of it depends on skill level. The Pros are pros for a reason they all have a great short game and can make up for bad shots here and there with that. The average amateur could probably benefit more from an improved short game more so than an improved long game. Most of the long game shots us amateurs lose strokes on is because we can't keep it on the course not because we miss a fairway by a few yards.
7/9/12
 
Werepuppie says:
Duffer 83 is correct that we amateurs lose strokes by hitting the ball out of play.Why then is the long game not more important?
7/9/12
 
tennesseeboy says:
Let's say you can partner with the pro of your choice under the following rules. One of you will play the tee shot on par 3s, 1st 2 shots on par 4s, 1st 3 shots on par 5s. The other will take over after that a play the ball till it's in the hole. Now if the short game is the most important, then you would play the initial "long" shots and you would let the pro play the short game. Personally, I'm picking Bubba Watson and he's playing off the tee.
7/9/12
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@tennesseeboy - interesting proposition. I wonder if one took two pros of about equal ability and then one played off the tee and the other took over near the green for two amateurs of about average ability, which would score better. There would be a lot more birdie opportunities for the team where the pro teed off but undoubtedly fewer up & downs. It would be a question of whether the pro playing the amateur's tee/approach shots was able to clean up the messes made by the amateur.
7/9/12
 
tennesseeboy says:
@bkueln1952 - I think that having the pro play off the tee would be the best for almost all amateurs. For example, if I had been teamed with Bubba Watson on the same course and tees that I played last Saturday, he would have probably eagled three or four holes and I wouldn't have to play those holes. Several par 4s would be drivable for him, on the others he would be inside 50 yards on his second shot. It's unlikely that I would have to chip more than once in the round and most of my first putts would be inside 6 feet. So my estimate for last Saturday, if Bubba goes first we score in the low 60s, with me first we finish in the high 70s. Long game is more important.
7/9/12
 
birdieXris says:
I'm sure we all could go back and forth because as bkuehn1952 said, you can't just put one stat at the top of the list. However, here's what i do know - when my short game is playable, i'll shoot maybe 2 over par on a given 9 holes. When my long game is on it, i can potentially shoot 5 under. Most recently 3 under on my 2nd 9 after starting to hit the irons. If i HAD to put a fine point on it, it's not the long game or the short game but the "medium" game of the irons. If you can land your approaches in a scoring position - on the green or not - you're going to be able to score. Having a great drive, missing the green and getting up and down isn't the way to score but it's good to be able to scramble.
7/9/12
 
joe jones says:
Designers of golf courses believe that the best design for the general public gives an average golfer an opportunity to make a bogie without undue stress. That is why they give you bailout areas around the greens.A player with moderate intelligence and a good short game can minimize damage by plotting his way around a course. It's hard to do this if you are long and wrong off the tee. Accuracy off the tee is a blessing. Being long and straight is a bonus. Not everyone can accomplish the two but everyone with a little bit of practice and course management can make up for not being long. Take a look at the Vardon Trophy winners in the past. Many have been considered short hitters. The least number of strokes is still the most important thing regardless of how that is accomplished. Am I envious of players that can bomb the ball. Of course I am but when they start to mumble about how well I can chip and putt it makes up for not being long anymore.
7/14/12
 
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