Thursday, October 8, 2015

Strokes Gained Putting - Why is Jordan Spieth NOT #1?

How many times have we heard the TV announcer proclaim that Jordan is the best putter in the game?  Jordan is a GREAT putter, ranked #8 for the year in Strokes Gained and is clearly a PHENOMENAL clutch putter.  For the record, I believe Jordan is the best putter in the game and that he would be appropriately ranked #1 if the Majors were included in the ShotLink stats.  

[It is often overlooked that ShotLink stats are not captured for non-PGA Tour events, notably the Masters, US Open and British Open.  If Jordan's putting performance in these Majors were included, it would add 12 rounds (18%) of superior putting to the his 67 ShotLink rounds for 2015.  In case anyone forgot, Jordan's finishes in the three missing majors were:  Masters - #1, US Open - #1, British Open - #2.]

All that said, using the stats at my disposal:  Why is he not #1?  The simple answer turns out to be consistency.  When compared to the #1's that I have studied over the last four years, Jordan's WORST putting events (those with negative Strokes Gained totals) are slightly more frequent than these other players' (@ 5 of 20 (25%), but more importantly, his are more negative.  Jordan's five negative Strokes Gained events averaged -.99/round while the four most recent Strokes Gained #1's averaged only -.44/round on their negative Strokes Gained events.

The follow-up question is:  What changes about Jordan's putting to produce these negative SG events?   To answer this, I ran my BEST vs. WORST analysis on Jordan's 2015 ShotLink rounds.  [The BEST being the 15 events where Jordan recorded positive SG totals, and the WORST - the five events with negative SG totals.] 

The answer?  It is NOT an uncharacteristic flood of 3-Putts.  In fact, Jordan's 3-Putt numbers are good across the board and slightly better in his WORST putting events.  Jordan ranked 37th in 3-Putt Avoidance - only 3-Putting 2.4% of holes played.  The Tour average is 3.15%, and Aaron Baddeley (#1 Strokes Gained 2015) ranked 22nd @ 2.25.  Further, one of Jordan's strengths is his impressive distance control - but that is a topic for another day.    

The major difference was logically a drop off in 1-Putts almost across the board but specifically in the always critical 6 - 10 foot range.  As you can see from the chart above, this important range involves more 1st Putt opportunities than any other range - just under one in every four.  In his WORST putting events, Jordan fell significantly below his BEST performance AND the PGA Tour average in this range.  Not just coincidently, Jordan missed only four cuts this year.  Three of the four were also included in the WORST putting events.

Congratulations on a spectacular year, Jordan!  Tighten up that 6 - 10 foot range a bit and I look forward to studying you as the #1 ranked putter next year.     

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Best vs. Worst Analysis on

Some of our users have had a difficult time finding our Filtering Options located below the Pick Specific Rounds screen on our Analyze tab.  Sorry, we are correcting this.  The Filtering features are robust, and can be used together to produce interesting analysis.  I promised one of our new Group Leader instructors that I would share exactly how I run a BEST vs. WORST analysis. I thought that this was something that everyone should see.  I have been doing these studies for years for the Tour players with whom I work, but every player can  benefit from seeing exactly what changes the most from when they are at their best, playing to their handicap level, versus the OTHER rounds.
Use the Filter Rounds:
1.  Run an analysis on 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:  Average Score and Date of the oldest round analyzed (this  will be the anchor for the BEST and WORST analysis).
3.  BEST - Select:  Score Less then or Equal to:  The average score.  Also, anchor the analysis on the Start Date of the oldest round recorded in #2 above.  This will produce the BEST analysis.  If it is not exactly 10 or half, you may have to adjust the Score selected up or down by 1.
4.  Review the BEST analysis and record the numbers listed in the example above.
5.  WORST - select:  Score Greater than or Equal to:  One stroke above the score used in the BEST analysis above and anchor the start date of the analysis.  Record the appropriate numbers listed in the example above and compute the differences.
The greatest negative difference will be the part of the game that changes the most and is costing the player the most strokes on average when NOT at their BEST.  The case above is an actual study that I did for a mini Tour player.  It was somewhat of a surprise that Putting was the main culprit as it has long been one of his strengths.  When we looked deeper, it was clear as to why.  First, his % 1-Putts in the always critical range of 6-10 ft. dropped from 56% (50% is the PGA Tour Avg.) down to 37%.  This is a significant drop off.  Second, his 3-Putts jumped from a tidy 2% (PGA Tour Avg. is 3%) to 5%.  Clearly, good to know!     

Friday, August 21, 2015

Short Game: When is a missed green NOT an ERROR?

Shot By Shot was the first statistical program to recognize the importance of errors in the short game and enable our users to record them 25 years ago.  When we launched a simplified, web version of the program in 2005, we had users record when their short game shots were successful (hit the green) or missed the green (errors).  The subsequent putting distance recorded revealed the exact level of success but we did not know the exact extent of the mistake.    The percentage of misses (or errors) has been a valuable component in our short game handicap determinations - a proprietary balance of three factors:
  1. Average putting distance when the green was hit;
  2. % of attempts hit close (to within 5 feet for Chip/Pitch, 8 feet for Sand);
  3. % Errors (shots that missed the green).  
The PGA Tour data does not include errors or missed greens in the 409+ ShotLink stats.  I had my my programmer extract these important pieces of data from ShotLink for use in my work with Tour players.  As one can see above, in 2014 the PGA Tour player on average MISSED greens with 7% of their Chip/Pitch shots (within 50 yards of the hole) and 11% for Sand shots from within the same range.  If you think these numbers, when viewed as errors, seem high - I agree. 

A post-round discussion with my genius programmer led us to the solution of this dilemma.  Why not see what percentage of the missed greens actually took the players more than 3 strokes to hole out?  Three strokes from a short game situation is not a SAVE, but it is certainly not a stroke lost. The save %'s are:  Chip/Pitch - 65% and Sand - 50%.  But four or more strokes to hole out is definitely an ERROR.

Once the programming was done, the answer confirmed that "These guys really are good!In 75% of their missed greens with Chip/Pitch attempts, and 73% of missed Sand shots, the Tour holes out in 3 strokes or less.

How does your game compare?  Just stay tuned.  Now that we have been collecting score by hole since last October, we will be able to exactly match our new Tour calculations.  I plan to wait until we have a full year of new data but am very anxious to see the results.


Friday, July 31, 2015

How bad could Jordan Spieth's putting be in ANY range?

This year's Open at St. Andrews was by far the most exciting that I have watched.  Forgive me for being a big Zach Johnson supporter - I've been the stat advisor to Zach and his team for the past four years.

Please don't tell Zach, but I was also pulling for Jordan Spieth.  It bothered me to hear the commentators continually refer to Jordan as a poor putter in the important 5-10 ft. range.  I understand that this was intended to build suspense as Jordan stood over these critical putts.  But let's put the record straight.  First, Jordan is by no measure a "poor" putter.  Second, the rationale cited was  Jordan's Tour ranking of #87 in that range, which is just WRONG.  The ranking number is not wrong, but its use to support the assertion is dead wrong.  I decided to write this blog when a good friend (a very knowledgeable golfer - but not a subscriber?!) quoted this stat in the context of "... can you believe how bad Jordan is with these short range putts?" I did some homework to set him straight, and realized it was worth sharing.  I hope you agree.

First, the Tour maintains a total of 649 Tour Stats.  With the exception of the two Strokes Gained stats (Putting and Tee-to-Green), the remaining 647 stats are one-dimensional snapshots of a small slice of performance and can be very misleading.  The rankings represent where the player stands relative to his peers.  But at this level - the very top of the game - differences are very slight.  I refer to it as "compaction."  For example, let's examine exactly what Jordan's 87th ranking in the 5-10 ft. putt range really means.
  • The #1 ranked player is Troy Merritt (who?) makes 65.15% of his opportunities in this range.
  • Jordan's 57.3% is better than the Tour avg. of 56%.
  • This stat does not drop below 50% for any player until #190
  • The worst player in this range, ranked #196, makes 45% of his opportunities.
  • Like most players, Jordan averaged less that three putts (2.7) in this range per round.
  • Finally, the range should be 6-10.  There is way too much difference in the average make % between 5' 4" and 8 or 9+ ft. so each player's actual spread of distances will influence the result.
Bottom line, Jordan's 57% is not bad at all - he's better than average in a very small slice of the overall putting pie.
Strokes Gained
Jordan Spieth is ranked #6 in this MOST IMPORTANT putting stat.  I don't recall this stat being mentioned in the telecast.  For those that are unfamiliar, this stat compares the player's performance for the distance of each putt opportunity to a model of the average performance of the entire Tour for that distance.  It is as close to perfect as a golf stat can get.  For a more complete explanation see:
 How Good is Strokes Gained Putting

The graph above displays Jordan's current Tour rankings from each distance range.  For perspective, I added his Strokes Gained Putting ranking (6) in blue.  When I average all the Tour rankings by range, Jordan would rank #48.  This makes no sense as the vast majority of putts fall into the first three ranges.  So I performed a weighted average based upon my educated estimates of the # of putts within each range.  In theory, the weighted average should approximate Jordan's overall skill level.  Instead it bumps Jordan up to #64 - a long way from his real skill level - #6.

In closing, my plea to broadcasters:  If you are going to cite statistics, please understand what they really mean.  If you need help, call me!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It only took 26 years!

In 1989, I left a successful career in the reinsurance business to, of all things, get into the golf business.  Imagine having that discussion with your wife?  My idea was to apply what I had learned about computer modeling to radically improve golf stats and performance analysis.  There was no internet, apps or even cell phones.  It took two years to gather enough rounds to create my first "Scratch" model and another year to launch what I called Strokes Lost/Saved Analysis - now known as Strokes Gained (read the History of Strokes Gained).   

Along the way, I was told by lots of smart people that my system would never catch on - notably, several venture capital specialists and the PGA Tour (but only three times).  But there was also a bright side.  Some noteworthy instructors took an interest and helped me keep rolling the stone up the hill.  Carol Mann was the first and introduced me, and the program, to a host of LPGA players.  A few Golf Digest instructors (Hank Johnson, Chuck Cook and Jack Lumpkin) were very helpful and encouraging.  Tom Patri was an early and influential supporter.  And no one has done more for me and my business than my Canadian brother, Henry Brunton.  Could never thank you enough, Hank!

On Saturday night we launched's revised Complete Game Analysis.  This new version added Approach shots - the final piece of the complete Strokes Gained puzzle.  Keeping the program simple enough that golfers will actually use it, while introducing a very sophisticated analysis, proved to be even more of a challenge than expected.  But I believe we have done it!  Great thanks to the many users that contacted me with questions in the beta phase, and to two, long-time Group Leaders who spent their valuable time studying the results and discussing them with me.  Special thanks to Derek Ingram (another Canadian and the National Team Coach) and Jeff Isler, who runs a great academy in Southlake, Texas (

I look forward to your feedback on the program and to continued grow and improvement.