Mr. 18 to Mr. 9: Driving

Skill in this critical facet of the game is measured by distance and accuracy. But let’s take distance out of the equation by assuming we’re all playing the correct tees for our games and focus on ACCURACY.

As the chart in my first post indicates, we are looking for 2.5 strokes on, what for a typical golf course, is 14 driving holes. The chart below shows results in the average round for Mr. 18 and Mr. 9. Note that Mr. 18 makes two Driving Errors* per round while Mr. 9 just over one. Weed out these costly errors and you can be more than half way home, especially if they are Penalty Errors** that tend to carry a cost of between 1.3 strokes (penalty with drop) and two-plus strokes (stroke and distance). This may be easier said than done, but sometimes the fix is as simple as target and club selection from the tee. Sure, it works to aim away from trouble but try also choosing a club that cannot reach the trouble. Most holes that feature trouble off the tee will also be stroke holes, even for Mr. 9. Avoid the error and take double-bogey out of play. This is also a valuable strategy for match play situations.

Next, strive to hit at least one more fairway. the approach accuracy charts in my next post will illustrate how many more greens are hit from the fairway vs. the rough.

*No Shot Driving Errors = Balls hit out of play that require an advancement shot to return to normal play.

**Penalty Errors = a. Stroke with a drop, or b. Stroke and distance

A road map for an 18 handicap to get down to a 9

You might ask: How do I know the differences between these handicap levels? Well, it is my full-time job to know about the numbers behind the game of golf—at all levels. I have been a student of the game from a statistical standpoint for 30-plus years. I created the strokes gained analysis website, ShotByShot.com, used by thousands of amateur golfers to improve by isolating the strengths and weaknesses of their games. Additionally, I work with PGA Tour players to extract clear answers from the Tour’s overwhelming 650-plus ShotLink stats.

I’ve learned that there is no such thing as an “average” game, no matter the handicap level. We’re all snowflakes and find our own unique way to shoot our number. With that said, ShotByShot.com’s 450,000-plus round database enables us to create a composite of the average golfer at each level. One of the beauties is that our data is robust and smooth across all five major facets so that any golfer’s strengths and weaknesses—and we all have them—stand out clearly by comparison.

The Data We Used 

  • 18 Handicap: I averaged the 5,000 rounds in our database that match the 18 Differential from Slope Adjusted Course Rating. In other words, the Best eight of 20 rounds when Mr. 18 actually played to an 18 handicap.
  • 9 Handicap: Similarly, his Best eight out of 20 using the 5,000 applicable rounds in our database.

As you might guess, the scoring difference between these two handicap levels is nine strokes. So, if your snowflake matches or is close to Mr. 18’s, simply work to drop the shots below by facet and voila you are there.

The chart below shows the distribution of the strokes by facet that Mr. 18 needs to save to join Mr. 9. In the coming days, I will post five short articles – each describing the most important areas for improvement in each of the five major facets: Driving, Approach shots, Chip/Pitch, Sand shots and Putting. Next post Mr. 18 => 9: Driving.

Welcome to Concession! Bet you can’t break…?

Years ago, I was lucky enough to join a special golf club that had a well-earned reputation as the most difficult test in our area. Golf soon became my passion and I was pleased to invite friends and clients to experience the course that I loved. Before their 1st round, I would offer my guests a standard wager. I would have them choose a score 5 to 10 shots above their conceivable scoring max. I would bet $10 that they could not break that lofty number. For the extra cocky, I would also bet that they could not avoid at least one double bogey. How difficult is my course? In 30+ years, I have NEVER LOST either of those wagers.

Just imagine how Concession members could cash in on a wager like this! Not to mention the number of lost balls or sleeves of balls. I couldn’t help but think of the time it might take a foursome of average golfers to finish. Including out of bounds and/or balls hit out of play, Concession appeared to be just about the most challenging driving course EVER. The breaks in the healthy vegetation featured problematic water off the tee on NINE holes.

To bolster my point, I dug into exactly how the 71 top Tour players handled Concession. I had my genius program extract two important stats from the ShotLink data that do not appear in the Tour’s stats:

  1. Driving Errors: Penalty results this week were more than twice the Tour’s 2020 season average. .40/round vs. .19/round for the 2020 season. This means that on average the best 71 players on Tour had 1.6 drives result in a penalty* situation during their 4 rounds at Concession while the entire field of the 2020 Tour would have had only .8 such driving errors every four rounds. *Penalty = OB, Lost or Penalty area requiring 1 stroke penalty and drop.
  2. Short Game Errors**: These were also twice the Tour’s 2020 season average. 4.2% of shot attempts resulted in errors vs. 2.1% for the 2020 season. Below are the main Around the Green (Short Game Tour stats). NOTHING about these stats would lead me to believe that the FIELD had any such dramatic problems around the greens. If you watched, as I did, you understand my point.

**Short Game Error = Shot attempts from within 50 yards of the hole (Chip/Pitch or Sand). The shot MISSES the green AND requires 4 or more TOTAL strokes to hole out.

Stat Trivia: Which PGA Tour Player WON with Negative Strokes Gained Putting?

The answer is Rory McIlroy.  He won the 2012 BMW Championship with a -.272 Strokes Gained Putting.  It was the first leg of the playoffs, so a limited field of 72 players.  But hey, this was the best 72 players for the year-to-date AND no CUT.  To be honest, there might have been another negative winner that snuck past me, but I seriously doubt it.  Please be sure to let me know (nicely) if you discover that I am wrong.

As we know, putting is key. In fact, it is approximately 40% of the game at every skill and scoring level (see chart below).  Strokes Gained Putting was introduced on Tour in 1994.  Since then, more often than not, Tour winners are highly ranked in this important facet – often #1 in the FIELD but usually in the TOP-10.  As a statistician, I was shocked when I saw Rory’s negative Strokes Gained WIN.  So, I filed it away.

How bad was Rory’s putting?  

Rory won by two strokes over Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.  His putting was ranked #45 @ -.272, giving up just over one stroke to the FIELD for the event.  Most costly, Rory had TWO 3-Putts from 20 and 35 feet. These are reasonably close ranges by Tour standards. For Strokes Gained purposes, 35 feet is the Tour’s 2-Putt distance so that 3-Jack cost him one stroke while the 20 footer about 1.13 strokes.

How did he overcome his putting shortfall?

Simple, he was dominant against the FIELD in every other aspect of the game. Rory was ranked #1, or +2.58 in Approach the Green and #4, or +1.07 Off the Tee.  Most importantly, Rory was ranked #1, +3.81 in Tee to Green (this measures everything except Putting). To top it off, Rory chipped in TWICE.  Those two strokes of genius alone offset his two measly 3-Putts.  Well done, Rory!

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of Your Game, go towww.ShotByShot.com

The Dreaded 4-Putt!

Isn’t that the way all golfers think about it?  I certainly do – and so must the eight players at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am who suffered 4-Putts.  None more-so than Nate Lashley who left the 16th green on Sunday after a 4-Putt for triple-bogey.  This dropped him from the lead to three strokes behind with only two holes left to recover.  Devastating I’m sure!  Not to pile on, but there are a few things that set Nate’s 4-Putt apart from the other seven at Pebble Beach:

  1. His was the only 4-Putt in the final round.
  2. His 13-footer 1st putt was the closest to the hole.  There were two from 15 feet, two from 30 feet and the other three from 42, 47 and 53 feet.
  3. 13 feet was also the 3rd closest starting distance of the 54, 4-Putts recorded in the 2021 PGA Tour season so far.  The closest was a painful 4 feet and 2nd place 12 feet.
  4. His was the only 4-Putt by a player in the lead.

Just how rare, or frequent, are these embarrassing 4-Putts?  My focus group of ONE, has always considered the 4-Putt to be a relative rarity.  I only tend to play in a couple of Stroke Play events each year and throw in a few Stroke play qualifying rounds.  The remainder of my 70 to 90 rounds per season are all match play where the unfortunate 3rd putt is almost always conceded and picked up.  In short, I expect ONE 4-Putt max each season and am usually relieved when I can get it out of the way early and blame it on “winter rust.”

I have studied putting and distance control on the PGA Tour for many years and know fully well that 4-Putts are by no means that rare among the best in the world.  To update my conclusion, I looked at the 14 events of the Tour’s 2021 season including last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  Here is what I found:

# ShotLink Rounds:  4,906

  • 4-Putts:  51
  • 5-Putts:   2
  • 6-Putts:   1 (and it was from 4 feet!!)
  • The average start distance of all 54 putts was 43.8 ft.  The complete array of starting distances is in the chart below.

This amounts to a DREADED putting result once in every 91 PGA Tour rounds.  In other words, just about every full-time Tour player has ONE each season.

Other points of interest:

The course matters

  • Winged Foot (home of the 2020 US Open) had the most with TEN 4-Putts and ONE 6-Putt (again, from 4 feet. OUCH!).
  • Torrey Pines (South) was 2nd with nine 4-Putts.
  • Pebble Beach was 3rd with eight 4-Putts.
  • Five courses had ONE
  • None of the 14 courses had ZERO 4-Putts.

How do amateurs match up?

To answer this, I had my genius friend & programmer run a quick query on 2020 ShotByShot year.  I expected the frequency to be similar to the Tour’s, if not lower, due to the vast majority of rounds being match play – again, the 3rd putt is generally conceded or picked up.  I also believed that as the player handicaps go UP, so will the instance of Stroke Play rounds dramatically diminish.  Not true!

ShotByShot subscribers recorded 53,309 rounds and incurred a 4-Putts or worse once in every 19 rounds.  That is 4.7 times the frequency of the PGA Tour.  My only conclusion is that not only are ShotByShot subscribers extremely loyal, they are also much MORE HONEST than the palookas that keep beating up on me every week.

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, go to wwwShotByShot.com.

A Modern Blueprint for BREAKING 90

Want to break 90?  Here is my blueprint

The game is a puzzle and all the pieces fit together. Each round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots or errors. The challenge is to find the piece of your game’s unique puzzle that is your greatest weakness so you can target your improvement time and money on the highest impact area. If you track the simple good and bad outcomes listed below for a few rounds, your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.

Tee Game or Driving

Goals:  Hit 7 fairways, and limit your driving errors to 2– preferably of the No Shot variety (see Errors below).

Distance:  I will ignore this and assume that you are playing from the appropriate tees for your game.

Fairways:  Hitting fairways is important as we are all more accurate from the short grass.

Errors:  Far more important than Fairways hit is your FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. ShotByShot.com users record THREE types of Driving Errors:

  1. No Shot:  You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot, requiring some sort of advancement to get the ball back to normal play.
  2. Penalty:  A 1-stroke penalty due to hazard or unplayable lie.
  3. Lost/OB:  Stroke and distance penalty.

Approach Shots

Goals:  5 GIRs and 1 Penalty/2nd (see below)

Penalty/2nd:  This means either a penalty or a shot hit so poorly that you are left with yet another full approach shot greater than 50 yards from the hole.

Short Game

(Shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Chip/Pitch: If you miss 13 greens, you will have at least 10 greenside save opportunities. Your goals should be:

  • % Saved:  20% (two saves)
  • % Errors:  15% shots that miss the green (approximately three every two rounds)

Sand:

You should have 2 greenside save opportunities.  Your goals:

  • % Saved:  10%
  • % Errors:  30% of your shots miss the green (approximately 1 in every 3 attempts)

Putting

You need 36 putts.  Aim for:

  • 1-Putts:  3
  • 3-Putts:  2

Good luck and please let me know when you are successful!

For a complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to:  shotbyshot.com.

FOUR outstanding aspects of Si Woo Kim’s game. Which was the most impressive?

You had to be impressed with young Si Woo Kim this weekend at the American Express tournament at PGA West.  To see him step up to shoot 64 (-8) in the final round to win by one on the water-EVERYWHERE Stadium course?  Here is my list of four noteworthy features of his game – in MY reverse order of impact:

His Finish

He closed with birdies on 16 and 17 and a solid par on the difficult 18th hole.  With water looming down the entire left side and very much in play on both the drive and approach shot, Si Woo hit a 263-yard drive in the fairway.  From 175 yards, he hit his approach shot safely to 20 feet right of the pin for a stress free 2-Putt par.  Given the circumstances, very impressive!

His Scoring Profile

One Eagle, 23 Birdies and ONLY 2 bogeys!

Si Woo Crushed MY 70% Rule

Shortly before the PGA Tour implemented Strokes Gained analysis in 2010, I published an article describing the THREE constants that I’d noted in the PGA Tour winners.  These were 70% or higher in each of these basic, but important “Old School” stats:

  • Greens-in-Regulation (GIR’s).
  • Scrambling – Scoring Par or better when the GIR was missed.
  • 1-Putts from 5 to 10 feet.

[For more on the 70% Rule, see https://shotbyshot.blog/2020/08/10/the-70-rule-still-valid/]

As you can see in chart below, Si Woo Kim dominated the field:

(We are giving Si Woo the benefit of ONE percentage point below 70% in his putting considering how he blew past the other two goals.)

ZERO Errors

The two most prevalent and consequential errors in the AMEX were Driving and Approach shots:

  • Driving Errors:  There are three types:
  • No Shot:  Drives hit out of play requiring an advancement shot to return to normal play.
  • Penalty-1:  Drives into a Penalty area or unplayable lie requiring a penalty drop.
  • LOST/OB:  Out of bounds or lost ball

The Stadium course had water very much in play for the drive on SIX holes.  Accordingly, penalty driving results were 26% more frequent for the AMEX field than the 2020 Tour Average.  Again, SI Woo had NONE.

  • Approach Shot Errors:  This is simply an Approach hit into a Penalty area.  The Stadium course offered NINE greens very well protected by water.  Here the AMEX field fell prey to the water with 2.6 times the frequency of the 2020 Tour average.  In other words, in a field this size and only 3 rounds, the 2020 Tour average would see 63 Approach penalties.  The AMEX field suffered 166 approach penalties – more than one for every player in the field.  Si Woo managed his 3 rounds with an impressive NONE.

Given the course and the relative performance of his peers, I view Si Woo’s complete avoidance of errors to be the more impressive of his very impressive accomplishments. What do you think?  

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: www.ShotByShot.com

The part of DJ’s game every golfer can clone. Seriously.

While the vast majority of Dustin Johnson’s game is completely out of reach for all of us, his focus on and attention to his pre-shot routine isn’t. Further, in my opinion, this was an important part of his 2020 Masters success.

I was not finding anything insightful to write about after my favorite event of the season. Heck, there is no Tour ShotLink Strokes Gained data to study (never is) and basically very little DRAMA! There was a hint of excitement as DJ entered Amen Corner with a slim 1-stroke lead. Solid pars on 11 and 12 launched him into birdies on 13, 14 and 15 for a comfortable five-shot lead. His last bit of worry might have been the often round-wrecking, Par-3 12th. We all remember Jordan Spieth’s painful, wet 7 that spoiled his week or Fred Couples’ ball clinging to the bank in his win. But DJ calmly striped an 8-iron into the middle of the green. Dottie Pepper seemed more nervous than DJ about that shot.

So I decided to take a look at DJ’s pre-shot routine. I became keenly interested in this often overlooked part of the game when I had the great thrill of spending a few days in Kohler, WI with Ian Baker-Finch. During one of our lively dinners, Ian explained in great detail that his strict adherence to a pre-shot routine carried him thru his tense final 9 holes to victory in the British Open. I was mesmerized by Ian’s description of how he visualized the shot from behind the ball and then stepped forward focusing only on the positive steps of setup and alignment, made a single waggle, and whoosh! Every routine exactly the same – no room for doubt or second-guessing.

Since then, I have written at least six articles about how a solid pre-shot routine is the key to consistency in golf and the best insulation against the chill of competition. I measure the pre-shot routine from the time the player steps forward to address the ball until the actual strike. I generally focus on full swings as shots requiring touch – short game and putting – tend to take longer. I put my stop watch on Phil Mickelson in his 2004 Masters win: 15 – 17 seconds; Tiger’s 2007 PGA Championship win: 9 – 11 seconds; Lucas Glover’s 2009 US Open win: 16 seconds.

DJ’s routine last weekend was efficient – more in the Tiger range or even faster as most of his full shots were less than 8.5 seconds. The sequence of his entire routine is interesting:

  • DJ starts with two full swing rehearsals behind the ball, sometimes three.
  • After a fairly short pause to visualize the shot, he steps forward to address the ball.
  • Next he places the club behind the ball, sets his feet and posture, then makes a brief weight shift to center himself.
  • He then raises the club slightly and taps it back down behind the ball – usually twice, but sometimes three taps. Then go!

I clocked most of DJ’s full shots thru 16. Interestingly, he was consistently in the 7 to 8 second range. On the difficult 12th, described above, he was exactly 8 seconds. On the Par 5 15th, he pulled his drive left forcing a lay-up from behind the trees. There was a definite pause in his routine over that tee shot to 11 seconds. Perhaps a shade of doubt penetrated his otherwise unflappable focus?

For a Complete Strokes Gained analysis of your game, go to http://www.ShotByShot.com. Take advantage of our End of Season Special. Get 18 months for the price of 12 months!

How much rust will Tiger have to shed to compete at the Masters?

Isn’t it strange to think that Tiger, the defending Masters Champion, goes into this year’s event having played in only two events in this short, seven event, 2021 season? And clearly his performance in those two events was not at all the Tiger we know and adore:

  • US Open – Missed CUT
  • ZO ZO Championship – Tied 72nd in a limited, 76-player field.

Given this brief but disappointing record, what can we expect from the defending Masters Champ? Let’s compare Tiger’s ZO ZO performance to the TOP-3 finishers – all three of whom will be playing against him in Augusta.

  1. Patrick Cantlay – Won the ZO ZO by one stroke over:
  2. Justin Thomas – Tied for 2nd
  3. Jon Rahm – Tied for 2nd

One could argue that Tiger had nearly as much of a home course advantage at Sherwood CC as he does at the Masters. He has played in 12 events at Sherwood vs. approximately 25 Masters. Coincidentally, Tiger has won FIVE times at both. By comparison, Messers Thomas and Rahm are fledglings on the Sherwood links.

[Since I am talking about RUST, I decided that it was only fair to omit Tiger’s first round 76 from my analysis as it was clearly part of shaking off a good part of his rust.]

As you can see from the Strokes Gained recap below, Tiger gave up 3.8 strokes per round to the TOP-3 (2.5 Tee to Green and 1.3 Putting). His biggest challenge will be in his Tee to Green game – predominantly Driving and Approach accuracy. While the driving may be more forgiving at Augusta, approach accuracy is very demanding. Tiger’s approach accuracy has long been one of his strengths.

Clearly Tiger has a steep hill to climb in Augusta but let’s bear a few factors in mind:

  1. Augusta really is his HOME field. The course, and his extraordinary experience on it, have to provide a tremendous advantage.
  2. Who thought that he could win in 2019?
  3. IT’s TIGER!

I, for one, will be rooting for him like never before.

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.

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