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The data behind Keegan Bradley’s coaching change

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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.

Table 01

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.

DRIVING DATA

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:

  • Distance
  • 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

Table 02

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.

Table 03

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.

Table 04

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:

Table 05

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:

Table 06

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:

Table 07

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.

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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

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. LY

    Jan 1, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Rich:
    What a great article! Do you do stat work with the LPGA tour and if so how do their numbers compare to the PGA tour?

  2. LiveWire

    Dec 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Great Data, I hope KB does better in 2014. I think he does a great job on the course. He has staying power for years to come. Hopefully he’ll win again before the Bo Sox do……

  3. bsoudi

    Dec 30, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting analysis. Though it triggers 2 thoughts with me:

    1) How important is the “standard deviation” of these stats? I guess I picture that as his consistency.

    2) Could insight be gleaned from a comparison of all these attributes – say, could you see that on a great day driving, a player’s putting could be crap, etc.? That way players can get insights to get “all the pieces in place” more often?

  4. Jadon

    Dec 30, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Wow, very interesting read. I’d like to see the same stats on Zach Johnson, a guy who is on the opposite end of the spectrum; doesn’t hit it a mile but relies on his wedges and short irons to “score” and get the job done. Goes to show you that you don’t have to be a bomber to succeed, what an odd and fun game we play.

    • Richie Hunt

      Dec 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

      Jadon, you would be shocked at how Zach got it done this year. He doesn’t hit it long, but his long approach shots (Danger Zone) is where he hit it the best from.

  5. Mark Wells

    Dec 30, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Wonder why he feels he can’t work on the birdie and safe zone improvement with McClean? Solid and showing improvement otherwise. Time will tell

  6. naflack

    Dec 29, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    i can see that little move off the ball that keegan does with his head being an issue on those short iron shots. im guessing chuck will want to address that…

  7. Troy Vayanos

    Dec 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Great post Rich,

    Just shows how tough the tour is these days when a guy like Keegan can produce such impressive stats and still not come away with a victory.

    Cheers

    • Richie Hunt

      Dec 30, 2013 at 11:12 am

      The bigger one is to look at Bo Van Pelt’s metrics from 2012. Outstanding ballstriker and was 11th in Putts Gained. Didn’t record 1 win. I almost found that impossible, but any given week somebody can sneak in and take it away from him.

  8. Juan

    Dec 29, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Rich, I really appreciate the great work you do with statistics!! It helps me understand the players you analyze AND a way of thinking about analyzing and improving my own game. BTW, I really like your website. THANKS again for the great work!!

  9. Mike

    Dec 29, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Rich, great work. I love seeing data like this and a good thorough analysis. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  10. Martin

    Dec 29, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Cool analysis, I also wonder what will happen when he switches putters.

    I played with the same putter Keegan uses and gave it up because it wasn’t good enough on long putts to make up for the bit better it was on short ones. The stats seem to make the same case for Keegan.

  11. Rob

    Dec 29, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Rich, interesting article, well done. I’m curious if anyone has studied “feel players” that use statistics heavily to engineer changes and what the results have been.

    • Rich

      Dec 30, 2013 at 3:53 am

      Could you really classify them as a true feel player if they looked at stats?

  12. Rich

    Dec 29, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Yes I’m sure Keegan Bradley took all this into consideration when he decided to switch coaches. Actually, perhaps he’s not aware. You should drop him a line to let him know……..

  13. Pingback: Desde el tee: semana 52/2013 | colombiaDeportes.co

  14. Kenny Thomson

    Dec 29, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Another good article. How does an amateur collect such data without slowing up play? Enjoyed the book.

  15. Kenny Thomson

    Dec 29, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Good article, but how does an amateur ( reasonably low handicap) capture similar data without slowing up play?
    Enjoyed your book

  16. Id

    Dec 29, 2013 at 2:55 am

    No glaring weakness??? What’s he going to do when he has to quit the belly putter?

    • Trey Hayden

      Dec 29, 2013 at 5:02 am

      It’s impossible to predict the future, but Bradley did win most of his college tournaments with a short putter. He switched for the same reason most guys in his generation switched: If they’re gonna let us cheat, we shall cheat.

    • Rob

      Dec 29, 2013 at 8:05 am

      You should understand the rules before making stupid comments, He doesn’t have to “quit the belly putter”

      • Id

        Dec 29, 2013 at 10:35 am

        He has to quit anchoring into the belly, therefore he has to quit that stroke. He can keep the same length putter, for sure, and use it un-anchored, therefore not calling it a non-belly putter but a putter at 43 inches or whatever – but he has to quit the belly putter. You should understand the comments before trying to sound intelligent.

        • Richie Hunt

          Dec 30, 2013 at 11:14 am

          I think I didn’t clarify what I meant by ‘glaring weakness’ anyway. What I meant is when you look at his *scoring* data (par-3’s, par-4’s, par-5’s, bogey rate and birdie rate) there was no glaring weakness there. Obviously he has a glaring weakness in his game…shots from inside 175 yards. As far as the putter goes, we will wait and see how that pans outs.

  17. Sean

    Dec 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Nice analysis. That right there should tell KB what he needs to work on.

  18. Tom Stickney

    Dec 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Great analysis Rich. Big fan of your work!

  19. A

    Dec 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I knew he was an idiot the moment I saw him

  20. Homer Simpson

    Dec 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”
    ? Mark Twain

  21. Roger

    Dec 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Rich, thanks for another Great Article.
    I see Luke Donald also moved to Chuck Cook due to his wish to
    hit more par 4’s . Did a search of online videos of Chuck Cook
    so thanks for the Xmas Present! I’m still young enough to Listen!
    From 185 to the Pin is my problem area!
    Have a great 2013 Rich.

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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.

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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An open letter to golf

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Dear 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.

Sincerely,

Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)

 

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The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact

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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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