This article first appeared on Golfshake.com in Feb 2020
Legendary golf instructor, Harvey Penick revealed in his famous Little Red Book, that fellow Texan Ben Hogan declared that the three most vital clubs were the “driver, putter, and wedge, in that order.”
That was the considered view of the nine-time major champion, widely appreciated as one of the finest players in the history of the game, but how does that compare to the wider public opinion of golfers?
In a 2019 survey, completed by 3,500 keen golfers and readers of Golfshake.com, responding to questions covering a variety of key topics, they were asked: “What is the Most Important Club in Your Bag?”
The answer may come as something of a surprise – at least for Ben Hogan and Harvey Penick.
The Putter led the poll on a staggering 57.6%, with the Driver a distant second on just 15.1%.
Clearly in the minds of the Golfshake readers, that old adage of “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough” is relevant.
That said, it may not come as a major shock when you consider that on average 38% of shots are played on the green, but studies have shown that a considerably greater number of shots are lost from the tee, whether it be penalties or balls landing in the rough or bunkers, leading to higher scores for that hole.
Looking at the 2018/19 Season on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy was ranked 1st in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee and led the scoring average, won Player of the Year, and secured the FedEx Cup. His nearest challenger in the battle of dominance, Brooks Koepka was rated 21st in Driving, but just 48th in Strokes Gained: Putting.
If you study the top ten in Driving, seven of them won on the Tour in 18/19 – McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Keith Mitchell, Cameron Champ, Paul Casey, Corey Conners – while just one player ranked in the top ten in Putting – Graeme McDowell – claimed a title.
Denny McCarthy, who topped Putting last season, finished a lowly 111th in the FedEx Cup, with only half of the leading ten putters ranked in the Top 100 in the FedEx Cup Standings, confirming that – at least at professional level – the driver is the most important club in the pursuit of success, something you only have to look at the R&A’s recent Distance Insights Project Report and subsequent debate for further evidence of.
However, for the average golfer who responded to our Survey, the putter was the most important. Here are the results in full.
- 57.6% – Putter
- 15.1% – Driver
- 11.2% – Wedges (All Variations Combined)
- 3.9% – 7 Iron
- 3.7% – Hybrid (All Variations Combined)
- 2.1% – 3 Wood
Intriguingly, there are slight differences found in age. Golfers under 45 had the putter at 55.8% and the driver at 12.9%, with those over 54 having the putter at 56.9% and 15.6%, the older players placing reduced emphasis on clubs outwith the main two. Perhaps, with experience, you are less likely to view irons or wedges as being the most important.
Despite the attention placed on the putter, only 31.6% of golfers stated that they practiced it frequently, with 31.2% practicing occasionally. Compare this to hitting balls at the range with 35.6% visiting frequently, but this could be a sign of the facilities available.
Even though the driver came second in the race to be the most important club, driving is the area of the game that golfers would like to most improve on, reflecting those findings on the Tour. 54.3% of golfers rated Driving 4/5 in terms of the area they would most like to improve with Putting at 48.4% of golfers surveyed.
Clearly, there are many routes to improvement in golf, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but with the amount of times you use a putter during the round, it’s prominent in the minds of all golfers. Delving deeper into the data, only 13% of golfers with a handicap of 21+ rated the driver as their most important club, with the putter 49.6%. Compare that to handicaps below 10 and the driver accounts for 17% – the putter was way out in front with 68.4%.
Ben Hogan would probably think that golfers have the two clubs the wrong way round, but for those golfers who responded to the 2019 Golfshake Survey, the putter is the most important club in the bag.
Finally, while we have been discussing the most important club, that doesn’t necessarily make it your favorite club. But what do you think: Which weapon do you view as the most important in your arsenal?