It's a fair question: Just how much better are pro golfers than the average amateur golfer?
Golf is different from other professional sports. If you can't throw at least 90 mph, then you have limited opportunities as a pitcher. If you're a wide receiver and physically unable to run a 4.5 second forty-yard dash, then the NFL probably isn't in your future.
Because there are no concrete criteria for one to become a professional tour player, it leads one to ask how good are professional golfers?
Professional Golfers Vs. Golf Professionals
First, there is a canyon size difference between a golf professional and a professional golfer.
Golf professionals are the straw that stirs the drink of the game of golf. The "club pros" are the key to growing and enjoying the game, and are so very needed. Some of my best friends are PGA Class A professionals.
Performance wise, a golf professional plays in local or sectional events across their state and the best then plays in their own national event every year. The top 20 golf professionals in the United States earn an invite to the PGA Championship. So, they can golf their ball!
However, even the best golf professional has a slim chance of just making the cut at the PGA Championship. It does happen on occasion, and, when it does, it's a huge victory for them!
Thus, if that golf professional hypothetically received a full-year exemption to play in every PGA Tour event that they'd could, a few cuts is all that they would make; not enough to keep one's tour card. Sorry, that's brutal, but it's honest: PGA Tour players are that good.
However, even with this golf professional vs. professional golf analogy, it doesn't quite do it justice about just how good are professional golfers.
We see the best of the best miss 5-foot putts, hit bad shots, flub chips and leave an occasional shot in the bunker. When this happens, your golfing buddies exclaim, "Oh, I could hit that shot." No, you couldn't.
First, the level of performance across any professional athlete is relative. For instance, the top 20 dart throwers or bowlers are exponentially better than anyone you've ever seen. So, a professional golfer is the same level of performance as an Olympic athlete or Major League Baseball player or elite marathon runner. Of course, this applies to LPGA golfers as well!
Here's the running analogy to illustrate just how good professional golfers are: If you watch the New York or Boston Marathon, you'll see the lead pack of 10 runners or so 15 miles into the race, and within that pack, the winner will emerge.
Now, the slowest male winning time at the New York Marathon since 1995 was 2 hours and 11 minutes. The winner at the slowest pace was still averaging 5 minute miles for 26.2 miles. Oftentimes, the winner is running 4:45 pace.
The women's record for New York Marathon is 2:22, which is 5:25 per mile! Try going out there and running just 1 mile at that pace!
This is how good professional golfers truly are!
Let's take the comparison a bit deeper. Look at the best runner in your local area.
The best runners in your current town are elite who will race in the Boston or New York Marathon. They earn some money for winning local or regional races and have some sponsorship to help them compete, pay for race fees, gear, travel expenses, etc. However, it may not be their full-time gig.
If they run a sub 2:30 marathon, their pace is 5:42 per mile for 26.2 miles and they are elite! They are akin to your top golf professionals! The difference between professional golfers and golf professionals is a 5:42 vs. sub 5:00 minute per mile pace. That is a 42-second-per-mile difference between a sub 2:30 marathon and a 2:11 marathon time. 42 seconds per mile.
This is the difference and explains just how good are professional golfers that you'll watch on TV -- and even those touring pros whose name you've never heard.
If you take a plus-2 handicap and compare them to a tour professional, it's not even close. Over the course of a 54- or 72-hole tournament, the gap will be the difference between a 2:30 and 2:11 marathon: huge!
Don't take my word for it, On my podcast, 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness, I interviewed Rickie Fowler's caddie, Joe Skovron and he made a similar claim, except with much more detail.