When it comes to the difference between an amateur golfer vs a tour pro, there isn’t one category that amateurs do better in than a typical tour pro. But some differences are more glaring than others. And believe it or not, there are categories where amateurs are not that far away in comparison to a tour pro. So, let’s highlight the good news first.
Every golf course has its share of “old-timers” who wear out fairways. In fact, statistical analyses show that scratch golfers hit a greater percentage of fairways than a typical PGA tour pro. This might be written off that it is because a pro golfer hits the ball farther and therefore the margin of error is less, and there is some validity to this, but pros also tend to play on fairways that have been firmed up for the week, leading to bounces that might go further sideways.
Also, there is a tendency among tour pros these days, thanks to the analytics provided by statistical gurus such as Mark Broadie (inventor of the strokes-gained metric), to play more aggressively since data show that aggressive play tends to be rewarded more than conservative play. But overall, there are indeed many amateur golfers who can hit a greater percentage of fairways than can an average tour pro.
Broadie’s statistics show that for every six strokes in difference in skill level, there is a one-stroke difference in putting prowess. In other words, a typical tour pro, who has a handicap index of approximately +6, putts only one stroke better per round than does a scratch golfer, two strokes better than a 6-handicapper, three strokes better than a 12-handicapper, etc.
This means that yes, there are single-digit handicappers who putt as well as an average tour pro day in and day out. There are also probably some low, double-digit handicappers who can putt as well as the worst putters on the PGA Tour, and there are days that even 20 handicappers can putt as well as a tour pro. So, the difference in putting of an amateur golfer vs a tour pro isn’t all that great between the two.
Now, Let’s Highlight the Not-So-Good News:
PGA Tour pros average approximately 296 yards off the tee. While it is a myth that “everyone” on tour can fly it 300 yards, the fact is that statistics show the average scratch golfer can drive the ball about 255 yards. This might seem low, but it has been well-founded in research.
Remember, when we talk about average, we are talking about poor drives being thrown into the statistical mix, too. So, it’s probable that the average male scratch golfer hits it about 265 or so on a good hit. There is about a 30-yard difference between what an average PGA tour pro can do compared to a scratch golfer. That 30 yards times 14 drives adds up to a course that effectively plays 420 yards longer for a scratch golfer, not to mention longer clubs into the greens.
Greens in Regulation
Studies have shown that an increase or decrease in one green in regulation, on average, equals a difference of about two strokes on the scorecard. In other words, a golfer who averages 11 GIR will average about two strokes lower than someone who averages 10 GIR. A typical tour pro hits 12 greens in regulation, which translates into a scoring average of about one under par.
Let’s say a scratch golfer typically plays on a course rated at 72.0, meaning he will average about 74 (because handicap indexes are based on the best 8 out of 20 rounds, a scratch golfer will typically average about two strokes worse than his handicap index). This means that on this course, assuming the par is 72, a scratch golfer will hit about 10.5 GIR. Skill level obviously plays a factor, but so does distance, as a +5-index golfer will have typically much shorter distances into the hole.
The average tour pro gets the ball up and down on a missed GIR just under 3 out of 5 times. Average amateur golfers will fare well less than this, even though their putting prowess may not be that far away from a tour pro’s. Their chips and pitches will usually not leave them in easy one-putt range, while the tour pro does this with regularity.
Most tour pros have consulted with or are working with a sports psychologist or other mental coach. Most amateur golfers don’t. When a tour pro hits a good shot, he or she typically affirms to themselves that this is normal for them, while amateurs often consider themselves “lucky” to pull off a good shot. Conversely, a tour pro recognizes that a bad shot is not normal for them, while most amateurs have a “yep, that’s me” outlook. While there are other differences, self-image between tour pros and amateurs tends to be like night and day.
One-way vs. Two-way Miss
The difference between an amateur golfer vs a tour pro is when tour pros mishit a shot, they tend to hit it primarily either left or right. Amateurs tend to miss equally both ways, with the possible exception of slicers. Turning a two-way miss into a reliable one-way miss is one of the fastest ways to cut a few shots off an amateur’s score.
This is where competent instruction becomes critical. The aim of a good lesson is obviously to make the player a better ball striker, but part of that means developing a reliable miss so that strategy can be effectively planned.
Since it’s their job, tour pros can literally spend all day, if they desire, playing and practicing golf. Most amateurs do not have this luxury, and if they do, they have neither the energy nor motivation to do so. Besides developing a reliable one-way miss, one of the surest ways to get better at golf is simply to do it more.
So, there you have the reasons why an amateur doesn’t do as well as a pro, and we didn’t even mention talent. Talent obviously plays a role, but that’s really something that cannot be controlled. Amateurs, however, have tools to close the gaps that differentiate them from tour pros, and competent instruction from licensed golf teaching pro is a good way to start.
Source: Mark Harman, Master Golf Teaching Professional® and National Course Director Ridgeland, South Carolina.
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