It’s a fair question.

It’s different from other professional sports, like in baseball where if you can’t throw 90 mph, you’ve got limited opportunities as an MLB pitcher. If you’re physically unable to run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, wearing an NFL uniform isn’t in your future.

And because there are no concrete criteria to become a Professional Tour Player, we’re led to ask: How good are professional golfers? 

Let’s look at professional golfers vs. golf professionals 

There is a canyon-sized difference between a professional golfer and a golf professional.

You find golf professionals at every golf club. Frankly, they are the straw that stirs the drink of the game of golf. “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 of those play 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 play!

However, even the best golf professional just has an outside chance of making the cut at the PGA Championship. It does happen, and it’s a huge victory for them. Hypothetically, if that golf pro received an entire year exemption to play in every PGA Tour event that they could, a handful of cuts is all that they would make. Now, this player maybe would crack a top 25 finish in an event or two, but not enough to keep one’s tour card. Sorry, It’s brutal, but it’s honest — PGA Tour players are that good.

But even with this golf professional vs. professional golf analogy, it doesn’t quite do justice to how good professional golfers are.

It’s because we see them miss 5-foot putts, hit bad shots, flub chips, and leave an occasional shot in the bunker. When this happens, your golfing buddy will exclaim, “Oh, I could make that shot.” Um, no you couldn’t…

First, we must admit that the level of performance of any professional athlete is relative. For instance, the top 20 dart throwers or bowlers are exponentially better than anyone you’ve ever played with. A professional golfer is the same level of performance as an Olympic athlete or major league baseball player or elite marathon runner. 

Here’s an analogy to illustrate just how good professional golfers are. If you watch the New York or Boston marathon, you’ll see the lead pack at 10 or 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 the New York Marathon is 2:22, which is 5:25 per mile. Try going out there and running just 1 mile at that pace. 

A running analogy to show how good professional golfers truly are

Let’s take the comparison a bit deeper. Let’s say the best male runners in your home city are elite competitive runners who will race in the Boston or New York marathon. They earn a few hundred dollars for winning local or regional races and have some sponsorship to help them compete, pay for race fees, gear, travel expenses, etc. However, it’s not their full-time gig. 

If they run a sub 2:30 marathon, they are elite. Their pace is 5:42 per mile for 26.2 miles, and they are elite — akin to your top golf professionals.

The difference is a 5:42 vs. sub-5:00 minute per mile. That is a 42-seconds-per-mile difference between a sub 2:30 marathon and a 2:11 marathon time. 

42 seconds per mile …

Hence this is the difference and just how good professional golfers are that you’ll watch on TV and even those touring pros whose name you’ve never heard of. 

If you take a +2 handicap compared to a tour professional, it’s not even close. Over the course of a 72- or 54-hole tournament, the gap will be the difference between a 2:30 and 2:11 marathon — huge!

Hopefully, this illustration has answered the question just how good are professional golfers? Don’t take my word for it, Rickie Fowler’s caddy, Joe Skovron, made a similar claim, except with much more detail on my podcast, 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness.

Rob Bell

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach based in Indianapolis. His clients have included three winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott and Walgreens. Check out his books and the 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness podcast via Visit to get his free e-book: 10 Ways To Instantly Improve Your Mental Game of Golf.