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The myth behind the “one-way miss”

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We often hear from professional golfers how important it is to have a “one way miss’”and to be able to “take one side of the golf course out of play” in order to drive the ball more effectively. However, statistical evidence indicates that this is not quite an accurate depiction of how the best golfers in the world effectively drive the ball.

A metric that I have explored quite frequently is “miss bias.” This is the percentage of time a player misses a fairway right or left. What I have found is that there is no direction that is better to miss the fairway. Having a right miss bias is equal to having a left miss bias. Typically, what is more important is the ratio of the miss bias.

I feel the best indicator of driving success is to look at the top players in my “Driving Effectiveness” ranking. Driving Effectiveness is based on algorithm that considers the following metrics:

  • Driving distance
  • Fairway percentage
  • Average distance from the edge of fairway (on drives that miss the fairway)
  • Percentage of fairway bunkers hit
  • Missed fairways and other (shots that end up in the trees, water, O.B, etc.)

Here is a table with the current top-20 players in Driving Effectiveness and their Miss Bias.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.28.23 PM

As the chart shows, 13 of the top-20 ranked players have a miss bias that is no more than 55 percent either way.

Now, let’s look at this year’s players with miss biases that are greater than 60 percent and their rankings in Driving Effectiveness.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.28.33 PM

Tour golfers can strike the ball well off the tee with a large miss bias, however, not one of these players on the list is ranked in the top 20 in Driving Effectiveness. Furthermore, let’s take a look at the players on that list that played last on the Tour last season.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.28.42 PM

The chart shows that if the player’s miss bias in 2012 was less than 60 percent, they were typically more effective off the tee. Rod Pampling, Rory McIlroy, John Huh and Tiger Woods are examples of golfers that had a miss bias less than 60 percent in 2012 and also drove the ball much more effectively as well.

What the data tells me is that trying to taking one side “out of play” is not great advice if you wish to be an effective driver of the ball. There are likely too many holes where the golfer has to favor the right side or the left side.

What I’ve seen from my tour players is that having a “one-way miss” is actually more about having a “one-way curve.” If a golfer tend to hit a draw with their stock swing, they’ll be best served to continue to hit draws or straight balls off the tee. When many golfers try to alternate between draws and fades, however, they often risk getting into trouble and being less effective off the tee.

If a player has a more extreme miss bias, that tends to indicate a common “big miss” that they cannot rid themselves of. And that miss may cost them down the line.

I recommend that amateur golfers forget about having a “one-way miss.” They need to concern themselves with getting the ball to curve one way, and identify that common “big miss” and work to make it a smaller one.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tips in Beating a Pro Golfer – Aymerich Golf Club

  2. TheFightingEdFioris

    Sep 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Cool article by the way. Always enjoy your writing.

  3. TheFightingEdFioris

    Sep 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    No look into what they actually scored on the hole and/or the actual distance they missed the fairway by? Were Tiger’s driving stats better in 2012 when he missed it left more than right? Apparently… But did the left miss cost him a shot in a few tournaments? Absolutely (see 2012 PGA when Rory missed left off the tee basically zero times)
    I am not disagreeing, you’ve clearly done a lot more homework on this than I have. But would you agree Rich that the biggest advantage to feeling that you have a one way miss is mental? To stand on a tee box and know you can swing as hard as you want and not even sniff the OB left, or not worry about blocking it high and right.

  4. Jtriscott

    Aug 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I think this is pretty simple…

    There is usually a side on the hole that is a much better miss (ie, hazard, OB, etc).

    For the RH golfer:

    If the good miss is RIGHT, I just weaken my grip and make sure I am not going to HOOK the ball.

    If the good miss is LEFT, I strengthen my grip and make sure I am not going to SLICE the ball.

    It works all the time, 60% of the time!

    • Geoffrey

      Apr 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Is there any way to interpret a players extreme left vs right miss tendency to determine if a player’s primary shot is a draw vs a fade?

  5. Mike

    Jul 31, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    This article could not be more on point! The best players know which direction their ball will curve on less than perfect shots. When they talk about eliminating one side of the course, what they mean is eliminating one direction the ball will curve on their poor shots. And Matteo, as a club fitter you should know that tour players have their own clubs built with exactly this in mind. Nice article.

  6. CT

    Jul 31, 2013 at 11:22 am

    “What I’ve seen from my tour players is that having a “one-way miss” is actually more about having a “one-way curve.” ”

    You should make that the title of the article, and the first sentence summary to set the writing, because this information is great stuff. Because that what it is – it’s all about the favored curve.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. I had a little difficulty coming up with a good title.

  7. Dustin

    Jul 30, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    The one way miss is a draw or fade. I can miss a fade down the left and a draw down the right. Point is I want a shot that I know will fade or draw.

  8. Steve

    Jul 30, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Good article…working with tour players it makes perfect sense. Keep sharing 🙂

  9. Brian

    Jul 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    While the data is interesting, I think the conclusion you are drawing from it is a bit heavy. Just because a player misses in one direction more often off the tee, doesn’t mean they are neccesarily trying to miss in that direction. And, in my opinion, a player, especially a pro, who is truly trying to “miss” in one direction would see something more like 70/30 at the worst, not 60/40. With that said, from the pro golf that I’ve watched in person, most pros are paying no attention to the old addage and just hitting towering bombs right down the pipe. With the low spin driver and ball technology available, and the caliber of swings, it just seems to be the norm. Perhaps the approach data is more rellevant?

    Also, the math behind what you consider a “myth” is that if you can eliminate one side of the course, your bigger misses are less threatening. Think about it. If you have a 20 yard wide fairway, and you know you won’t miss left, you can aim at the left side of the fairway and afford a 0-20 yard miss to the right side of the fairway. If you have no bias, then you aim down the middle, and you can afford a 0-10 yard miss in either direction.

    And let’s be honest, nobody, not even the pros, can truly eliminate one side of the course. If a RH golfer has a trusty fade, at some point they are going to double cross and yank one left. That’s the true definition of a miss, otherwise it’s just a shot shape.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 31, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Brian,

      I agree with what you are saying about the player ‘not trying to miss in that direction.’ I think those with a larger miss bias are likely struggling with a shot that does not prevent them from missing towards that bias.

  10. Dixie Flatline

    Jul 30, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I think the author is taking the phrase “one way miss” and “taking one side of the golf course out of play” too literally. Those phrases are used in a discussion of ball flight off the tee, not where the ball actually lands.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 30, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Perhaps that is the case and I can respect your opinion on that. I know that when discussing this with some golfers, even some of my Tour clients, they think of it in very literal terms.

      The main point I was trying to convey is that the miss biases on Tour are not as pronounced as some people tend to think it is and those with more pronounced miss biases tend to not hit it as well off the tee.

  11. steff

    Jul 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

    A one way miss has nothing to do with the fairway! It depends on were you aim and the knowlage the if you miss it wont go left or right.

    Example: You have OB left but you open up the hole the more left you aim.
    This is were a “one way miss” comes in handy. You can aim close to the OB and you feel confident that if you hit it good it will go were you aim. But a miss will never go OB! A bad shot will allways go to the right and not OB.

  12. Jokke

    Jul 30, 2013 at 3:38 am

    I totally agree with the above comments that the data used in this article has nothing to do with one-way misses. None whatsoever.

  13. stephenf

    Jul 30, 2013 at 3:33 am

    It may be that the secondary goal of “taking one side out of play” isn’t particularly valid, but the primary reason to establish a go-to consistent curve is simply that you’ll have the whole width of a fairway to miss (or something close to it) rather than only half the fairway (as happens if you don’t know which way you’re likely to curve it, and you have to hit it down the middle and hope for the best).

  14. Mateo

    Jul 30, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Wow. utterly pointless article.
    This dude must be a 25 handicap.
    Eliminating a side of the golf course has nothing to do with what side of the fairway you miss. It has to do with the 15 of variables he obviously will never understand.
    As a teacher, a club fitter, a golf nut, and a scratch player with years of tourney experience……………. I advise everyone to disregard this article.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

      I fully stand behind what I have written.

      The article is discussing about missing either left or right. The ‘one way miss’ is often described as if you miss, you miss one direction or the other (left or right).

      As we can see, once the ratio is greater than 55/45 the player tends to become less effective off the tee. Particularly as the ratio gets to 60/40 or even a greater discrepancy.

      I even stated in this very article that there is no difference in somebody who tends to miss left versus misses right. It’s the size of the ratio that matters more.

      Why?

      I know the obvious variables that can come into play with the way a hole is designed. But the *point* that has been missed is that in general, Tour players do not have very pronounced miss biases and the ones that do; generally do not drive the ball as well.

      And I do not think it’s fair to assume that I’m a 25 handicapper just like it would not be fair for me to assume that you are a poor instructor because you were unable to comprehend my obvious points.

    • Nick

      Jul 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Haha, you must be trolling dude. Either that or you like to run your mouth about people you don’t know.

      • Nick

        Jul 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm

        My previous comment was directed at Mateo if that wasn’t clear.

  15. Mat

    Jul 29, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Very low correlation here.

    Imagine a hole that goes water-rough-fw-rough. Player aims centre-right to ensure that only a left miss would be a strong left miss to get wet. Whether the player hits the fairway or not is almost irrelevant; it’s that the ball isn’t wet.

    If you’re not sure why, flip the hole; rough-fw-rough-water. It’s effectively even.

    If you want to study misses like this, correlate the number of penalising hazards a player hits vs their average fairways hit. In other words, do they put it in the water more because they ignore the one-way miss. Or, an even stronger cause-effect is to see how often players miss to the opposite side of water in the rough.

    Bryce Molder, at 66%, simply means he misses right more often when he misses at a rate of not quite 1 in 3. Assuming he hits 8 of 14 in a round, that means that he’s going to miss 4 right, 2 left. Just one shot per round would flip that, and he’s the worst there is.

    I’m not buying this one as-is.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Mat,

      I think you’re missing the point that players with more pronounced miss biases tend to be less effective off the tee. I also point out players like Tiger, Rory, John Huh and Rod Pampling as players whose miss biases became much more pronounced this year and they are now less effective off the tee.

      My Driving Effectiveness algorithm takes into consideration shots that go in hazards (i.e. Missed Fairway – Other %) and fairway bunkers hit % as well as Avg. Distance from Edge of Fairway. I could certainly look at the correlation just between miss bias and Missed Fairway Other and fairway bunker %, but the big picture here is that when it comes to all of the main factors that relate to effectiveness off the tee; the bigger miss biases tend to make golfers less effective off the tee.

  16. Brian

    Jul 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I think you missed the point of having a one way miss. It’s not so much which side you miss it on, it’s that is usually the same side that you miss it on.

    The point is to always miss right, or always miss left. The side doesn’t matter, just that you aren’t missing left half the time and right half the time. These stats have absolutely nothing to do with the point of a one way miss.

    • Nick

      Jul 30, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Did you read his article? He’s saying that while people say exactly what you said, a statistical review of the best drivers shows most have no more than a five percent favoritism towards missing on one side as opposed to the the other, which many who have a much stronger statistical favoratism for one side (i.e. the guys who seem to be the best able to take one side or the other out of play) are not ranking high on driving effectiveness.

      I think the issue is that a one sided driver of the ball will simply accrue less penalties, not necessarily find the fairway the best. You can find more fairways but I’ll take multiple shots out of the rough over a rinsed tee shot or god forbid OB or LB and a retee. Obviously the goal would be to find the fairway, but you can drastically improve your scoring by cutting out penalties if your game features a penality drive or two a round. You could esily be shaving upwards of two – four strokes on eliminating two bad swings that find water and force a drop way back or land OB.

    • Andy

      Aug 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      You didn’t even read the article dude.

  17. Jeff

    Jul 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    on most golf holes, there is a side that is a worse miss than others. i think in general you see that professional golfers play the odds more than anything else. if there is OB left and lateral hazard right, a right miss is better, but that could just as easily be switched. therefore, having a “one side out” that ignores the particular hole seems worse to me than trying to hit a shot for the hole. i play (and i think most pros play) to a spot that is safe and then work the ball away from the worst trouble. whether it’s right or left, stay away from the worst trouble.

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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