Every golfer has heard the adage “drive for show, putt for dough”, but what many don’t know is that the saying is not entirely accurate. Professional golfers are outrageously good putters, but that’s not the skill that makes them the best in the world.
Mark Broadie, the godfather of advanced statistics in golf, has been preaching this for years. In 2014, he said the following at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: “You don’t drive for show and putt for dough. It’s really the long game that matters. The long game is the best separator between the best tour pros and average tour pros. The long game explains about two-thirds of scoring.”
Going the Distance
Think about it this way: if you were an elite golfer competing against an amateur, would you rather play a hole that was 50 yards long or 500 yards long? You would definitely want to play from a hole 500 yards long because it would give you a better chance to separate with your skills.
Said another way, the winner on any given week is often the player who putts best out of the best ball strikers.
Putting plays a big role in the game of golf, but data suggests that the most important skill to develop is elite ball-striking. This is a trend that is emboldening some of the most talented young golfers in the world.
Talent of Golf’s Next Generation
An article written by PGA TOUR’s Sean Martin suggested that one of the reasons young golfers are having early success in professional golf is that they’ve taken advantage of technology, specifically using statistics to identify weaknesses and optimize ball-striking.
Whether it’s a pounding driver like Matt Wolff or generational iron play from Collin Morikawa, the best young players are already elite where it matters most.
Understanding Game Strengths
A main reason why so many young golfers are TOUR-ready is that they understand their games much better than their peers did a decade earlier. Webb Simpson, who is now 34, says:
“What you had to figure out on your own took so much longer. Now we have so much at our fingertips… That’s one of the main reasons guys are improving a lot faster, and they come out here and they’re ready to win. They understand their games more than I did even out of college. If you would have asked me out of college ‘what are the strengths of my game?’ I probably would have fumbled over that question. But now guys can tell you, based on statistics, what makes them great.”– Webb Simpson, 2012 US Open Champion and 2018 Players Championship Winner
Developing Swing Power with Golf Technology
Technology and statistics can help illuminate how a golfer needs to practice, but there’s no substitute for hard work. Ultimately, to become a great ball-striker, there are three qualities a golfer needs to develop:
1. Maximizing Distance
The ability to hit the ball far is one of the most coveted skills in golf. Distance doesn’t just offer bragging right — it offers a scoring advantage. As Rapsodo advisor Dr. Sasho MacKenzie says, training for speed with a launch monitor not only elevates intent, but offers confirmation of what is working.
“Golfers benefit from the feedback. Even if they are making a mechanical change, they get to associate that mechanical change with an improvement in speed. Maybe it was relaxing their grip or making a bigger turn, they’re able to immediately see the results and know that that move produced a faster swing. Training is really important, but being able to realize feedback from mechanical changes through a device like the Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor is invaluable.”– Dr. Sasho MacKenzie, Rapsodo Advisor
2. Managing Distance
Hitting the ball further is great, except when it’s not the goal. Flushing a PW 140 yards when you’re only trying to hit it 130 yards can cost you a stroke. In terms of scoring clubs, amateurs not only struggle with dispersion, but distance control. More specifically, they often drastically overrate their distance and end up missing short. Using a tool like MLM will help golfers understand their ACTUAL average distances, aiding in club selection and increasing legitimate scoring opportunities.
Research shared by Today’s Golfer suggests that golfers almost never miss long. Golfers only miss long 5% of the time, regardless of the handicap. A bogey golfer misses short 41% of the time and long only 5% of the time.
3. Controlling Ball Flight
Being able to control ball flight doesn’t just include limiting dispersion, but controlling curve and trajectory. A dependable shot shape and launch trajectory is a characteristic of the most efficient ball strikers in the world. Working on manipulating this in practice is the recipe for effective practice too.
The most important factor in controlling flight is awareness of the clubface and its relationship to the club path. As Rapsodo Advisor Mike Malaska says, “if you’re in control of your clubface, you’re in control of your game.”
Here’s a drill he created that can help you with that:
Hopefully the outcome of this post isn’t a bunch of putters becoming doomed to gather dust, but that practice will become more focused where it matters. Golf is the same game as it was 30 years ago, but thanks in part to technology, the path to improvement can be a whole lot clearer.