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Gimmes - by the Numbers

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Putting percentages by length

“Gimmes” can be the source of some heated animosity and eternal bad blood between opponents on the golf course.  I like to take a rather objective approach when deciding which putts to concede and which need to be holed.  There are really only two underlying factors, in my mind, that go into determining whether I’ll require my opponent to hole his putt: significance and length.  Both of which are fairly easy to gauge, which makes for an easy, calculated decision on whether or not to concede.

Significance is usually obvious, and can stem from a variety of circumstances – financial implications, a putt to win the hole, a putt to win the match, the likelihood of your score even counting at all, etc…so I’ll leave you to make that determination.  I’d like to simply address the numbers by length of putt.

I’m a firm believer in the “inside the leather” rule, as it essentially concedes any putt within two feet.  Sure, some putters can vary in length by a few inches, but for the most part, this is rather universal, especially now with the ban on anchored putters (Bernhard Langer’s approach is obviously an exception). 

Looking at PGA Tour statistics, putts from two feet are made 99% of the time.  Putts from three feet are made 95% of the time.  At first glance, that seems like a near certainty that you’ll make from either distance, but compare the times you’ll MISS that putt.  In 100 tries, you miss one putt from two feet, while you’ll miss five putts from three feet.  Think about that.  You’re FIVE times more likely to miss the three-footer than you are the two-footer.   And even though the underlying make percentage is high, at 95%, this still means you’re going to miss 1-in-20.  If a foursome of players plays 18 holes and finishes each hole, you’ll have 72 putts that are either holed or conceded.  If even one third of those putts are in the 3-feet range, which they likely will be, then that means at least somebody is missing that three-footer before the day is done.

Taking it one step further, PGA Tour players hole four-footers at a rate of 86%.  By the same logic, this means that a player is 14 times more likely to miss a four-footer than they are a two-footer.  So, given a putt of mid- or higher-level significance, I tend to require that those three-footers (and certainly longer) be holed, maintaining my “in the leather” philosophy.

Often times you’ll see a playing competitor lingering over his ball or digging for change in his pocket while waiting for you to concede.  Don’t let this phase your decision.  And by no means should you let a player get away with quick-raking.  (For further details on quick-raking, check out the No Laying Up podcast with Club Pro Guy, also a Kansas City native, here:  And, if any of your competitors get a bad case of the yips, feel free to ditch these guidelines altogether and force them to sweat over every putt that has yet to find darkness.



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