I went through the exercise of comparing a 5 handicapper to a 20 handicapper. The first thing that jumps out is the number of rounds that a 5 handicapper is playing. In this comparison the 5 handicapper has played 26 rounds over a 2 month period while the 20 handicapper has played only 4. If you are going to get better you need to practice and play more.
Putting (2.5 strokes)
33.5 putts per round vs 36 putts per round
You always read that improving your putting can drastically lower your score. In this comparison the 5 handicapper putts on average 2.5 putts less a round than the 20 handicapper. While I am sure everyone would like to shave 2 or 3 strokes off their round but this isn’t a massive difference.
Iron Play and Chipping (17.3 strokes)
To get a sense of the importance of iron play we are going to look the holes where drivers do not factor in (Par 3’s). Our 5 handicapper averages 3.4 strokes per par 3 while our 20 handicapper averages 4.5 strokes per par 3. If we take that average and apply it to a whole round (18 holes) that is 61.2 for the 5 handicapper and 81 for the 20 handicapper. Now we take the putts off of this and it becomes 27.7 and 45 respectivly. This is a difference of 17.3 strokes.
This also explains the large difference in greens in regulation (50.45% vs 12.5%). If you hit better approach shots you will hit more greens in regulation.
Driving (1.8 strokes)
To assess driving we are going to look at par 4s then take away the expected number of iron strokes and putting strokes (par3 averages). The 5 handicapper averages 4.45 on par 4s and the 20 handicapper averages 5.65 on par 4s. The average over 18 holes for the 5 handicapper is 61.2, while the average over 18 holes for the 20 handicapper is 101.7. If we take the iron strokes from “Iron Play and Chipping” out of this we end up with 18.9 for the 5 handicapper and 20.7 for the 20 handicapper. This means that driving only accounts for roughly 1.8 of the strokes per round.
Driving clearly has an impact on iron play and chipping stats as well. If a player hits a long and accurate drive then more often than not they will have a shorter iron with a good lie for their approach shot.
Interestingly even though there was not a large difference in the par 4 stats (with par 3 taken out) there was a slight difference in the fairway %. The 5 handicapper hit 64.1% of fairways while the 20 handicapper hit 47.25% of fairways.
So to recap it appears that iron play and chipping is the biggest difference between a 20 handicapper and a 5 handicapper.