As a golf statistician, I’m often asked what statistics golfers can keep to track their skills on the golf course.
For the tour players I work with, it’s easy. The PGA Tour uses a laser-measuring system called “Shot Tracker” that gives me the raw data I need to help them with their game. For amateurs, it’s much more difficult. They don’t have Shot Tracker, and many golfers who create their own metrics find that it can be a time-consuming process riddled with inaccuracies.
I am constantly looking to create new types of scoring games that are based on sound statistical information. For instance, there was a fad of people using the total distance of putts made metric. The idea was this — the longer the distance of total putts a player made, the better they putted. It does not consider, however, the golfer who putts poorly and happens to make a 60-footer. Nor does it consider the golfer who putts well and leaves himself first putts that are shorter in distance.
I started to look at some other metrics that I thought would be less cumbersome to record when it came to putting. I ran this against the past history of Strokes Gained Putting on Tour and found some interesting results.
When using putting distance metrics, the average length of all two-putts has the strongest correlation to Strokes Gained Putting on Tour.
For instance, if Brandt Snedeker two putts from 30 feet, it is recorded as a two putt from 30 feet. So, if he gets on the next hole and two putts from 50 feet, then he has an average of two putting from 40 feet.
This finding surprised me. I would have thought that the average length of a one-putt or the average length of a three-putt would have had a larger correlation to Strokes Gained Putting.
In fact, here are the mathematical correlations over the years since Strokes Gained Putting has been used by the PGA Tour:
For those who don’t understand what the numbers mean, it is based on a mathematical formula used to tell the strength of a relationship between two variables. The correlation number ranges from +1 to -1. The closer the number is to +1, the stronger the direct relationship is between the two variables.
Let’s say I own a store and I want to see the relationship between lemonade sold and temperature. After I record the data, I find the correlation to be +0.9. That means that as the temperature increases so does the likelihood that I will sell more lemonade. A number closer to 0 means that there is no real relationship, and a number closer to -1 indicates a stronger, indirect relationship.
Say I owned the same store and wanted to look at hot soup sold and temperature. I may get a correlation of -0.85, which means that as the temperature falls it would be likely that I would sell more soup. But if I look at the correlation between temperature and bread sold and come up with a correlation of +0.003, then that shows that temperature has no real impact on how many loafs of bread will be sold.
The reason why I bring up these correlations is that we see that after the two-putt distance correlations, the one-putt distance correlations are right behind. There is a significant decline, however, in the correlation between three-putt distances and Strokes Gained Putting.
My conclusion as to why the two-putting distance metrics have a stronger correlation is that it is simply too difficult to putt great from course to course. I label putting “great” any time a Tour player averages +1 or more strokes gained per round for a tournament. Even the best putters on Tour tend to only putt great in roughly 30-to-40 percent of their events.
These were three of the best putters in 2014 and they putted great in 33-to-40 percent of their events.
By looking at the graphs, we can see that great putting tends to occur at roughly the same time. Aaron Baddeley hit a stretch of great putting from The McGladreys through Riviera, as he putted great in 4 of those 6 events (notice the tall red bars, which indicate strokes gained on the field).
Freddie Jacobson hit his hot streak by putting great in 6 out of 8 events from Pebble Beach to the Zurich Classic. And Greg Chalmers started the year on fire by putting great in four events in a from The McGladreys to TPC Scottsdale.
Great putters also tend to cool off in streaks, however. They usually tend to putt better than the average (better than 0 strokes gained), but they can no longer rely on great putting for them to do well in a tournament. And that is where I believe why the average length of a player’s two-putts correlates strongest to Strokes Gained Putting.
But, I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to look at a combination of metrics to help decide if there is more than one way to correlate to Strokes Gained Putting. And what I found was that if you combine the length of the average two putt along with the length of the average birdie putt made, you get the strongest correlation to Strokes Gained Putting in the end.
Let’s remember how Strokes Gained Putting is designed. If the field makes 40 percent of their putts from 10 feet, that will equate to roughly 1.6 strokes to the hole from 10 feet. If a player one-putts from 10 feet, then they are determined to have gained +0.6 strokes on the field. If they two-putt from 10 feet, then they have lost -0.4 strokes to the field.
The reason why birdie putts contribute to Strokes Gained Putting more is that they are by and large more difficult for players to make. In fact, only two PGA Tour players had a higher make percentage of birdie putts than par putts from 5-to-15 feet: Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald.
Anytime the make percentage goes down, there is more potential for a player to gain more strokes. If the make percentage from 10 feet went down to 20 percent and that roughly equates to 1.8 strokes from 10 feet, a player that makes the 10-foot putt now gains 0.8 strokes on the field.
Essentially, what this tells me is that even the best putters are not going to be able to take great putting from course to course, so they need to be two-putting when putts are not dropping for them. And when you combine the length of the two-putts along with the length of birdie putts made, it provides a measurement of ability to avoid three-putts and ability to make putts.
The average Tour player’s two-putt distance is roughly 22.5 feet, and their average birdie putt make distance is 10.5 feet. That comes to a combined 33 feet. I also wanted to test this with another metric that is fairly easy to measure: Greens in Regulation (GIR).
When combining GIR with the “Average All Two-Putts Distance” and the “Average Birdie Make Putt Distance,” it has an incredibly strong correlation to Adjusted Scoring Average.
Normally, I’m not a big fan of the greens in regulation metric due to its flaws and ambiguous nature, but considering that it is an easy metric to calculate and the correlation between greens hit and the two-putt and one-putt average distance is so high, I think it is a helpful way for a player to measure their skills.
And that’s how I came up with the “98 Score.”
Here are the Tour averages for each of the metrics:
- Average All 2-Putts Distance: 22.5 feet
- Average Birdie Putts Made Distance: 10.5 feet
- Average Greens In Regulation: 65 percent
22.5 + 10.5 + 65 = 98
If you can score 98 or better, than you are playing quite well. If not, keep trying to improve your score so you can get the ball on the green more often and putt better when you’re on the greens.
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.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
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