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The stats behind Phil Mickelson’s switch to Andrew Getson

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It was big news in the golf instruction industry when Phil Mickelson decided to part ways with long-time coach Butch Harmon and hired Andrew Getson to take over. Mickelson was not exactly performing poorly by normal Tour standards, as he made 16 out of 19 cuts and finished 48th in Adjusted Scoring Average for the season. But Mickelson’s seasons are judged by victories and performance in the majors, and Phil may have felt that there was a need to change after two winless seasons.

As a golf statistician, I wanted to look at Phil’s performance from this past season along with his performance in his most recent “big” season, 2013, when he won the British Open, finished 12th in Adjusted Scoring Average and earned nearly $5.5 million. I would assume that performance in 2013 is something that Phil wants to get back to.

Mickelson_instructor_switch_chart_1-1

While the two most important metrics in the chart above are Par-4 Scoring Average and Bogey Rate, it’s always good to look at all of the metrics to help paint a more clear picture of what is going on with the golfer’s game. In Phil’s case, the drop-off in Par-4 Scoring Average and Bogey rate is dramatic and needs to be addressed.

For most of Phil’s career, he’s been a great iron player and a weak driver of the ball with fantastic ability to get up-and-down. So I would immediately wonder how his typical game is playing a factor in this decline in performance. The silver lining in all of this, however, is that he can still make a lot of birdies.

DRIVING DATA

Mickelson_instructor_switch_2

The driving metrics are interesting because the only sub-category of metrics that Phil was better in this season was driving distance. He ended up 74th in Driving Effectiveness, however, the main reason being is that Mickelson ranked third in terms of driving difficulty schedule. I have found it easy for a Tour player to fall in the trap of thinking he is not performing well in a certain area of the game when the reality is that the difficulty has amplified. He can actually be doing well in terms of his performance versus the rest of the field.

For instance, TPC Summerlin is one of the most difficult courses to hit short-game shots (inside 30 yards) on the entire Tour schedule. Thus, I remind my clients to not get too down on themselves if they are not hitting their short-game shots close. The make percentage on the greens is higher, too, so they can save par anyway. This may have been a problem for Phil. He may have felt that his driving performance was not improving, but in reality the conditions and course designs were more difficult than they have been in the past.

APPROACH SHOT DATA

Mickelson_instructor_switch_3

Iron play has usually been Phil’s greatest strength, and it was on display in the 2013 season. It is becoming a weakness now, however. The drop-off is larger from 100-150 yards, but the smart move would be to work on his performance from 175-225 yards, because that will have a bigger influence on lowering his scores.

And just so we can make sure that his drop in iron play is not due to missing more fairways, here is his performance from the fairway versus the rough.

Mickelson_instructor_switch_4-1

Also, there was a new metric that I started to record this year: Scoring Average on Dogleg Left Holes versus Dogleg Right Holes versus Straight-Away Par-4’s (adjusted based on hole difficulty).

Mickelson_instructor_switch_5-1

I find these metrics interesting. Phil’s overall driving has improved, but while he hits a ball that curves from right-to-left his performance on the DogLeg left Par-4’s is much worse.

While I am in the initial stages of studying the doglegs versus the straight-away par-4’s, the initial analysis shows that more of the very long Par-4’s (460+ yards) tend to be DogLeg left holes. With Phil’s performance from 150-225 yards regressing, that may explain why he has struggled on the dogleg left par-4’s this past season. And that regression on longer approach shots would help explain his struggles on the par-3’s, as par-3 play is one part iron play, one part short game and one part putting outside 20-feet.

SHORT GAME DATA

Mickelson_instructor_switch_6

Phil’s Total Short Game performance has regressed mainly because he has regressed most from the most important distance, 10-20 yards. This would play a bigger factor in his struggles on the Par-3’s and his ability to avoid bogeys on the Par-4’s. Essentially, he is not hitting as many GIR because of his iron play, and cannot hit his short game shots close enough to put himself in good position to save par.

PUTTING DATA

Mickelson_Instructor_Switch_7

Phil still putted well in 2015, so I don’t think that is a big issue. In fact, the history on Tour shows he was not likely to sustain his putting from outside 15-feet regardless of what he did after the 2013 season.

I expect Phil to continue to work on his driving, which is not necessarily a bad idea. However, he made nearly $5.5 million and won a major while driving the ball poorly in 2013. I think the better move is to focus on getting his iron play back, particularly from 150-225 yards, and see if they can regain his old short game form.

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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, 2015 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 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Steve Allison

    Dec 4, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Phil needs to get shed of that old timey putter, Please Phil go to Scotty!!

  2. Steve Allison

    Dec 4, 2015 at 10:40 am

    The best thing Phil needs to do is to get rid of the old timey putter and go to Scotty Cameron and let Scotty make a putter that is right for him.

  3. Jack

    Dec 3, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Great article. Another good read from Rich! Really interested to see the findings on dog legs. I’m thinking that you may see better scoring with players that shape the ball against the shape of the hole. Ie misses will more likely be on the ‘far side’ of the dog leg!

  4. Pingback: Back Nine News – The Best Golf Stories & Videos of the Week | Golf Science

  5. I'm Ron Burgundy??

    Dec 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I enjoyed the analysis! It is very interesting to see stuff like this and number do not lie. I wonder how much is rheumatoid arthritis has played into his ability to be able to practice and play as often as he would like? I would assume that someone with his condition has good and bad days.

  6. Richard

    Dec 2, 2015 at 5:52 am

    Very interesting but with one error which I wish all columnists at Golfwrx would get right. It is The Open NOT The British Open.

    • Richard

      Dec 3, 2015 at 4:06 am

      HI Bubba. With respect, please check out the PGA Tour Schedule for 2015/16… http://www.pgatour.com/news/2015/07/30/schedule-release.html
      You will see that the PGA tour even call it “The Open Championship”. Calling it the British Open would be like calling The Masters The American Masters as there are various Masters tournements around the world. I know I’m being a golf pedant. 🙂

      • Bob

        Dec 6, 2015 at 2:17 am

        Isn’t calling it the British Open more analogous to calling the men’s open tournament run by the USGA the “U.S. Open”?

  7. Bobalu

    Dec 1, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    RH- Well done. Interesting analysis. Let us know if Phil sees this and gives you any feedback.

  8. Greg V

    Dec 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Phil won $5.5 million in 2013 based largely on wins at the Scottish Open, Open Championship and a second place finish in the US Open. The keys to his fine play in those three tournaments were Phil’s use of the mini driver off the tee, and fantastic wedge play.

    The mini driver and excellent wedge play are really all you need to know about the keys to Phil’s ability to win another major.

    • Richie Hunt

      Dec 1, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Greg V –

      I don’t have the data for those specific events because 2 are majors and the other is the Scottish Open which does not count towards those $5.5 million in earnings (PGA Tour only). You will generally find that in the Majors, shots from 175-250 yards matter most if you want to segment them. Driving is typically more important at the US Open than at the British Open. But, wedge play rarely makes a substantial impact. I think from 2013 we can see how elite Phil’s iron play was and I would imagine that it carried over to the British, Scottish and US Opens. In Phil’s years using the mini-driver, his driving still wasn’t very effective.

  9. cgasucks

    Dec 1, 2015 at 11:28 am

    While I understand why Phil had to change instructors, he has to accept the fact that he’s not the young gun as he once was in the late 90s and early 2000s (Jordan, Rory, Jason and Dustin have that torch now) and his career is on the downswing. He’ll have to accept 10 ten finishes at best while he is old enough for the Champions tour.

  10. HG Wells

    Dec 1, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I do think we’ve all been waiting for the other shoe to drop with the RA and it’s effect on his game. And of course his age can’t be overlooked, although based on his driving distance he’s still plenty competitive athletically. Really though, looking at those stats, doesn’t just look like someone who hasn’t been playing as much golf? It really all looks like just an overall decline in sharpness due to fewer reps in the practice area. It’s always seemed to me that his golf game kept his interest much longer than most of the top money winners in the era of instant-millionaire golf, but it’s only natural to slow down a bit when life is frankly pretty damn good by all appearances. And with that much money on the table, the young guys are now grinding harder than ever to get there.

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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