Never Up, Never In!

My ears perked up when I heard Frank Nobilo’s comment about distance control during Saturday’s telecast of the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. One of the leaders had just left a longish lag putt close to – but short of – the hole. Frank said something like: The best putters more often than not leave their lag putts short and avoid running the ball 7 feet past the hole. Frank is a terrific analyst and I am confident that this was simply an attempt to compliment the player. Nonetheless, I tweeted that it is not true and promised to follow up on my statement.

In early 2016, GOLF Magazine asked me if I had any unique insight on Jordan Spieth’s phenomenal 2015 season. Spieth’s 2015 highlight reel included FIVE wins including two majors (Masters, US Open), as well as finishing 4th in The Open and 2nd in the PGA Championship.

And yes, in fact, I did have insight into Spieth’s secret sauce! For that magical year, Spieth was ranked #7 in Strokes Gained Putting (.571) behind #1 Aaron Baddeley (.722). But I had recently studied Jordan’s outstanding Distance Control in relation to Baddeley and the four previous #1 Strokes Gained putters: Graeme McDowell (2014), Greg Chalmers (2013), Brandt Snedeker (2012) and Luke Donald (2011). I found that Jordan’s putting and especially his distance control (putts from 20 feet and greater) was better than ALL of them. I contend that if his performances in the majors had been included in the ShotLink data, he would have ranked #1 in Strokes Gained Putting.

I break down Distance Control into four different skills. In the exhibits below, Jordan is represented by a YELLOW arrow, the five #1 Strokes Gained are in RED and the 2015 PGA Tour average in BLUE.

Average Start and Leave Distances

There is less that a foot difference in the average start distances, but Jordan is the only player to achieve an average leave for the entire season UNDER 2 feet.

% 1-Putts vs. 3-Putts

Bear in mind that this is all putts starting at 20 feet or greater, which on tour is 38% of first putts. Jordan’s 1-putt success from this distance was almost twice that of the tour average, 26% more than the #1’s AND with an impressive lack of 3-putts.

Successful Lags vs. Distance Control Errors

I consider a lag to be successful when it finishes within 7% of the start distance OR within 3 feet. I consider a lag to be an error if it does not finish within 10% of the start distance AND is outside 3 feet.

Putts Holed or Left Beyond the Hole – Never Up Never In!

Clearly, even the average Tour player gets the majority of lag putts to the hole. I submit that this highlights Jordan’s distance control skill and why his long range 1-Putt vs. 3-Putt numbers are so good.

How to break 100

The pandemic has driven lots of new golfers to the game.  Golf can be frustrating until one develops enough of a game to be able to enjoy it.  The first hurdle is reaching the point where keeping score even makes sense.  Next, we want to record increasingly better scores.  And the first scoring barrier is breaking 100.

In studying the game for 30+ years, I have learned that the #1 deterrent to scoring at every level is costly ERRORS.  I recently ran a study of 1,800 rounds from the ShotByShot.com database of male golfers that shot 100.  On average, their rounds contained slightly more than TEN errors, each of which cost at least a stroke.  The ShotByShot.com program categorizes these errors as follows:

Driving Errors: 

  1. No Shot – Ball hit out of play requiring an advancement or recovery shot to return to normal play.
  2. Penalty – Requires a penalty stroke and drop from the penalty area.
  3. Lost/OB – Stroke and distance penalty.  The ball must be replayed from the tee (playing 3rd shot).

Approach Shot Errors

  1. Penalty – Requires a penalty stroke and drop from the penalty area.
  2. The first approach attempt was missed so badly that it leaves a 2nd approach from 50+ yards of the hole.  (In Shotbyshot.com language we refer to this as a “Penalty/2nd”)

Chip/Pitch (shots within 50 yards of the hole, not in sand) or Sand (shots in sand within 50 yards of the hole) Errors:

  1. The shot misses the green, either chunked short or skulled long, AND requires four or more strokes to hole out from the original position.

Putting Errors: 

  1. 3-Putts from within 30 feet of the hole.
  2. Missed putt from within 3 feet of the hole.

The chart below shows the number of these errors in the average 100 score.  I submit that the quickest way to improve will be to track your errors for a few rounds to see how they compare to the chart.  I have included a mock scorecard to illustrate tracking the errors described above.

I promise that you will find one or two common errors more prevalent in your game than the averages.  Once identified, you can work with your instructor to reduce that number and see your scores drop. 

When you have conquered that error, you can tackle the next!

In the sample scorecard above, the player has twice the Driving errors as the average male 100 shooter.

More on Bryson’s Driving and his lofty Strokes Gained Ranking.

Just a week after I had praised Bryson’s Driving prowess in Distance AND Accuracy (20 yards farther with a miraculously lower than Tour Average ERRORS), he blows up and misses the cut at Jack’s Memorial.  The low point was scoring a TEN on the 15th hole in his 2nd, and final, round.

I was intrigued because double digits are true rare occurrences on Tour and because it was the mercurial golf scientist.  It is the worst I have seen since Kevin Na recorded a 16 in the 2011 Valero Texas Open.  (You can YouTube the good-natured Kevin detailing his difficulties to a film crew at the scene.)  I became obsessed with Bryson’s troubles when I noticed that the Tour stats allocated the huge, negative Strokes Gained (SG) number to the wrong facet – his Approach the Green game.

In a nutshell, here is what happened to Bryson on this potentially reachable par 5: 

  1. His Drive was pulled left, well into the trees and into a Penalty Area, 287 yards from the hole. 
  2. Penalty/Drop near the point of entry – fairly deep in the woods.
  3. He obviously tried to hit a big hook, with a wooden club, to ADVANCE the ball to where he could Approach the green.  The result was long, but too straight, across the fairway and OB (over a neighbor’s boundary fence).
  4. Penalty/Drop back at the point of entry
  5. An exact repeat of #3 above.  This time his ball ended up against the fence.  After some contentious debate his ball was indeed confirmed to be OB.
  6. Penalty/Drop back at the point of entry
  7. Same thing but this time more hook got him into the right rough with an Approach to the green.
  8. Approach shot successfully on the green 30 feet from the pin
  9. Putt to 4 feet
  10. Putt holed

   I have TWO issues with the Tour’s handling of this hole from a statistical standpoint:

  1. In both cases, they do NOT properly designate the results of shots #3 and #5 as Out of Bounds (OB).  Instead, they call it “Unknown”.  Fun Fact: There is no such thing as OB in the Tour’s healthy list of shot results.  The Tour rules official can clearly be heard confirming that the ball was OB. Why not simply call it what it IS?
  2. Each of the three advancement attempts were mis-categorized for Strokes Gained purposes as Approach the Green.  But they were clearly Advancement shots or “Recovery Shots”  which is part of the Tour’s Strokes Gained designations.  Did the on-course statistician simply make a mistake?  And the technicians in the truck also overlook it?  Or, was there a conscious decision made to protect the ranking of the young star’s marque skill?

WHO CARES?  I do, and Bryson and the Tour should too!  As a result, Bryson’s Driving (Off the Tee) SG for the event was a false +2.12 and he remains #1 in SG Driving on Tour.  In ShotByShot.com, all FIVE strokes lost on this hole would be allocated to his Driving facet.  (We consider Recovery shots following Driving errors to be part of the Driving facet.).  Additionally, Bryson made two more Driving errors @ Memorial that would have added at least another -2.0 SG.  This potentially negative SEVEN SG in only 2 rounds would have shocked his Driving numbers.

At the same time, Bryson’s Approach SG for the event was -3.12.  This dropped his Approach position for the year to date from 36 to 62. Not a big deal?

Morikawa’s Miracle

I have been studying the PGA Tour for 30+ years. I’m fascinated by the unique performance of the event winners on Tour – both what they tend to have in common and what stands out and occasionally breaks the mold. Collin Morikawa’s performance was one of the latter in his narrow victory this Sunday at the Workday Charity Open.

Collin had a disappointing 72 (even par) on Saturday to relinquish a 3 stroke lead over Justin Thomas and 5 strokes over Victor Hovland. Simply stated, he lost the feel and direction of his approach game in hitting only 9 of 18 greens/targets. His Approach Strokes Gained for the day was -1.54. Not a winning number, and I imagine that the pundits gave the youngster little chance of a bounce-back against the now grizzled veteran, 12-time winner, Justin Thomas.

BUT bounce back he did by magically transforming his approach game. In the 4th round Collin hit 12 of 13 greens from the fairway producing a phenomenal 5.87 Approach Strokes Gained. To be clear, this means that Collin beat the FIELD by almost SIX strokes in his approach game alone. Six strokes in a part of the game that consisted of only 18 shots, or gaining .33 strokes with each Approach shot. To lend some perspective, IF the FIELD had hit all the greens that Collin hit in his incredible 4th round AND to their average of 32 feet from the hole, Collin’s average putting distance would have been 21 feet closer on EVERY shot – 11 feet from the hole.

Collin’s 5.87 Strokes Gained is the highest single round # that I can remember seeing. The graph below displays his 3rd and 4th round approach accuracy vs. the field. Collin’s single missed approach shot was from very long range – 250-275 yards.

I can’t help but wonder: What turned his approach game around? Was it a serious talk with a coach or an epiphany on the range before tee off? Collin, if you see this let us know!

For a complete Strokes Gained analysis of your game, go to ShotByShot.com.

Note to Sir Nick: Does DeChambeau really need to improve his Wedge game?

I especially enjoyed the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic watching the battle of the two BIG Ballers.  As always, I was interested in Sir Nick’s commentary about the weakness in Mr. DeChambeau’s game – his wedges – and Sir Nick’s suggestion that he should invest in an equipment change to tighten up this weakness.

I was all in, not only as a big fan of Sir Nick and Jim Nance, but Bryson’s 6-iron length wedges have always looked very awkward to me.  On Monday after the tournament, I received several calls from instructor clients/friends asking if I could support Sir Nick’s analysis.  Never one to back down from a challenge I agreed to take a deep dive into the difference between Bryson’s game – and specifically changes from 2019 to so far in 2020. 

WEDGE PLAY:  4 or 5 years ago I had my genius programmer create a special query for me to demonstrate exactly how proficient Zach Johnson’s wedge game was and is.  It enables me to look at almost everything, but the two most important attributes I found are % Greens Hit and Average Down-in Score.

% GREENS HIT

You can see below that Bryson hit 78% of his targets in 2019 and improved to 86% this year.  In other words, he improved his missed greens from 1 in every 5 attempts to 1 every 7.  At an average of 3 of these shots per round, he misses less than 1 green every 2 rounds.

DOWN-IN SCORE

This is his average score for all attempts.  Think of each wedge opportunity as an easy Par 3.  Bryson improved his scoring average by .16 strokes.  If we do the math on his Down-In improvement, it is .16/shots, times 114 shots in 2020 = 18 Strokes saved this year.  In my studies of the value of a stroke on Tour, at Bryson’s current TOP-10 level, each stroke is worth $50-70,000.  Let’s call it $60,000 x 18.  It amounts to a cool MILLION in his Wedge play alone.  I tip my hat to him!

In my next post, I will discuss the dramatic change in Bryson’s Driving – is it all good or does distance have its perils?

What is the Golf SeeSaw and how does it apply to your game?

“What’s the most important stat in golf?” As a golf statistician, I’m asked this question more than almost any other. To answer it, I explain that there isn’t one – and if there were, I’d have no reason to be in business.  We are all snowflakes.  We have our own strengths and weaknesses and find our own special way to reach our number. That being said, the question is still an important one that deserves further study.

Research into my company’s (ShotbyShot.com) database of almost 400,000 golf rounds reveals that the game is an important balance of five different facets.  In my 30+ years of analyzing the game, I have yet to see a player that performed at the same handicap level across all five facets.  We are ALL balancing the number of good shots/good results against the frequency and severity of our errors.

I refer to this as Golf’s SeeSaw Effect.

SeeSaw graphic 060420

The secret to scoring at every level is much more than the ability to hit good shots. It’s also the skill to manage one’s game and limit the frequency and severity of bad shots or errors.

When I started my company 30+ years ago, I discovered that one of the major deficiencies in golf statistics was that they did not address the negatives in the game. Even today, the PGA Tour produces 650+ stats on each player and only ONE of them addresses a negative:  3-Putt Avoidance.  In fact, when I search the Tour’s ShotLink stats for “Penalty,” I get the surprising answer (in blue) below.

Screen Shot Tour defn Penalty

Could this be because penalties do not happen on Tour?  Believe me, they do!

The significant role that errors play in our games led me to make sure that I captured them in ShotByShot.com.  As you can see by the graphic above, the seesaw effect is that the more good shots/results on the left match up with the fewer errors on the right, the lower one’s handicap will be.

Good Shots/Results Defined

  • Greens Hit in Regulation (GIR’s).
  • Chip/Pitch shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole (Chip/Pitch = shots from within 50 yards of the hole).
  • Sand shots hit to within 8 feet of the hole (Sand = shots from sand within 50 yards of the hole).
  • 1-Putts from 4–20 feet and greater.

Errors Defined

  • Tee or Approach shots hit out of play (requiring an advancement, or resulting in a penalty).
  • Chip/Pitch shots that miss the green AND require 4 or more strokes to hole out.
  • Sand Shots that miss the green AND require 4 or more shots to hole out.
  • 3-Putts from 30 feet and closer.

The seesaw graphic above is telling us the following about the zero handicap golfer:

Good Shots/Results = 21 (on average per round & rounded to whole numbers)

  • GIR’s: 12
  • Chip/Pitch shots to 5 feet:  4
  • Sand shots to 8 feet:  1
  • 1-Putts from 4-10 feet:  4

Errors = 1 (on average per round & rounded to 1 decimal)

  • Tee & Appr. shots hit out of play or penalties:  0.9
  • Chip/Pitch shots : 0.1
  • Sand Shots: 0.1
  • 3-Putts from 30 feet or closer:  0.3

[Note: How can a golfer make a Chip/Pitch error 0.1 times per round? Easy. The zero handicap golfer will make one of these errors on average every 10 rounds.]

Record these simple stats on a separate scorecard for the next 3-5 rounds to see where you fall on Golf’s SeeSaw.  This exercise will reveal the true strengths and weaknesses of your game.

For a Complete Strokes Gained analysis of your game, login to
 www.shotbyshot.com

How Solid is Your Pre-Shot Routine and Why Do You Need One?

Weather is improving and now’s the time when most golfers are excited about a new season.  Unfortunately, we’ve been bounced back into a disturbing offseason mode.  The early tour events that fuel our enthusiasm and heighten our anticipation are GONE. No TPC Sawgrass! The MASTERS postponed indefinitely!  What’s next, our courses closing down?  Unfortunately, YES!

What can we be doing at home to help us come out on the other side of this unwelcome hiatus as better players?  Well, here’s something that I hear far too little about from fellow golfers as well as my client instructors – Developing a Solid Pre-Shot Routine.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a few days at the Kohler resort in the excellent company of Ian Baker-Finch.  It was a once in a lifetime experience to spend time on and off the course with a great player that happens to be an even nicer man.  One night at dinner Ian spoke about his British Open win and how he handled the tremendous pressure of the final back 9 with a slim lead.  He dealt with it by relying totally on his routine.  I remember vividly how he went into a mini trance recalling exactly what he did as he approached every shot, right down to the “…Ok set, one waggle and GO!” almost knocking over a glass of wine.  We should all learn from this and practice our routines whenever we practice – it’s that important.

What do I mean by Pre-Shot Routine?
There are two important processes we should go through before hitting the ball – Planning and Execution. First, plan the shot.  Start by selecting the right club and shot to make it happen. This can involve discussion with a caddie and/or a playing partner.  Please do as much of this as possible before it is officially your turn. These decisions made, stand behind the ball, look at your target and visualize the desired shot and outcome.  Finally, move into address position, and promptly execute the shot.  This is where the cameras are rolling.  Think of that step forward into the address position as entering an Isolation Bubble.  Once in the bubble, no second thoughts or doubts or distractions should be allowed to intrude.  To be clear, this is the part that I consider to be the critical Pre-shot routine.

Over the years I have put a stopwatch on the winners of majors as they face the ultimate pressure of the final back 9.  When I put Tiger on the clock in the 2007 PGA, his time in the Bubble  was a speedy 10 seconds.  Phil’s routine was slightly longer – 17 seconds down the stretch in his last Masters win.  Lucas Glover won the US Open with a 16 second routine.  I timed Patrick Reed’s putting routine in his 2018 Masters win and wrote about it in GolfWRX:  A routine to copy:  Patrick Reed’s 9-second putting routine at The Masters.  My point is that the best in the world work long and hard to develop their protective routines in their bubbles.  At the same time, the importance of a solid, pre-shot routine seems to be lost on most amateur golfers.

How can you use this?

  • Develop your own pre-shot routine and divide it into the two segments discussed above: Planning and Execution.
  • Have a friend time you in the “bubble” – the moment you step forward and begin to address the ball until your club makes contact with the ball. If you’re in it longer than 20 seconds you are not only wasting time, you are leaving too much of an opening for doubt and confusion to seep in.
  • I see many amateurs that take two and three practice swings before every shot.  There should be a legal limit of ONE.
  • Discipline yourself to utilize your pre-shot routine whenever you practice. Make it an automatic part of each shot and the same every time both on the course and in the practice area.  A solid routine is the best defense against the pressure of competition.

For a Complete Analysis of Your Game, log on to: www.ShotByShot.com

How Important are Fairways?

One of my college coaches asked me to provide perspective for his players on the importance of hitting fairways.  I love when my clients do that – it’s a compliment!  In this age of “bomb and gouge” players tend to focus on distance at all costs – and there are costs.  To help quantify this I ran a query on the 2019 PGA Tour ShotLink data – 14,090 rounds to be exact – quite a solid sample.  I looked into how players score from the fairway vs. rough as well as relative accuracy from various distances from each.  To be clear, I isolated only primary rough locations labeled by the Tour as “Rough.” 

Score

The cost or scoring difference between hitting the fairway vs. rough is .275 strokes:

      • Results from the fairway = -.180 (under par)
      • Results from the rough = +.095 (over par)

This means that a golfer who misses half the fairways (7) in a given round loses just under 2 shots to par – not counting Penalty or No Shot driving results that we consider to be errors.

Accuracy

The effect on accuracy is even more dramatic than that on score.  Bottom line, in order to be as accurate from the rough as from the fairway at 151 to 175 yards, a Tour player must be as much as 75 yards closer to the target.    

Tour.Appr fwy v rgh

Accuracy from 151 to 175 yards:  

      • Hit Green from Fairway: 72%; Hit Green from Rough: 47%
      • Average Proximity to Hole from Fairway: 23 feet; from Rough: 29 feet

To attain the same the fairway accuracy cited above from the rough, we need to get to the 76 to 100-yard range:

      • Hit Green from Rough: 71%
      • Average Proximity to Hole: 20 feet

Midpoint to midpoint of these ranges is 75 yards.

One might ask, how does this relate to amateur golfers?  For the answer to this I looked into our ShotByShot.com database and was not totally surprised that the answer is not so much.  Why?  Because amateurs are not nearly as accurate from any position – and certainly not from greater distances.  Thus, accuracy can only fall off so much with shots from the rough.  [See chart below: the average 15-19 Handicap golfer hits the same percentage of greens from the rough by only moving 25 yards closer to the hole.  I use the 151-175 yard range as it represents the greatest number of Approach opportunities at virtually every handicap level for golfers playing the correct tees for their skill level.

15-19 Fwy v Rough

Bottom line, our analysis reveals that as one moves up the handicap ranges, they need to focus far more on avoiding errors off the tee than simply hitting fairways.  

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

What really separates your BEST and WORST rounds?

Do you wonder what changes the most when you’re playing your best vs. the rounds you’d like to forget?  I’ve been providing this perspective to pro tour players for years, but golfers at every level can benefit from this information.  The good news is that it’s readily available on ShotByShot.com.  Here are the steps to running what I call a BEST vs. WORST analysis, or specifically the Best vs. Worst of your most recent 20 rounds.

Under Analyze, use the Filter Rounds tab:

1.  Run an analysis of the Most Recent 20 rounds.  It can be more or less rounds and can also be further filtered by type and format (e.g., Tournament, Stroke play… and even by Course).

2.  From the Rounds/Scoring page of the analysis, record:

    a.  Average score

   b.  Date of the oldest round analyzed (this will be the anchor date for your BEST and WORST analysis).

3.  BEST – Select:  Score Less than or Equal to:   The average score (2. a. above) AND anchor the analysis on the Start Date (2. b. above).  This will produce the BEST analysis.  If it is not exactly 10 rounds (or half of whatever # of rounds you’re using), simply adjust the score selected up or down by 1.  Record the Strokes Gained for each facet as I have done in the chart below.

4.  WORST – Select:  Score Greater than or Equal to:  One stroke above the score used in the BEST analysis above.  Again, anchor the analysis with the Start Date.  Record the Strokes Gained for each facet as I have done in the chart below.

5.  Calculate the difference between the Strokes Gained for each facet to determine the greatest differences.  You can then re-run the analysis to determine exactly what is causing the differences.

Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 3.07.42 PM.png

The case above is an actual study that I did for a player.  Putting came as a surprise as it had long been one of his strengths.  When we looked closer, we found a fairly dramatic drop in his 1-Putt success in the critical ranges 4 to 10 feet while at the same time his 3-Putts nearly doubled. Clearly good to know, and the information he needed to see where there was work to be done!

Putting: Two important but different skills

Putting is 40% of the game at virtually every handicap level.  The higher the scoring level, the more putts are needed but the ratio of # Putts/Score holds steady – that is, up until the 20+ handicaps.  At this level the pickup holes with no putts recorded slightly lower the percentage.

So what are the two skills?

1.  Short putts:  Line and accuracy are crucial inside 10 feet.  Practicing a solid setup and alignment routine will help ensure consistent accuracy.

2.  Distance control:  In longer, lag putts, the most important skill to develop is feel because distance is more important than line.

How much to practice each skill

A study of putting distances faced by the average golfer (15-19 handicap) reveals that practice time should be split 80% short putts 20% distance control.  That’s because 83% of total putts during an average round occur inside 10 feet (this is all putts:  1st, 2nd and 3rd …).  When looking at just first-putt opportunities outside 10 feet, 88% fall between 11 and 40 feet; only 12% at 41+ feet.  

To practice your distance control, I recommend spending time gaining confidence in your 30-foot lag.  You can then make all other lag putts a function of that stroke.  It is very important when playing away from home to set up 30 foot tees and putt back and forth (I use two balls) until that distance becomes almost automatic.  When you hit the first green, you will be ready to stroke the first putt with confidence.

Work with your instructor on the specific practice drills for each skill, but your goals should be:

Short putts:  Increase your 50% Make distance – the distance from which you hole 50% of your putts.  See where you are on the graph below.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

Distance control:  Work to expand your 2.00 Putt distance – the distance from which you two-Putt the vast majority, but one and three-putt with the same frequency on the rest.  Again, see where you fit on the graph below and work to extend your 2.00 distance.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

You will need a way of accurately recording and analyzing your putting distances.  I recommend ShotByShot.com.  Self-serving?  Perhaps, but it’s the only place I know where you can easily and accurately get the information you need to determine your exact strengths and weaknesses, and why.  

Determining your putting distances? I recommend that you build this into your pre-shot, putting routine.  When you reach the green, you need to mark your ball and walk to the flag.  Simply count your steps.  For the longer putts, get to the midpoint – check the break – and count your steps back to your ball.  Then double the number.  Finally, know the distance of your average stride – heel to heel.  I am 6’ 1” and my average, walking stride is 28 inches.  I have to stride out a bit to average 3 feet, something that I actually practiced in my living room until it became automatic.

For a complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, go to http://www.ShotByShot.com


Follow us on Social Media!

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑