GALLOWAY, NJ | Those of us who have watched have always believed that it is true. Whenever there is a 19-hole discussion about the best putters in the world, names like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Bobby Locke pop up. Jordan Spieth is being talked about among the younger active players, with honorable mentions to Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and, because people’s best memories go back only a year or so, Jon Rahm. What you won’t hear unless you have an LPGA Tour fan up for discussion is the name Inbee Park. It is a monstrous oversight. Because Park, the youngest person to ever earn a place in the LPGA Hall of Fame, has been the best putter in the world for more than a decade.
In the past, this type of explanation got you a couple of snorts and a sideways glance or two. Thanks to data from KPMG Performance Insights, we now know it’s true.
We are still at the beginning of the data collection process. But right now the numbers are staggering. Park makes 64% of her putts between 10 and 15 feet. The top putters on the PGA TOUR over the past three years accounted for 41% in this area. In fact, Park was 3 to 4.50 meters better than the average PGA player from 5 to 3.00 meters. Of course, additional data provides more clarity. But if you think she’s good now, you should have seen her in 2015. That year, Park won three majors in a row and rolled 20 footers like they were tap-ins.
To keep the data train going, Park started her week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer with a 5 under par 66. She did 145 foot putts, including a 36 and 45 footer and two 12 footers.
“I felt a little rusty, haven’t played a lot of golf in the past few weeks so I was a little worried,” said Park after her opening round at Seaview’s Bay Course. “But I played really well out there. The putter was really hot today so I was glad to see that.
“Of course my stroke and my speed were good.”
Park, a master of understatement, hit 14 greens in regulation and had 27 putts. But the putts she missed, some of immensely long length, looked like they were aimed at the hole. It had three 24-feet that it rolled to the nearest centimeter. She also had a 51 foot foot that left one foot behind the hole. The only putt that escaped her was from 54 feet. She missed it by six feet, but made the second putt as if it were nothing.
“That sounds like Inbee,” said the first round leader, So Yeon Ryu, Park’s best friend. “I think she’s the best putter in the world. I’ve heard she’s better than the PGA TOUR guys from certain distances, and now the stats clearly tell us that. “
Ryu, who has played more practice and tournament rounds with Park than any other player, has a theory as to why her best friend is actually the best.
“She is naturally gifted,” said Ryu. “She just instinctively knows what kind of stroke she’s going to need [for different putts]. She is always incredibly confident. But most importantly, she always focuses on the process, on choosing the line and speed you want and getting the best stroke possible, and then not worrying about whether the putt goes in or not. She is less concerned about the outcome than about the process. This is a good place. “
Park confirmed Ryu’s assessment by admitting that she didn’t really look at KPMG Performance Insights. “I mean, I’m not really a great statistician,” said Park. “I don’t really rely on the statistics. As long as I feel comfortable with the putt, as long as I have the feeling that I can do the putt, whether it goes in or not, I think that is important as a golfer. “
The debate is still raging. Go to Golf Twitter and you will see. Statistics only provide ammunition. But does Park think she’s the best putter in the world?
“Well, in some tournaments, yes,” she said. “You know, the putts that I’ve put in and the weeks I’ve putted well, I definitely think I’m the best putter. The weeks in which I don’t putt well are definitely not me. “
It is too early to say whether or not this is a “best of all time”. But as Park said, “Good putting on the first day is a very good sign. This golf course requires a really, really good week of putting. I think it depends on who is going to putt best over the weekend. And it’s good to have a first day like this. “