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Driver or Putter? What's the REAL scoring club?

Which club do you think is the most important in your golf bag? Is it the driver? Is it the putter?

Every golfer knows the saying "drive for show, putt for dough", but how true is that statement? Are we all brainwashed into thinking that the putter is king from that statement alone?

Of course, you're unlikely to post a decent score if either club is wildly off, but we've been having a think about which of the two could make the biggest impact on our ability to shoot a low number.

The case for the driver:

When it comes to driving, if you're struggling to hit a straight ball and putting yourself in trouble more often than not, your focus quickly changes from chasing par to damage limitation.

You might lose a stroke when you're putting poorly, but when you're struggling to tame the big stick, you lose golf balls. You could be putting like a pro, but when you're making a solid 12-foot putt for double bogey after being three off the tee... it's still a double bogey.

In his book, Every Shot Counts, Mark Broadie (the inventor of the strokes gained model) highlighted this interesting fact:

"Across the top 40 golfers from 2004 to 2012, driving contributed 28% to their scoring advantage, putting contributed 15%, and all other shots contributed 57%."

OK, so perhaps taking tour pros as a data sample might not give us a true reflection of what could lower the average amateur's score. Still, it reinforces the idea that you'll give yourself more scoring opportunities if you can reliably hit your driver and keep it in play off the tee.

If you struggle with driver and opt for an iron or hybrid more off the tee, you might think this message doesn't apply to you. On the contrary, it should highlight what could be possible if you put the practice in at the range (perhaps after a lesson or two). You could be making real gains here.

Going from slicing 50% of your tee shots to a straight-ish ball may save ten strokes or more a round. Instead of finding the water, going OB or needing to punch out, you'll hit your second shots from green-light territory more often than not.

We generally think that, unless you're insanely long and accurate with your 3 wood, you should keep your driver in the bag and use it intelligently when the opportunity arises.

The case for the putter:

One argument against the driver is that it's not necessary to reach for your longest club to find the scoring zone. Looking towards the pro tours again, let's take the example of Henrik Stenson. The Iceman overcame his own battles with the driver by switching to his trusty 3 wood. And, as we all know, he stripes it down the middle, time and again.

When it comes to the putter, there's nowhere to hide. You'll be using it over 30 times per round, so you best get used to it. Finding one that suits your eye and developing great feel with it could save you a heck of an amount of strokes in a short period of time.

On the greens is where tournaments are won and lost - and where the success of your day will be finally secured (or not). When all your other clubs have done their job and found the putting surface, it's over to the putter to seal the deal.

A quick poll on Twitter shows many of our Hole19 community favour putting skills to driving skills:

Whether it is the real scoring club or not, many of us could be doing more to unlock our scoring potential on the greens - because, honestly, how much time do you dedicate to putting practice?

The verdict:

Before we go any further, and at the risk of being labelled fence-sitters, it's important to note that both of these clubs are vitally important when it comes to scoring well and accelerating your game-improvement.

You'll not be pulling up any trees unless both clubs are performing to at least a decent standard. If you can't hit driver, you're not going to give yourself many opportunities to score well, and if you can't putt for toffee, you'll likely waste those good opportunities when they do eventually arrive.

What's clear is that you'll use your putter more than any other club in the bag, so how you perform on the greens will impact the success of every round. But for many golfers, the chances of playing to handicap are close to zero if the driver goes off the boil.

If all other facets of your game are working to an acceptable level, a great day on the greens could be the determining factor in you shooting a new career-low score. On the other hand, when you make six three-putts, you'll cost yourself six shots, but if you lose six balls deep in the woods, who knows how many shots that will amount to.

When we think of it that way - and throw in the pro golf stats - we start to come down on the side of the driver having a more significant impact on your ability to score well from one round to the next.

Whatever the right answer, we continue to dream of the day when every drive stripes miles down the fairway, and we’re sinking putts from everywhere. It hasn't happened as yet, but, when it does arrive, what a beautiful day that will be!


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