Drive for Dough, Putt for Show.

We’ve all been there and heard “you drive for show and putt for dough” numerous times. Mostly from older men or less-informed golf parents and coaches. When it comes to reality, is this adage true? Is your score mostly influenced by putting or is there a bigger area to focus on like ball striking?

I was fortunate enough to play team golf in middle school, high school, and college. Mix in a few tournaments outside of those seasons, I have seen a wide array of golfers in my career. Some golfers would go play, hit a hand full of fairways and greens, and putt lights out and turn in a respectable score. The best players I have played with all had one thing in common, they hit noticeably more fairways and closer shots into greens. They gave themselves more chances and making birdies and eagles, as well as eliminating bogies and doubles.

In 2018, Greg Chalmers led the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting +.790 (strokes gained is stat that compares a player’s performance to the rest of the field to determine where they gained, did better than field, or lost strokes, did worse than the field). In total, Chalmers lost 2.056 strokes to the field every round due to poor ball striking. This led him to finish 188th in scoring average. Dustin Johnson led the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green at a blistering 1.987 strokes per round. This massive gain on the field led him to lead the PGA Tour in scoring average. Johnson isn’t alone in this recipe as other elite tour players typically gain more strokes tee-to-green to fuel low rounds (PGA Tour Stats).

Let me be clear, consistent putting is needed to play good golf, but there is an overemphasis on putting compared to ball striking. The fastest way for any golfer to lower their score is to hit more fairways and greens. This is true for the average golfer trying to break 100 or the future collegian who is trying to take the next step in golf.

What you should be looking for to break 80 on a consistent basis:

  • Hit at least 8 greens per round

  • Have a solid short game that allows you to go “up and down” 50% of the time

  • Eliminate penalty shots from tee balls and approach shots

  • Eliminate 3 putts

If you can get this formula down, even without making birdies, you limit yourself to 5 bogies per round. Assuming you have kept the ball in play and eliminated 3 putts, that is an average of 5 over per round!

Now assume you improve your ball striking and hit 12 greens per round (Tour average is 13 greens per round). You are also hitting it much closer and giving yourself potential eagle opportunities and make a 3 birdies per round. This adds up to around even par every time you step on the course!

Hit more fairways and greens and watch your scores drop!

All PGA Tour data was retrieved from

Andy Heiser