GALLOWAY, N.J. | Those of us who have watched have always believed it to be true. Anytime there’s a 19-hole discussion of the best putters in the world, names like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Bobby Locke come up. Among younger active players, talk always turns to Jordan Spieth with honorable mentions given to Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and, because people’s best-of memories only go back a year or so, Jon Rahm. What you won’t hear unless you have an LPGA Tour fan in the discussion is the name Inbee Park. It’s an egregious oversight. Because Park, the youngest person ever to earn a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame, has been the best putter in the world for the better part of a decade.
In the past, that sort of declaration would earn you a few snorts and a side-eyed look or two. Now, thanks to data from KPMG Performance Insights, we know it’s true.
We’re still early in the data-collection process. But at the moment, the numbers are staggering. Park makes 64% of her putts from 10 to 15 feet. The best putters on the PGA TOUR over the last three years made 41% from that range. In fact, Park has been better from 10 to 15 feet than the average PGA player is from 5 to 10 feet. Of course, additional data will add 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 in 20 footers like they were tap-ins.
To keep the data train rolling, Park opened her week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer with a 5-under par 66. In so doing, she made 145 feet of putts, including a 36- and 45-footer and two 12-footers.
“I felt a little bit rusty, didn't play a lot of golf the last couple weeks, so I was a little bit worried,” Park said after her opening round at Seaview’s Bay Course. “But I played really good out there. The putter was really hot today, so I was glad to see that.
“Obviously, my stroke and my speed were good.”
A master of understatement, Park hit 14 greens in regulation and had 27 putts. But the putts she missed, some from outrageous lengths, looked like they were bound for the hole. She had three 24-footers that she rolled to within inches. She also had a 51-footer that she left a foot behind the hole. The only putt that got away from her was from 54 feet. She missed that one by six feet, but made second putt like it was nothing.
“That sounds like Inbee,” said first-round leader So Yeon Ryu who is Park’s best friend. “I think she’s the best putter in the world. I’ve heard she’s better from certain distances than the PGA TOUR guys and now the stats are clearly telling us that.”
Ryu, who has played more practice and tournament rounds with Park than any other player, has a theory about why her bestie is, indeed, the best.
“She’s naturally gifted,” Ryu said. “She just instinctively knows what kind of stroke she needs [for different putts]. She’s always incredibly confident. But most importantly, she always focuses on the process, on picking the line and speed she wants and making the best stroke possible, then not worrying about whether or not the putt goes in. She’s less concerned about the outcome than she is the process. That is a good place to be.”
Park confirmed Ryu’s assessment by admitting she doesn’t really look at the KPMG Performance Insights. “I mean, I'm not really a big stat person,” Park said. “Not really relying much on the stats. As long as I feel comfortable over the putt, as long as I feel like I can make the putt, whether it goes in or not, I think that's what matters as a golfer.”
The debate still rages. Go to golf Twitter and you will see it. Stats just provide ammo. But does Park think she is the best putter in the world?
“Well, at some tournaments, yes,” she said. “You know, the putts that I’ve holed and the weeks I've putted well, I definitely think I’m the best putter. The weeks I don't putt good, I’m definitely not.”
It’s too early to tell if this is a “best ever” week or not. But as Park said, “Good putting on the first day is a very good sign. This golf course requires a really, really good putting week. So, I think it's going to come down to who is going to putt the best over the weekend. And it's good to have a first day like this.”