Bryson lives and … by the sword!

I watched golf’s new He-Man with great interest in this week’s Shriner’s Hospital for Children Open. The TV coverage was limited to two hours and I only saw the 2nd round that featured Bryson making up significant ground with two eagles. He seemed well positioned to overpower another course and field and notch another win.

When I saw that Bryson finished FIVE shots back and tied for 8th, I wondered what happened. My first thought was did his long-ball, driving cost him? Not according to the Tour stats:

  • Driving Distance: #1 (363 yards vs. 315 for the field)
  • Strokes Gained Off the Tee: #2. How could this flawless stat tell anything but the truth about Bryson’s prowess off the tee? That’s another story…

What could have gone wrong? In my work for another player, I noted that Driving Errors (a stat that the Tour does not make public) in this event were less than HALF the average number made in the Tour 2020 season. The Shriner’s field made .29 Driving errors* per round (just under 1 every 3 rounds) vs. .63 per round in the 2020 season (1 every 1.6 rounds). So what! This simply tells me that TPC Summerlin is significantly more forgiving off the tee than the typical Tour venue and should be a Bryson dream course!

[*Driving errors are shots hit out of play that require advancements to return to normal play or penalty results.]

To find the answer, I resorted to a hole-by-hole review of Bryson’s rounds on the PGATour.com Shot Tracker. What I found is that Bryson’s apparent driving excellence was tarnished by SIX driving errors that cost him a total of SIX strokes. Below is an example of one of Bryson’s driving errors:

Bryson’s impressive three Eagles and 22 Birdies were unfortunately offset by six Bogeys and 2 Doubles. Two of the bogeys and both doubles were the result of Driving errors like the one displayed above.

The message for all of us is that an overriding quest for distance can come at a cost. It apparently cost Bryson over 1 million dollars this week or $178,000+ per Driving error.

Tips for Member/Guest Success

Last year, my son was invited to play in his cousin’s Member/Guest – a first such event for both of them. They flattered me by requesting advice on things that they should do to help them win. The grizzled veteran that I am, I provided a list similar to the one below. Thanks to an abundance of athletic talent (both college athletes in other sports), and keen competitive spirits, they won AND gave my tips some small credit.

I give loads of credit to my partner of Home-and-Home events for 36 years. He taught me most of these important disciplines and we came up with the others together. Thanks for the sheer joy of competing together – perhaps the best tip of all!

1.  Your partner.  Choose a partner that you like and respect.  As the host, your goal should be for your partner to have a great time regardless of winning or losing.  To win is simply icing …. and adopting the following tips might be the difference.

2.  Play within yourselves.  Avoid go-for-broke shots.  Try to keep both partners IN as many holes together as possible.  Remember, it is not a long drive contest – keep the ball in play.

3.  Take your medicine.  When you make a mistake, do NOT try the miracle recovery.  Play the odds, get the ball back in play and be a factor to support your partner.  Your bogey might give your partner a risk-free run at par.  Remember, way more holes are LOST than are WON.  Force your opponents to make the par or whatever # is needed to beat you.  If you can do this consistently, it will wear them down – you may hear:  “Heck, these guys are NEVER out of a hole!”

4.  Hang in there.  Fight for every point and do not be discouraged by losing a match.  Anything can happen and players will tighten up as the event progresses.  You will be amazed at how many times a half point decides a spot in the money or not.    

4.  Pay attention to the shots.  Make sure that you BOTH know exactly who has a shot on the hole (you and your opponents) before you tee off.  Make sure that you or your partner don’t try a crazy shot, not realizing who gets a shot or picks up a 5 or 6 foot putt by mistake.  Also, be gentlemen and warn your opponents if they start to pick up a putt that might matter.  The good spirit will serve you well in the end.

5.  Keep score.  As the host, you should be the designated scorekeeper. That means getting the shots right prior to starting the round, recording everyone’s scores after each hole and keeping accurate track of where the match stands.  You should also remind your partner of the shots before teeing off on every tee. 

Finally, when feeling the pressure at the critical times near the end of matches, do not try to be the hero and execute shots that you probably have not practiced.  Play shots that you know you can execute with total confidence – see big targets and make relaxed swings with plenty of club. More often than not, your outcomes will be better and your opponents will feel the pressure… let them make the mistakes.

Winged Foot turned the BEST players in the world into 5 handicaps

First, I have to boast that my prediction on the # of 3-putts per round exceeding ONE for the field was CORRECT! I don’t often get to say that. It was by a hair, but 1.05 3-putts /round was the number.

Notice on the graph above that the ShotByShot.com database has the 3 to 5 handicap group at 1.26 3-Putts per round. This would put the Winged Foot field at about a 3 handicap in putting. This intrigued me and I decided to check some other stats to see how the Winged Foot field matched up. Bottom line, in the four key stats below, I submit that the field that would normally average +4 or +5, was “dumbed down” NINE or TEN shots to a 5 handicap.

As a focus group of ONE, I have had the treat of playing Winged Foot many times and found that it puts a similar strain on my single digit handicap.

How Difficult Will the US Open Greens Be?

The Tillinghast greens at the iconic Winged Foot, West course are legendary in their dramatic undulations. If the weather and the USGA present firm and fast conditions with speeds of up to 14 on the Stimpmeter, they could present a historic challenge.

While on a fabulous golf trip early this week, my group and I had a brief wait on a tee, with our caddies. The question was posed to me: “How will the incidence of 3-Putts per round at Winged Foot compare to the averages on the PGA Tour?” Living in lower CT, the four of us have played “The Foot” many times and are very familiar with how difficult the greens can be. I cited the 2020 Tour average of .53 per round (approximately one 3-Putt every 2 rounds) and offered that the Open’s number could be quite a bit higher but NOT greater than the 1.0 number suggested by my enthusiastic companions. Below are some numbers for perspective.

Note the LOW incidence of 3-Putts occurred at the recent BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. A very limited field of the 69 best players left in the FedEx playoffs.

The HIGH was at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in Korea. Again a limited field, no cut.

The Average Handicap ranges are from our extensive ShotByShot.com database of more than 400,000 rounds.

I thought that my friends, and our the caddies, were going overboard offering that this year’s 3-Putts would exceed one per round UNTIL I looked at the US Open history. In the last 10 Opens, two have exceeded .9 3-Putts per round and FOUR have produced more than one 3-Putt per round. The highest 1.54/round was recorded at Chambers Bay – remember that mess?

All this in mind, I am siding with my enthusiastic friends. I believe Winged Foot will not disappoint and produce greater than ONE 3-Putt per round. Want to bet?

What DIDN’T D.J. do well in the FedEx Playoffs?

Nothing really! I looked long and hard at the three events:

  1. Northern Trust: DJ blew the field away by 11 shots.
  2. BMW: Lost to Jon Rahm in the most dramatic playoff I’ve ever seen.
  3. Tour Championship: Started with a lead and played well enough to maintain it.

My goal was to find the one thing that stood out. What was it that he did clearly better than the other great players that were hot on his heels? I scoured eleven of what I believe to be the most important PGA Tour performance stats. Obviously including the four Strokes Gained stats and others that highlight the major skills in the game.

In the three events, DJ was ranked #1 in only four of my key stats. No surprise that 3 of the 4 fell in his dominance of the Northern Trust:

  1. .453 Strokes Gained Tee to Green (Northern Trust)
  2. 90% Greens-in-Regulation (Northern Trust). Winners average 70%.
  3. 28′ 1″ Proximity to the Hole (Northern Trust)
  4. 100% Going for the Green, on Par 5’s (Tour Championship).

My comparison of the “OTHER-9” top finishers in the playoffs did not reveal any bombshells. But in running my own analysis of the ShotLink data to uncover “Niblicks of Truth” that the PGA Tour does not look for or display. Frequency and Severity of ERRORS proved to be the difference I was looking for!

If you’ve read my work before, you know I like to programmatically cull out the number and cost of the errors that have such an impact at every level of the game – even the Tour. Very briefly they are:

Driving – Balls hit out of play and requiring recovery shots or penalty results.

Approach – Penalty results

Short Game (Chip/Pitch or Sand shots within 50 yards of the hole) – Shots that miss the green AND require 4 or more strokes to hole out.

Putting – While not every 3-Putt is an error, for the purposes of this study I am going to consider that they are.

My gotcha moment was the discovery that Dustin’s errors were not only significantly fewer (58%) than the Other-9 and the field (50%), but when they did sneak into his game they were only 50% as costly. Bottom line, Dustin distanced himself from 2nd place in the three events by 14 shots. I estimate that 8 shots, or 57% of his cushion, can be directly attributed to his avoidance of and recovery from ERRORS.

Jon Rahm Putts for Dough. What are the Odds?

By now, everyone understands Strokes Gained – or do they? Briefly, every position (fairway, rough or sand) on a golf course has what I call a “Down-In” value based upon the distance from the hole. On the PGA Tour these down-in or Strokes Gained values are based upon the number of strokes it takes for the average Tour player to hole out. In ShotByShot.com, our Strokes Gained model is based upon the performance of the Scratch (zero handicap) golfer. The two performance models are not all that different. For example, the Tour’s 50% make distance, or 1.50 Strokes Gained for putting, is 8 feet. The ShotByShot value at 8 feet is 1.56 or 44% 1-Putt.

Why all this talk of Strokes Gained values? We all had to be impressed with DJ’s dramatic, 43-foot downhill, side-winder on the 18th hole to force a playoff in the BMW. But then Jon Rahm burst DJ’s balloon with an even more difficult 66-foot birdie on the first hole of the playoff.

More than that, Rahm made FOUR birdies on the final back-9 to take a one stroke lead. I thought it would be interesting to share the relative odds of Rahm making the FIVE birdie putts (the 5th in the playoff) that he needed to pull off a stunning win. Please bear in mind that the percentages below reflect our ShotByShot Strokes Gained model. The Tour’s percentages would display slightly higher 1-Putt percentages, but you’ll get my point.

Even more impressive about his winning 66-foot putt is that Jon’s odds of making it were less than 1%, while the odds were more than 32 times as great that he would 3-Putt. Pile on the circumstances and the extreme difficulty of the speed and break, it borders on MIRACLE status. I am sure that we will see it many, many times over the years and because of the situation possibly even more often than Tiger’s “better than most” bomb on the 17th island green at the TPC.

Was TPC Boston really as easy as DJ made it look?

Having had the good fortune to play TPC Boston on two occasions, I remember it as a very stout test. That said, from the vantage point of my living room couch, the rough looked far from punishing and the fescue rather tame (most likely due to lack of rain). My impressions are supported by its #31 ranking of 39 of the Toughest Courses played in the 2020 season. Coincidently, Dustin recently beat up on #30 in his win at TPC River Highlands. Courses for horses?

But minus 30 easy? The 2nd lowest score in PGA Tour history? Ernie Els beat him by ONE (-31) in the 2003 Mercedes Championship at The Plantation Course at Kapalua. Incidentally, the 54th Toughest Course of the 56 played that year. Ernie’s 8 shot margin pales in comparison to DJ’s 11 shot victory.

Suffice it to say, DJ’s performance was truly remarkable. Worth noting are the areas of his game that stood out the most. For this, I compared DJ to a. The FIELD at this tournament, and b. the average of all of WINNERS thus far in the 2020 season. Represented by the colored arrows below.

Driving: DJ’s combination of distance (ranked 2nd in the FIELD), accuracy (29th) and avoidance of errors was outstanding. (Errors = drives hit out of play requiring recovery shots or penalty results). He had one minor error that led to one of only three bogeys. These blemishes were overwhelmed by five eagles and 23 birdies. Below, I compare DJ’s (yellow arrow) Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee, Fairway Hit and Driving Errors to the 2020 Winners (blue arrow) and the FIELD:

Approach Shots: His best skill of the week, and where he left the FIELD in his dust, was his Approach accuracy. Ranked #1 in all three categories – Strokes Gained Approach the Green, GIR’s and Proximity to the Hole – a rare hat trick! Consider that going into this event, DJ was ranked 80th on Tour in Strokes Gained Approach and #109 in GIR’s (12/round). I cannot remember seeing 16 GIR’s in over 30 years of studying the PGA Tour.

DJ’s frank explanation of his long game efficiency and accuracy was that he rediscovered his reliable cut. This is the dependable, slight fade that allows him to swing freely at EVERYTHING. If he can hang on to this through the Majors, watch out!

How does 55+5+4+3 = 1? Just ask Jim Herman!

Jim Herman was not the Strokes Gained best at ANYTHING in his win at the Wyndham Championship last weekend. BUT he was good enough at all of the things that mattered the most.

Let’s go through exactly what mattered:

  1. DRIVING – Strokes Gained Off the Tee: 1.069 (5th)

Distance: Jim is not a long hitter by any means. He averaged 289 yards (51st) vs. 303 yards for the FIELD.

Accuracy: Here is where Jim stood out. He was 4th, hitting 82% of the fairways (11.5/round) vs. only 64% (9/round) for the FIELD. The rough was clearly difficult and protected the course effectively against the bombers.

Errors: Driving errors (drives either hit out of play requiring recovery shots or resulting in penalties) are an important but rarely recognized component of accuracy on Tour. While the FIELD averaged a fairly typical .63 driving errors per round (2.5 in 4 rounds), Jim had NONE.

2. APPROACH ACCURACY – Strokes Gained Approach the Green: 1.47 (4th)

Jim hit the green with 90% of his fairway approach shots and 60% from the rough vs. 78% and 49% respectively for the FIELD. This led to 87.5% Greens in Regulation (1st) vs. 73% for the FIELD. All this with no mishaps (penalties).

3. PUTTING – Strokes Gained Putting: 1.56 (3rd)

The Donald Ross greens at Sedgefield Country Club were treacherous and 3-Putts were 31% more frequent than the 2019 Tour average (.67/round vs. .51/round in 2019 season). Jim was not immune and suffered three from 52, 51 & 24 feet. These stumbles were more than offset by his 1-Putt performance including TEN putts holed (over three times the FIELD average) in the 11 to 30 foot range and a bomb for eagle from 59 feet.

4. Short Game – Strokes Gained Around the Greens: -.187 (55th)

In spite of the negative Strokes Gained number, there were two good things about Jim’s short game performance. First, there were only 11 attempts. When you are #1 in GIR’s, you will not face many short game SAVE opportunities. Second, he made NO ERRORS. (I consider a short game error to be a shot that misses the green AND requires 4 or more strokes to hole out.) In a nutshell, Jim’s short game was inconsequential.

Jim Herman’s win is a nice tortoise and hare story. His game is not flashy but was extremely steady this week. In the last three years, Jim has missed twice the number of cuts than he has made (32 Cuts vs. 16 Cuts made). While anything but a household name in his 10th year on the PGA Tour, Jim has now won three times and made over $7,000,000. Well done!

Morikawa Putts for Dough

One thing that my studies of the PGA Tour and work with its players has taught me is that putting is a differentiator in terms of relative success. In particular, putts up to 10 feet – especially 6 to 10 feet – separate the good putters on Tour from the rest. Further, putts from 11 to 20 feet separate the winners on Tour. Why? Because the average “make %” falls off dramatically outside 10 feet and these longer distances tend to represent birdie opportunities.

In the graph below, I have compared Collin Morikawa’s 1-Putt success to that of the FIELD in the PGA Championship. Note:

A. 22 of 25 attempts up to 10 feet while the FIELD (if it had the same opportunities) would have been four stokes shy at 18 of 25.

B. 6 of 18 (33%) from 11 to 20 feet. The FIELD would have made only 4 of 18 (22%).

With this success offset by only one 3-Putt, it is no wonder that Collin was ranked #1 in Strokes Gained Putting.

The 70% Rule – Still Valid!

The 2020 PGA Championship was compelling and exciting. Harding Park defended itself admirably against the big bombers. The ultimate winner, Collin Morikawa, prevailed with surgical skill and accuracy. I was glad to see that ShotLink data and Strokes Gained Analysis was used and published, but disappointed that the raw ShotLink data, that I use to process my Shot By Shot analysis, was not available. As a result, I could clearly see each player’s Strokes Gained numbers and ranking but could not uncover the exact reasons WHY.

I decided to fall back on an article that I wrote in April 2010, a year before the PGA Tour launched Strokes Gained Putting (the Tour’s first toe in the Strokes Gained pool. I had been studying the winners on Tour for years and discovered a fairly simple “70% Rule” that most Tour winners had in common – that is at least 70% success in three critical stats:

Greens Hit in Regulation, Scrambling and 1-Putts 5 – 10 feet

I decided to see how the Top 3 finishers in the PGA Championship stood up to this simple test. As you can see in the chart below, only Collin Morikawa passed, exceeding 70% in all three areas. Dustin fell short in GIR’s and 1-Putts from 5 to 10 feet and Paul Casey similarly fell short in 1-Putts.

There are obviously other important stats and outcomes that contribute to the final scores and the two shots that separated Collin from Dustin and Paul. One could argue that Collin’s spectacular drive to reach the Par 4, 16th green leading to an eagle was the difference. It certainly appeared to result in the difference but then how does one account for all four rounds? For this major, I am satisfied that my 70% Rule is still valid.

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