The Dreaded 3-Putt: How Often the Pros Do It and Limiting Your Own

Three-putts are hated by golfers, but even the best suffer them

Misuzu Narita of Japan shows her disappointment after missing her putt on the 14th green during the final round of the Nipponham Ladies Classics at the Ambix Hakodate Club on July 10, 2016 in Hokuto, Japan
That feeling when you 3-putt a hole ... Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

A "3-putt" is exactly what it sounds like: When a golfer requires three putts on the green to get the ball into the hole, that's a 3-putt (also spelled out as "three-putt").

A 3-putt is one of the no-no's in golf, something that all players hope to avoid. Why? Well, obviously, three putts is one more stroke added to your score than two putts.

But it also goes back to the concept of par. The par of a hole always includes two putts. A par-3 hole is rated as such because an expert golfer is expected to require one stroke to get onto the green and two putts to get into the hole. On a par-4, an expert golfer is expected to require two strokes to get onto the green, and two putts to get into the hole; and a par-5 is so-rated as requiring three strokes to get on the green and, again, two putting strokes to get the ball in the hole.

So the idea that the goal is to take no more than two putts on a given green is ingrained in golfers. That's what makes the 3-putt something that golfers really hate.

How Often Do Pro Golfers 3-Putt?

The PGA Tour has a statistical category called 3-Putt Avoidance, in which it lists the golfers on tour who are best (and worst) at not three-putting.

The 3-Putt Avoidance stat has been kept by the PGA Tour since 1992. And in that first year of 1992, the best golfer on tour at avoiding three-putts was Rick Fehr. Fehr played 1,530 holes on the PGA Tour that year and had 22 3-putts, a rate of 1.44-percent. And down at No. 183 on the list in 1992 was John Elliott, who had 50 3-putts in 1,026 holes (4.87-percent).

In 2015, Daniel Summerhays was the 3-Putt Avoidance champ at 1.65-percent (30 3-putts in 1,818 holes); last place (No. 184) was Lucas Glover at 5.49-percent (78 3-putts in 1,422 holes).

In 2017, the best at avoiding three-putts was Brian Gay at 1.42-percent (20 3-putts in 1,404 holes); last place (No. 190) was Boo Weekley at 5.1-percent (75 3-putts in 1,314 holes).

Through 2017, only one golfer in PGA Tour history made it through a full season with a three-putt percentage below one: In 1994, Greg Norman's 3-putt percentage was 0.97.

Avoiding 3-Putts

Alas, 3-putts are common for most of us. So what can a golfer do to lower his or her 3-putt frequency? Two things:

  • Improve your lag putting;
  • Improve your short putting.

Hey, no problem! Just become a better putter!

But seriously: If you want to become a better putter, thereby avoiding three-putts, you have to work at it. You have to spend time on the practice green, you have to put in work with putting drills. Our Putting Tips section has some great drills to try.

For lag putting — improving your distance control so that your first putt stops somewhere close to the hole if it doesn't go in — try one or more distance-control putting drills. Such drills focus on hitting balls to pre-set distances, and alternating those distances (for example, putt first to 10 feet, then 15 feet, then 20 feet, then start over). A good example of such a drill is the lag-putting string drill.

Building confidence over short putts is often a matter of boring repetition on the practice green. A basic "circle drill" is a favorite of Phil Mickelson and many other pros, going back decades. To begin with, find a hole that is in a flat part of the green (later you move to a sloped area). Place 10 golf balls around the hole, each three feet from the cup. No work your way around the hole, sinking all 10 balls. Then start over. Mickelson makes 100 in a row, or he starts over. You can settle for a smaller number of made putts to begin with, then work your way up.

Another example of repetitive putting drills is one called the 1-2-3 Drill. First, make 15 consecutive putts from one foot; then make 10 in a row from two feet; then make five in a row from three feet. If you miss, start over.

One easy way to start reducing your number of 3-putts is to first discover just how often you have them. Use the scorecard to track your stats or use an app. Note how often you 3-putt, and set goals for improving that number over time.

Golf Games Involving 3-Putts

There are several games in our Tournament Formats and Betting Games glossary in which the object is to avoid 3-putting. Playing these games can help golfers put some pressure on themselves to lag it close to the hole and make the short follow-up. See Snake and Three-Putt Poker for two examples.