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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, 2018 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 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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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On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)

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Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?

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Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.

That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.

All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18

Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined

  • 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
  • 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
  • 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent

Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018

  • 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
  • 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
  • 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent

Percent decrease 

  • 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
  • 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
  • 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent

One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.

Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.

So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!

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A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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