Keegan Bradley has reportedly left long-time swing coach Jim McLean for Chuck Cook, who teaches Bradley’s good friend Jason Dufner and Luke Donald. That gives Cook one of the most formidable list of clients in the golf world, as Bradley is ranked No. 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings, Dufner is ranked No. 15 and Donald is ranked No. 17.
I wanted to take a look at the numbers behind Bradley’s game and to see why he may have decided to change instructors. According to Bradley, the change was prompted by his familiarily with the instructor.
“I’ve been around Chuck Cook for a few years now, playing practice rounds with Dufner,” Bradley told Back9Network’s Ahmad Rashad. “I’m excited to get working with Chuck and get another opinion of how he thinks I can improve my golf game. He’s been around for a long time and I know he has several ways he can help me win.”
Bradley did not record a victory last season, but still finished No. 11 on the money list. When I look at a golfer’s game, I like to first analyze his or her scoring data. This helps me formulate some sort of idea of as to what went on with the golfer and provide a profile of the player’s game as far as his or her strengths and weaknesses go.
Bradley ranked No. 10 in Total Adjusted Scoring Average. Taking that into account and his rankings in the metrics in the table above, he still had a great season despite not coming away with a victory. I feel with these metrics that Bradley should be striving toward being the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. He does not have a glaring weakness, and is instead trying to take his great game to the next level.
If Bradley is going to contend for the No. 1 spot, he will need to get inside the top 10 in Adjusted Par-4 Scoring Average. Par-4 play has the strongest correlation to Tour success of the metrics listed above. This is partially due to the number of par-4’s played per round (the Tour average is roughly 11 played per round), and the par-4’s require a more complete game to play them well. Bradley did a fine job in 2013 on the par-4’s. However, in order to contend for the No. 1 ranking in the world that will have to step up.
The biggest “weakness” we see with Bradley’s game is his play on the par-3’s. While par-3 play is important, it has the lowest correlation to success on Tour of the metrics listed. With that said, par-3 play is one part iron play, one part short game and one part long putting (putts longer than 15 feet). While Bradley was still an above-average player on the par-3’s, given that it was his weakest metric, I can start to develop an idea of what some of his issues in 2013 were.
Lastly, he had a fantastic year at avoiding bogies. Avoiding bogies has a stronger correlation to success on Tour than making birdies. He also made a high percentage of birdies. But, for him to contend for the No. 1 ranking in the world, he needs to get into the top 10 in both Birdie and Bogey rates. Furthermore, I find it a bit peculiar that the No. 1-ranked player on par-5’s ranked 24th in Birdie Rate. In all, I can start to envision a profile for Bradley’s game.
I utilize an algorithm based on historical driving data on Tour dating back to 2007 to determine a golfer’s effectiveness off the tee. This is called Driving Effectiveness which utilizes the following metrics:
- Fairway Percentage
- Average Distance to Edge of Fairway (on drives that miss the fairway)
- Fairway Bunker Percent
- Missed Fairway – Other Percent (shots that end up in a hazard, O.B. rescue shots, etc)
Here is Bradley’s data for 2013
As we can see, driving was rarely a problem for Bradley in 2013, as he was the second most effective driver of the ball (only Henrik Stenson was more effective). Bradley hits the ball a long way and hits a lot of fairways. And when he missed the fairway, he did not miss by much and did a fine job at avoiding fairway bunkers and other trouble. He has been one of the premier drivers on Tour since he earned his card.
PUTTING AND SHORT GAME DATA
Often times, putting and short game play can be over-valued by golfers. However, nothing can prevent a golfer from winning a tournament like poor putting. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the winners on Tour this year finished in the top 10 in Putts Gained (also called Strokes Gained-Putting) for that tournament.
Bradley putted very well in 2013 from most distances. As I have mentioned in the past, the putts from 3-to-15 feet are the most important putts to make when it comes to affecting a player’s performance versus the field. Outside of 15 feet, the make percentage for Tour players becomes very volatile. What I mean is that golfers on Tour, regardless of overall putting skill, tend to be very inconsistent when it comes to make percentage outside of 15 feet. One year they can make a lot of putts from outside 15 feet, and the next year they struggle to make those same putts.
This would explain some of the issues that Bradley had on the par-3’s. Tour players are not likely to have a lot of close birdie putts on the par-3’s, and that is why par-3 performance is dependent on the golfer’s ability to make putts outside of 15 feet. However, Bradley’s make percentage on putts outside of 15 feet is likely to progress toward the mean. Therefore, his performance on the par-3’s is likely to progress in 2014.
Sometimes the problem with good overall putters on Tour is that they were inconsistent with their putting. When they were off, they were well off. And when they were on, they were making a lot of putts. And if they putt poorly in too many tournaments, they reduce their odds of winning those events. Here’s a chart looking at Bradley’s putts gained by event.
Out of the 20 events that recorded putts gained, Bradley was only losing strokes to the field on six of those events.
Here is a look at Bradley’s short game play:
Bradley was an average short game player in 2013. But he did perform well from the most important part of the short game, longer pitch shots from 10-to-20 yards. This could also explain why he was better at avoiding bogies than making birdies. The 10-to-20 yard shots are usually more reserved for when the player needs to save par. The 1-to-10 yard shots are more makeable chip shots.
After looking at the data I see no reason why Bradley cannot contend for the No.1 spot in the world ranking based off his driving, putting and short game data. This only leaves approach shots.
APPROACH SHOT DATA
Here is Bradley’s approach shot data for 2013:
The good news is that the area that correlates strongest to success on Tour, the Danger Zone, is where Bradley was his strongest. Shorter shots, particular wedge play, are vastly overrated by the golfing community. This is why Bradley still had a fantastic year. His long game, both driving and Danger Zone play, was superb. This is where a golfer can gain the most strokes against the field over time.
Here’s a look at Bradley’s rankings from the various zones since he made the Tour:
We can see that Bradley has had issues with his iron play since he has made the Tour. His play from the Danger Zone has improved dramatically, and that has helped propel him into superstar status. But the play from the Birdie and Safe zones is what is holding him back. We also have to remember that his Safe Zone play is even worse than the ranking indicates because he was such an exceptional driver of the ball, which means he should have been in great position to hit a lot of Safe Zone shots closer to the hole.
His struggles from 75 to 175 yards would be part of the reason why he lagged a little behind on the par-3’s. It would also explain why his Birdie Rate was not better, as most birdies on the par-4’s come from Safe Zone and Birdie Zone approach shots.
All of these “issues” are nice issues for a player to have. I would expect that most of Bradley’s work with Cook will focus on improving his iron play from inside 175 yards. The key for him to take his game to the next level will be keeping his effectiveness off the tee and his skill on and around the greens while improving his iron play.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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