Friday, March 7, 2014

Shot of the Year?

Rory's 5-wood to last weekend's final hole of regulation from 245 yards in the fairway was remarkable for many reasons.  Had he made the putt and won the Honda Classic, that approach shot would be in the conversation for best all-time clutch shots.

The announcers did give the shot appropriate praise, but after Rory missed the 11-foot putt and didn't win, it was virtually forgotten.  Tiger used to WOW us with just that kind of pressure shot, but more often than not finished it by making the putt.

By ShotLink standards Rory's shot was great because of its relative proximity to the hole.  The ShotLink average proximity from 225-250 in the fairway is 53 feet.  OK, 11 feet is worlds closer, but it is actually much more than that.  The problem with the "Proximity" stat is that it includes all shots - whether they successfully hit the green or not.  A ball can be 15 feet short and in the water, or 10 feet away and buried under the lip of a bunker - and still be included in the average proximity.

ShotLink also reveals that tour players will hit the green-in-regulation from 200+ yards in 43% of their tries.  This is nice but it mixes all conditions (fairway, rough, bunkers, etc.).  Further, there is a large distance span of attempts greater than 200 yards.   Players are attempting to hit greens from 260+ these days.

I believe the best way to judge Rory's accomplishment is by comparing apples to apples.  Accordingly, I have looked a bit deeper.  The 2013 tour average for greens hit from 225 - 250 yards in the fairway was 36% (just over 1 of every 3).  When successful, the average putting distance from this range was 33 feet.

So Rory's success in hitting the green was impressive, but 11'4" from the pin was over the top, especially under the circumstances, and the looming downside of water short, right and long.  Missed putt notwithstanding, I think it qualifies for Shot of the Year so far.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Apologies, Bubba, but I could not help but notice...


Background
Going into this weekend's event at Riviera, I noticed that greenside sand was rated 5th most difficult of the 43 PGA Tour courses rated in 2013 based upon % saves.  This made me take a look at the other side of the sand game - Errors (shots that miss the green).  This number was surpisingly high (17%) when compared to the Tour average for 2013 (11%).  I thought it worth pointing out to the tour players with whom I consult.  I also gave it to Damon Hack, host of Morning Drive on the Golf Channel, labeling it as a "Thing one can't find in the Tour stats."  Damon was then good enough to mention it and Shot By Shot.com on the air.

Followup
The errors from the sand for the field at Riviera were down just a bit from last year, to only 16%.   Perhaps some players took my warning to heart.  I found it interesting that the TOP-5 finishers were worse than the field in this relatively unknown and undesirable stat.  The TOP-5 sand errors were 19% (7 of 37 attempts from greenside sand missed the green).  Unbelievable?  I thought so until I looked at the Winner's sand game.

Bubba Watson committed four errors in only nine attempts (44%).   It is unusual for the Winner to have ANY errors let along FOUR.  These errors resulted in the only 3 double bogies that he made this week and a bogey.  To be fair, Bubba also holed out from the sand for birdie in the 4th round. 

When I entered Bubba's sand results into ShotByShot.com, his average putting distance of 13 feet and 44% errors produced a robust 32 handicap.  So the sand is clearly not Bubba's strength.  Thus far this year, Bubba is ranked #170 in saves @ 27.5%.   The Tour Average is 46.7%.  My guess: Bubba's Riviera errors were not a fluke.  Obviously, when one has the power to bring a course to its knees and a hot putter, he can overcome a few errors...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Publicity for ShotByShot.com and me!

About a month ago, I received a phone call from Josh Sens, a writer for GOLF Magazine.   Josh was researching an article on the relatively new trend of PGA Tour players adding stat experts to their support teams.  

Josh had done his homework.  He had spoken to Zach Johnson and gotten my name and number from Dr. Morris Pickens (Zach's Sports Psychologist) - Thanks Mo!  Our discussion was a lively one that lasted approximately an hour with a few follow up calls and questions about points that I had raised.

Josh's article was published on GOLF.com on Monday, July 8.  I think he did a great job and included quite a few of my quotes and was kind enough to plug my website.  By far my favorite quote is from Zach, talking about my work:  "He's able to find holes in the stats and magnify other stats by clearing out the junk,"  Johnson says.  "He chews on it, digests it and then spits out something a lot more practical than 'You've got to hit more fairways.'"

Way to go Zach!  Very high praise and I could not have said it better myself.

I hope you enjoy the article:  GOLF.com - It All Adds Up

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What makes a great putter?

Brandt Snedeker ranked #1 in Strokes Gained Putting for the 2012 PGA Tour year.  Quite an accomplishment to be considered the best of the best.  I decided to see if I could find the key to his putting prowess - was there something that clearly separated Brandt from the rest?  My conclusion:  Two things stand out.
     1.  Consistency
     2.  Distance control

Consistency
In 18 events covered by ShotLink, Brandt recorded a negative Strokes Gained total in only five (28%).  While negative, these five poor putting events were not horrible.  The average of the five was only -.325 (only giving up .325 shots per round to the field) and his worst was only -.64.  

Brandt's other 13 events were positive SG numbers and for the year Brandt averaged .860 strokes gained on the field.  This profile is the picture of putting consistency.

But what exactly does he do to achieve this high level of consistent performance?  The answer does not exactly leap out of the Tour stats.  Speaking of the ..., there are NINE putting stat categories and 110 individual putting stats.  Each is expressed in a number or percentage with a ranking for perspective.  Further, there is a high degree of compaction which causes the rankings to sometimes be misleading.  That said, rankings in the TOP-20 on Tour are good in ANY stat.  The Tour average tends to be around 75.

Brandt's ranking for the year in a few stats stood out and lead me to my conclusion:
  • 1 Putts 10-15 feet - rank 4 (this range consistently shows up in the Winners on Tour)
  • 1-Putts > 25 feet - rank 8
  • Putts made over 10 feet - rank 3
  • Putts made over 20 feet - rank 4  
I believe that Brandt's high level of success in the four stats mentioned above comes from a great confidence in his distance control and the relative absence of fear about the length of the next putt.

Distance control
In 2000 and 2001, when Tiger was the dominant player on tour, I did a study of his distance control as it related to the other top players at the time.  I found that they all tended to average 7% of their start distance (40 foot start ==> inside 3 feet = 7%).  I also found that Tiger set himself apart by getting a higher percentage of his long distance lag putts to or past the hole.

ShotLink makes this exercise quite a bit easier and precise.  A study of Brand Snedeker's 2012 putts of 25 feet and greater revealed a similar result:
  • His overall average lag distance - 6.5%
  • 2-Putts - 5.8%
  • 3-Putts - 14.2%
In both instances above (2 and 3 Putts), Brandt got 63% of these long putts to or past the hole.  I can't help but think of the annoying refrain:  Never up, never in!  Obviously, Brandt has taken it to heart.

Finally, we amateurs should take heed and work on distance control.  I like to focus on 10% of the start distance as my goal and highly recommend it.  First, we don't do this for a living and second, the math is much easier.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Muirfield brings out the worst in most - not Matt Kuchar

I have said for years that the frequency and severity of our mistakes in golf have a far greater influence on our score and handicap level than do our good shots.  Jack's event this weekend proved to be a great example of my point.  The table below displays the errors (mistakes) made by Matt Kuchar in his four rounds on Muirfield Village as compared to the average of the field.  For perspective, I added the average number of errors made by the PGA Tour in 2012 for an equivalent four rounds.

Muirfield Village is, without question, one of the most difficult courses visited by the Tour.  It is ranked the 3rd most difficult this year, based upon score over par, just behind PGA National - Champion (#2) and Augusta National (#1).  While I have yet to be invited to play Muirfield, I did walk (actually run) the course some years ago to record Shot By Shot data for Jack and his three pro am partners.  Not quite as much fun as playing but I did not lose a single ball.  
What did I learn?
  • Playing is more difficult than walking.  The three amateurs, not bad golfers, picked up almost as often as they finished holes.
  • Muirfield has lots of water that comes into play around the greens.  (Note the approach shot penalties are more than 2x the 2012 Tour average.)
  • The greens and green complexes are very severe and present difficult short game shots. 
 In my study of the event this week, I was surprised to see that aside from the difficulty of the approach shots to the greens, it was the greens and their surroundings, especially the bunkers, that presented the greatest relative difficulty.  (Note the average number of short game errors were more than 50% higher than the 2012 Tour averages.) The Muirfield field made an error from the greenside sand 19.5% of the time - one in every five attempts.  This compares to 12%, or one in every nine attempts in all of 2012.

Matt Kuchar obviously had his sand game ready for Muirfield's test.  In seven attempts, his average putting distance was 6.7 feet (1.3 ft. closer than the field).  And he saved all seven (100% vs. 49% for the field), obviously with ZERO errors.  Well done, Matt!

How do your errors match up?