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Troy Merritt shows what it means to “go low”

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Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions I had when I started to research the statistical part of golf was how players “go low.” This also shaped how I erroneously viewed the game. Years of competitive golf made me believe that in order to “go low” you had to putt really well. It meant that you had to make a lot of long putts. Therefore, I started to overvalue putting — long putts in particular, which I considered to be putts outside 25 feet. I started to focus my practice a lot on putting, especially the long ones.

After some research, it became clear as day that the low rounds on the PGA Tour did not consist of players making a lot of putts. Instead, it consisted of players frequently getting their birdie putts close to the hole, because that is where they have a reasonable chance of making the putt. For Tour players, once the putt is 26-feet long, their make percentage drops to roughly 9 percent. And for golfers that are playing average golf courses where the greens are not as smooth, that make percentage may dip to below 5 percent, even for the better putters in the world.

Troy Merritt’s fantastic score of 28 on the back nine at Harbour Town last Friday was a terrific example of how Tour players go low.

Hole 10

Merritt started this right away on the par-4 10th hole, as he hit his 173-yard approach shot to 5 feet, 2 inches. The Tour average is from that distance is roughly 75 percent and he went on to make the putt.

Hole 11

However, Merritt was not completely unconscious with his putter. He missed this 18-foot, 5-inch birdie putt on the 11th hole. In fact, that was his longest birdie putt attempt in those entire nine holes. While he made a lot of putts, he kept them within close distance to give himself a reasonable chance of making them.

Hole 15

In fact, his longest putt made in the entire nine holes came on the par-5 15th, where he made a 17-foot, 10-inch putt for birdie. He then finished off the nine-hole stretch by hitting his approach shots to 4 feet, 11 inches on No. 16; 7 feet, 3 inches on No. 17; and 4 feet, 11 inches on No. 18.

Hole 16

Hole 17

Hole 18

Here’s a look at how Merritt played each of those approach shots versus the Tour average:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.26.13 PM

Merritt was able to hit those last three approach shots to an average of 5.7 feet, which gave him an average expected make percentage of 67.3 percent. Meanwhile, the Tour average from those distances is 25.3 feet with an average expected make percentage of 10.3 percent.

Here are Merritt’s final numbers for that back nine holes on Friday:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.19.18 PM

Putting is certainly important, as Merritt made seven out of his eight birdie putt attempts. If he only made 46.3 percent of those putts he would roughly have made four birdies. It still would have resulted in a fantastic score of 31, but it is far from the score of 28. So, let’s not undervalue the importance of putting.

Merritt’s round shows us that putting from inside 15 feet is far more critical, because there is a more reasonable odds of making those putts. From there, it comes down to our ability to get our approach shots inside 15 feet so we can put ourselves in the best position to shoot the lowest score possible — instead of hoping we make long putts.

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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

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. MarkNado

    Apr 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Proximity to the hole is the most overlooked stat in golf
    Driving distance and strokes gained putting get all the attention but look at Duval’s 59
    Probably the best proximity to the hole round ever and one of the lowest scores

  2. Pingback: El número de putts no explica nada - Golf76.com

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TG2: So Jack has 21 majors now? Tiger at 17?

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Fred Couples has 5 majors? The Golf Hall Of Fame lists The Players, and a few more obscure tournaments, wins as majors? So does this now mean Jack has 21 and Tiger is at 17? What is going on there?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”

Summary

The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus – https://www.marnusmarais.com

Nick – https://www.golffitpro.net/

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The Gear Dive: My future hopes and some predictions

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats on his thoughts on the future of the golf market, what he loves, what he hates, and the star clubmakers on the rise.

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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