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The Difference Between Professional and Amateur Golfers

We at All Square love golf; in fact many members of the team are pretty good at it. Some of our staff members have even played on high profile tours including the European Challenge Tour and satellite tours. You don’t see any of us out there on the European Tour ranking in the big money however. Today we want to talk about what separates the greatest players in the game from those scratch or better golfers you may know at your club or in your family.

A good example to look to here is that of Jon Rahm who turned pro this year after being leading amateur at the 2016 US Open, the only one who actually made the cut. So Rahm wasn’t your average amateur golfer, in fact he was ranked world number 1 before he turned pro. The Arizona State graduate won 11 collegiate events, finished tied for third in his first event as a pro at Congressional and tied second in his fourth event at the RBC Canadian Open. Both tournaments secured him nice pay checks in only 3 starts on Tour. So the switch from amateur to pro seems easy, right?

Drive for show and also dough?

This article was inspired by a recent post on Golf WRX where data analysts from ShotByShot presented data comparing rounds recorded by scratch golfers and by PGA Tour players. This article was incredibly insightful and, to summarise it, found that tour golfers are 5.5 shots per round better than a scratch golfer. They showed data that suggested the main differences were from the tee where the top golfers average 33 yards greater distance on driving with fewer mistakes. This, in turn, created more shots gained in approach shots too given that the average second shot on the PGA Tour is from 175 yards, or 208 yards if your a scratch player.

How good are you?

We wanted to take this article further, and add personal experiences to the raw data to make these numbers more relatable. Whilst the data in the piece paint a certain picture, we think it doesn’t even give the full story of just how good these tour pros are. Let’s say that, as a scratch golfer, you are capable of posting a -4 or -5, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and take -5 as the exemplary score. You can, I imagine also go and shoot +4 or +5 on those really bad days, yes? Now you’re probably playing your home course, or one you know fairly well and it is probably set-up for medal or general play. Pins are not tucked away or perched on ledges and the course is there for the taking.

Tour conditions

When the PGA Tour rolls into town courses take on a whole new persona. The ground staff make these courses more difficult than usual. The average slope rating of PGA Tour courses is 76, but you can probably put that up to 77 or 78 once you factor in pin placements and the fact that the greens have been double cut and rolled to make the putting surfaces fearfully fast. This also doesn’t take into account the rough being grown up, so you have to think that these guys are seeing courses made as hard as possible for them. Your best round just went from -5 to -3, that’s still pretty good though and four rounds at -3 will almost certainly give you a paycheck on Sunday. There’s more though…

Your -3 came with normal pressure, we took your original -5 under medal play or bounce game conditions, and there is very little pressure there. When you’re out on tour you’re playing in front of many spectators, cameras and expectant commentary teams and sponsors. This is your livelihood. As a casual golfer a bad round has no effect on your life, apart from possibly making your grumpy for a while. So it’s safe to assume that this added pressure is going to have a significant effect. This is mentioned in the GolfWRX article but what isn’t considered is the extra pressure involved when you’re a tour pro who is fighting to retain your tour card. Before you hit a shot on The European Tour you are already around €100,000 out of pocket for expenses, that money needs to be recouped and you’re playing to put ‘bread on the table’, that is what pressure is. So, are you confident you can go out and shoot your -3 now? It’s starting to look even harder isn’t it? Let’s agree that your -3 is now about level par now given this added pressure.

The not so good days

Now four rounds of level par on tour will still probably be ok, you’ll make cuts and you’ll win money, of this we have no doubt. However, cast your eyes back to the start of this article, we’re talking about your perfect round! You’re not going to do that for four days and if you also remember your worst round was +5 so that has probably become +10 given our ‘calculations’ here. This brings us to another very important point, maybe the most important point. The likes of Jason Day, Lydia Ko and Jordan Spieth have bad days, of course they do. A bad day to them may be a good few shots over par, but they are always capable of that 63 or 64 round that gets them right back into contention. These top tour golfers aren’t just incredibly skilled at shot-making, they are incredible ‘scoreboard managers’. When they are competing, even when things are bad, they do what they have to do to post the best score possible and keep themselves either in contention or in the money at the very least. They very very rarely miss cuts.

Golf is hard, we are all aware of this. If you are a golfer with great skill, maybe scratch or better, then smart consistent practice will take you to the next level. The point we are making here is that although we all know that the world’s greatest golfers are incredibly skilled athletes, they are actually much better than you think they are. Let that sink in.

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While “somewhat” accurate, this is incredibly harsh and discouraging to growing the game of golf… If I had never picked up a stick in my life, this would be enough to not even try. As a guy that is washed up and no good, it makes me not want to play… Please think of the media you put out….

Don’t be angry because you and your editor were “close” but not good enough.

Sincerely,
Your guy that can shoot (these days) 70-85

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