As I have discussed frequently in my GolfWRX columns, the wedge game is vastly overrated by golfers. That’s because many golfers often judge what is important in their golf game by how often they are hitting shots from a certain distance. When we take a deeper look at where strokes are lost or gained, however, we often find that frequency does not always relate to importance in the outcome of a round.
With my Tour clients, I pinpoint the areas of the game that will most likely influence their performance in the next event. A great example is TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, where shots from 150-175 yards usually play a big role in how well a player performs. Other courses like Riviera tend to force the issue from 175-225 yards and putting from 5-10 feet. A course like Colonial typically stresses the driver.
Having examined where players tend to lose or gain the most shots on particular courses, I’ve found that it usually comes down to two factors: frequency and deviation.
Deviation is the measurement of all shots and how large of a difference there is within those shots from the mean. Frequency is what I just discussed: the amount of shots that are hit from a certain area. Typically, deviation plays a much bigger role in determining importance outcome than frequency. If there is a large deviation in shots from say, 240-260 yards, but that shot is only hit on average one time per round for the entire four rounds of an event, that distance range will not likely play much of a role in a player’s success in the event compared to shots from 125-150 yards where the deviation is smaller, but the frequency is much larger. This is why I hate seeing the statistic of make percentages on all putts from inside 10 feet.
Currently, the Tour average make percentage on all putts from inside 10 feet is 87.6 percent. This creates an inaccurate perception of a Tour player’s putting skill from inside 10 feet, because it doesn’t account for the high percentage of those putts being tap-ins.
Here’s a look at last season’s PGA Tour data on putts from inside 10 feet.
Nearly 60 percent of the putts from inside 10 feet were tap-ins, which Tour players were making nearly 100 percent of the time. That’s not to say that Tour players are not good putters, but it is to point out that the putts that matter most from inside 10 feet are putts from 5-10 feet because the deviation is larger, especially on a tournament basis.
If a tournament averages the same percentage of putts made in the table above, the player who can make 100 percent of their putts from 5-10 feet gains more strokes over the field than the player who makes 100 percent of their putts from 3-5 feet. That’s why the old adage, “putting is 40 percent of your score,” is not an accurate statement given all of the tap-ins a golfer is likely to have.
IN ORDER TO GET BETTER, A GOLFER HAS TO BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING MARKEDLY BETTER THAN THE AVERAGE, AND BECAUSE TAP-INS ARE MADE AT SUCH A HIGH PERCENTAGE, THEY SHOULD BE EXCLUDED FOR GOLFERS WHO ACTUALLY WANT TO IMPROVE.
The same applies to the theory of improving a player’s wedge game from 125 yards and in. The deviation in outcomes is smaller as the shots get closer to the hole. Here is a table using last season’s PGA Tour averages to illustrate the point:
The most important column to look at is difference in feet, which is on the far right. This shows the difference in total feet per round that better players will hit their approach shot to the hole versus lesser players. This is essentially the likely deviation per round from those distance ranges.
The difference gets incrementally larger as the shots are farther away from the cup, however, and that changes when the shot distance goes from 175-200 yards to 200-225 yards. If we analyze that a bit further, we see that the average Tour player hits many more shots from 150-175 yards (2.939 vs. 1.727), but the deviation is far greater from 200-225 yards (3.387 feet vs. 1.875 feet) and the average proximity to the cup is much longer (45.104 feet vs. 30.942 feet).
While I enjoy analyzing the statistics of the game, I am more interested in understanding why great players come to their own conclusions. This helps me understand future Tour clients better and I can always check to see if I may have made an oversight in my analysis. I recently saw a tweet from Keegan Bradley, in which he supported the importance of the wedge game to his score. And I think Keegan’s metrics in his PGA Tour career points to the misunderstanding he has been making.
Keegan Bradley’s stats from 2011-2015
Over his career, Bradley’s strength has been the long game, particularly his driving of the ball and Red Zone play (shots from 175-225 yards). His weaknesses have been shots from 75-175 yards, and while he’s been a pretty good putter he’s been inconsistent with his short game play. This season Bradley has had his finest year from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), but it has coincided with his worst season putting the ball, his worst season from the Green Zone (75-125 yards) and his worst season with his short game.
The reason why Bradley has not won more often is in large part due to shots from inside 125 yards. However, the reason why he has been such a good Tour player over the past five years is due to him excelling at the parts of the game that count the most on Tour: Red Zone play, Driving and Putts Gained.
I feel that the average golfer can take note of this and use it to improve their game. Realize that the area where you most frequently hit shots may not be the most important part to lowering your handicap. Often times, the area where a golfer most frequently hits shots is the result of hitting poor shots from a more important area. If an amateur chunks 160-yard approach shots repeatedly, they may be left with more 40-yard shots into the green. They could improve their scores more rapidly by learning to hit the 160-yard shots better, instead of focusing on the leftover 40-yard shots.
Analyzing these statistics can also serve as a way to determine a golfer’s best bag setup. Perhaps golfers may want to leave that gap wedge at home in order to carry that extra long iron or hybrid so they are properly gapped on their long approach shots. And it can help the golfer understand what exact length putts are more important in lowering their scores, too.
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.
Paige Spiranac blasts golf culture: “A big boys club” that is “elitist, stuffy and exclusive”
Looking back on a golf genius: Anthony Kim (with final full bag specs)
Patrick Reed’s winning WITB: 2020 WGC-Mexico Championship
Sergio Garcia WITB 2020
On Spec: Fairway wood fittings | Adam Scott wins with 17-year-old irons
Today from the Forums: “Best 3-wood off the deck?”
Phil Mickelson WITB 2020
Viktor Hovland’s winning WITB 2020 Puerto Rico Open
Sungjae Im’s winning WITB: The Honda Classic
Dustin Johnson WITB 2020
WITB Time Machine: Phil Mickelson WITB, 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open
Equipment is accurate as of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (2016). Driver: Callaway XR 16 Sub Zero (8.5 degrees) Shaft:...
Byeong Hun An WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees, B2 SureFit setting) Shaft: Accra TZ5 M5...
Pat Perez WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open. Driver: PXG 0811X Gen 2 (9 degrees) Shaft: Aldila Rogue Black 130...
Adam Long WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the 2020 Players Championship. Driver: TaylorMade SIM Max (9 degrees) Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Smoke Green...
News2 weeks ago
Looking back on a golf genius: Anthony Kim (with final full bag specs)
Whats in the Bag2 weeks ago
Bubba Watson WITB 2020
Equipment3 days ago
Phase 1 vs. P7TW: An inside look at Tiger Woods’ TaylorMade irons
Equipment2 weeks ago
Today from the Forums: “3-hybrid or 7-wood?”
Equipment6 days ago
Building the perfect half set
Opinion & Analysis6 days ago
Behind the numbers: A road map for an 18 handicap to get down to a 9
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Tommy Fleetwood WITB 2020
Whats in the Bag2 weeks ago
Steve Stricker WITB 2020