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Statistics on how short hitters can conquer Par-5’s

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One of the least surprising parts of analytics in golf is that there is a strong statistical correlation on the PGA Tour between Driving Distance and Par-5 performance. Driving Distance and Par-4 performance does not have nearly the same correlation, which makes it obvious how important power is to performing on the Par-5’s.

I wanted to look at the exceptions to the rule, however: short hitters who performed well on Par-5’s. Conversely, I wanted to examine long hitters who did not perform well on Par-5’s. Then I wanted to see what these groups of players had in common with their game in hopes of explaining why they overachieved or underachieved on Par-5’s.

I decided to take the top-15 Overachievers (nearly the top 10 percent) and the top-15 Underachievers and examine their metrics. 

par_5_stats_1

Click to enlarge

First, I wanted to see how these groups of golfers performed on approach shots, not only the range from which they are likely to hit a fairway wood (225-275 yards), but also on short approach shots where they end up if they decide to lay up on Par-5’s.

par_5_stats_2

Click to enlarge

What’s interesting is that the Overachievers have a much better ranking in each of the categories except one: shots from 250-275 yards. That area is where the 3-wood is almost exclusively used by Tour players, and yet the Overachievers were significantly worse performers than the Underachievers.

This is one of the key points in the difference between the Overachievers and the Underachievers. Obviously, performing better from 75-150 yards is helpful to performing better on the Par-5’s. But despite the Overachievers being worse with the 3-wood and better from 75-150 yards than the Underachievers, they were significantly more aggressive on the par-5’s.

Par-5 aggressiveness is a proprietary formula that I use to determine how “aggressive” a player is in going for par-5’s in two shots based on their percentage of Par-5 “Go For It’s,” their distance off the tee, their club speed and the percentage of “Go For It’s” for the field on the par-5’s they have played.

For example, Mark Hubbard ranked 114th in actual Par-5 “Go For It” percentage. But he was 165th in Driving distance, which means he has a less likely chance to go for Par-5’s in two shots. Hubbard did it anyway, and therefore was very aggressive on the Par-5’s.

The difference in Overachievers being much more aggressive on the Par-5’s, despite being inferior 3-wood players and superior from 75-150 yards, indicates that it is far more beneficial to be aggressive than conservative on the Par-5’s.

Next, let’s look at Short Game shots around the green data for both groups.

par_5_stats_3

Click to enlarge

Once again, this is not all that revelatory in general, but the details are a bit more informative. The Overachievers had better short games than the Underachievers. However, the data shows that the larger discrepancy is on shots from 20-30 yards. On Par-4’s, it is far more important to perform well from 10-20 yards and from less than 10 yards than it is to perform well from 20-30 yards. But on par-5 shots, 20-30 yards is a more important distance range.

Here’s how the two groups fared on the greens.

par_5_stats_4

Click to enlarge

This was a bit more surprising for the most part, as he Overachievers did not putt significantly better than the Underachievers. This indicates that getting the ball close to the green in the first two shots is more important than actual putting performance on the green for Tour players.

Lastly, I wanted to compare the two groups with some driving metrics.

par_5_stats_5

Click to enlarge

Tee Shot Aggressiveness is a proprietary measurement I use to determine the amount of times a player is laying-up off the tee. Players like Mark Hubbard and Roberto Castro rarely lay up off the tee, while Martin Laird and Lee Westwood were frequently laying up off the tee.

While there is a huge discrepancy in the Tee Shot Aggressiveness rankings for the Overachievers versus the Underachievers and the Overachievers were more effective off the tee in general, the more telling metrics are the ones that indicate a player’s accuracy and precision off the tee.

Despite the Overachievers being much more aggressive off the tee, they were still far more accurate (hit fairway percentage) and much more precise off the tee (Distance to Edge of Fairway, Hit Fairway Bunker Percentage and Missed Fairway – Other Percentage). This goes back to one of the major strategic keys that I stress to all golfers:

If you’re likely to have a long club in your hand (5-iron or longer) on your 2nd shot, it is best to focus on making good contact and finding the fairway rather than swinging for the fences in hopes of gaining an extra 20-30 yards off the tee.

That includes Par-5’s and Par-4’s. For Tour players, the variance in scores on shots from the fairway versus the rough rise dramatically once the second shot is from 175 yards or more. For amateurs who play shorter courses, I recommend looking at it from the club you are using. The general rule of thumb is a 5 iron or longer. I still recommend hitting driver off the tee. As the Overachievers show, they are not laying up off the tee that often. But, it is better to take your “stock swing” and focus on making good contact and finding the fairway than to swing harder in hopes of gaining more yards at the risk of finding the rough.

To summarize, here’s what amateurs can learn from the pros. 

  1. Hit driver off the tee, but focus on good contact and finding the fairway instead of swinging harder in hopes of hitting it farther.
  2. Three wood performance is not as critical to par-5 performance as one may think. However, it’s still important to try and get the ball as close as you can to the hole when feasible rather than playing for your “money yardage.”
  3. Short Game performance is fairly important, but it’s more about long-range short game shots (20-30 yards) than shorter range Short Game shots (<15 yards).
  4. Par-5 performance is more about the first two shots than it is about performance with the putter.
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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

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ron

    Mar 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Great article. Love the statistical analysis and how that plays into strategy.

    At 75 (with an index of about 4), I legitimately qualify as a short hitter (although probably fairly long for my age group). I can rarely reach par-5s in two – only on short ones probably playing from the ‘whites’. So my approach to par-5s is to think of them as par-3s in the sense that with a decent in-play drive, and a decent in-play second shot, most par-5s I play then just become a short iron or wedge to the green. (And with a wedge in my hands, I will always think “no worse than three more shots”, although it doesn’t always work out that way.) So par-5s are scoring holes even when they are not usually eagle opportunities. My strategy? Make that third shot as short as possible – unless getting into that position involves some risk like carrying a hazard or flirting with a bunker complex. But the key for me is putting the driver in play – doesn’t have to be long, but I want a doable second shot. The second shot strategy is then dictated by the lie and the risk – a fairway wood gets me as close to the green as possible without taking on undo risk, a hybrid or other ‘lay-up’ might be a safer shot and result in a longer third, but that’s okay. My scoring average on par-5s last year – in 140 rounds on 17 different courses? 5.0 (a little under that on my home course).

    I played a recent on-course practice by dropping a ball 50-100 yards from each green and playing in. Great fun, by the way – and a great way to hone par-5 scoring skills.

  2. Davo

    Feb 25, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Zac Johnson won his masters jacket by laying up on every par 5 each day a few years back.

    • Rich Hunt

      Feb 26, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Yes, it was record freezing temperatures with high winds. Everybody was having to lay-up because it wasn’t feasible to get over the water in two shots. That left Zach in a wedge competition against the rest of the field which played to his strengths. Since then, Zach has not played all that well in the Masters outside of last season and goes for the par-5’s at Augusta whenever he can.

  3. Gob

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:07 am

    What are the driving distance numbers in the first chart?

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:19 am

      All of the numbers in each of the charts are the rankings. So instead of saying a player ranked 165th, I just put down he ranked 165.

  4. Mark

    Feb 24, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I’m not sure if the stats for tour players apply the same to the games of amateurs. The big difference I see is in the partial swing shots to get on the green. Pros spend endless hours dialing in their distances for these types of shots; amateurs, not so much. So I believe it IS actually better for the amateur to layup to their “money shot” because it’s a distance that they know and have practiced. Getting it as close as possible and leaving yourself a shot that requires a partial swing just doesn’t play out as well for amateurs as it does for pros.

    • aJerry

      Feb 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      !00% correct short game of 100 yards and in yields great results BUT very few amateurs with limited income have any where they can spend a hour or two hitting from a hundred yards and in to a playable green and get real descent results. What your talking about is Country Club level amateurs that have the money to belong to a course with quality practice facilities…..you get very little value out of practicing 100 yard shots off beat up old mats hitting in to dirt or near dirt driving range practice areas…and least anyone forget pros are hitting into real greens for practice with balls, like proV1’s they use in tournaments…. Every time we pay $48 bucks for a dozen ball a chunk of that change goes to supply tournament pros with endless supplies of that ball to play and practice with……..

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:24 am

      The general concepts apply, but things are scaled down for the amateurs because they hit it shorter and play shorter courses. Most amateurs can’t hit their 3-wood 250-275 yards, so that is why I discussed the actual club more than the actual yardage. With the studies we’ve done on amateurs on par-5’s, the principles are almost identical to what we saw in the numbers for the pros. The only real exception is that some amateurs are far worse with the 3-wood off the deck than any other club in their bag. However, I believe one can draw the reasonable conclusion that if you’re an amateur that really struggles with the 3-wood, par-5’s are going to be an issue for you until you figure out how to hit a 3-wood with some level of competence.

  5. Steve

    Feb 24, 2016 at 12:39 am

    Driving distances of PGA pros and LPGA pros is amazing but the second shots are the unbelievable shots….PGA guys hitting 3 irons 240 yards and stopping them on the green and LPGA gals hitting hybrids 230 yards and stopping on the greens. Insane…

    • Jack

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:47 am

      Yup. The more you look at those performances, the more you realize the immense gap between top amateurs and pros. Not only are they more accurate, the distance they are covering is much greater too.

  6. Magnus

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I actually have a very good shortgame, and my putting is alright, but I break 80 only when I find the fairway consistently from the tee, thats always the key to a good round. But anyway a lot of people talk about how you win tournaments because of your putter or your good shortgame. “you drive for show and putt for dough” is not true, and never has been.

    • Bob Jones

      Feb 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Lee Trevino said, “They say you drive for show and putt for dough, but if you can’t drive, you won’t be putting for very much dough.”

    • Peter

      Feb 24, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      The “drive for show” is referring to the longest drive, it’s nothing to do with hitting or missing fairways. You can’t compete at any decent level if you can’t putt!

  7. Mat

    Feb 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    This deserves one more step…

    “Overachievers” are doing what the “Every Shot Counts” stat book says… essentially, you’re going to score better at a pro level from 40 yards out in the rough than you are 90 in the fairway.

    You can essentially stack these stats backwards; overachievers are the guys playing to the stats. Gain the most distance within reason and within your ability every shot, as the lie allows.

  8. Bump Fuzz

    Feb 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I remember hearing on a golf telecast that Webb Simpson will try to get it as close to the hole as possible when hitting his 2nd shot on par 5s instead of laying up to a favorite wedge yardage.

    • Rich Hunt

      Feb 24, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Funny you mention Webb. When I analyze players and their strategy, Webb is one of the very best strategists on Tour. Not only on par-5’s, but on tee shots where there are players laying up or going for it. Whatever is the best play statistically, Webb is usually making that play.

  9. Fahgdat

    Feb 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Wow. Thanks for putting that together. Great article.
    Goes to show you smart course management and timely scoring is what it’s all about.
    You can play to your strengths and still do well.

  10. Scott

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Are you suggesting that the longer hitters are not being aggressive enough off the tee? I have often thought that there was way too much laying up on tour.

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:29 am

      I wasn’t really suggesting that in this particular article. But often times that is the case. One of the things I preach to Tour players I work with is that I do not treat every player the same and fit them into 1 way of doing things. Bubba Watson shouldn’t try to play like Tim Clark and vice versa. Much of that has to do with how far they hit the ball. But, I see a lot of long hitters on Tour that try to play more like the shorter hitters. They concentrate on finding fairways at the expense of their length off the tee by laying up and focus too much on their wedge games. Instead, they have prodigious length off the tee….use it to your advantage. If you have the ability to be a power player…be a power player.

  11. davemac

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I really like this type of analysis, am I correct in assuming the value in each column is the player’s positional ranking for that given skill?

    Psychology has to play a major impact on the result, Lee Westwood is poor from the ‘important’ target short game areas, but is this a poor short game or excessive shot pressure due to putting weakness?

    The other possibility is perhaps under achievers are in the habit of short siding their approach miss, making the short game shot more difficult.

  12. Bobby Pingstein

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Just hit the gym and take testosterone

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On Spec

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the recently discovered Kirkland Signature wedges on the USGA Conforming list, as well as what recently spotted TaylorMade and Mizuno irons may have in store
Also with the LPGA Tour back in action, Ryan also discussed why it is a good idea to check out how LPGA players gap their bags compared to players on the PGA Tour.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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How Tiger Woods lost the 2009 PGA Championship

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11 years ago, the PGA Championship produced one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

The all-conquering Tiger Woods arrived at the 2009 PGA Championship as the prohibitive favorite, having won three of his last four events. Woods then backed up that favoritism over the opening two days, picking apart Hazeltine National with extreme precision to build a four-stroke advantage by the halfway point.

It felt like such a formality that here in Ireland, our biggest bookmaker, PaddyPower declared Tiger as the winner and decided to pay out all outright bets on the World Number One after just 36 holes.

It proved to be a big mistake.

Next week will be the 11th anniversary of the monumental upset, and here I’ll take a look at the factors behind Woods’ unthinkable loss that week to Y.E. Yang.

Tiger’s Ultra-Conservative Saturday

On a scoring Saturday, Woods was too content to play it safe. Why not? After all, the ultimate closer had won so many majors by forging a lead, aiming for the middle of the green, two-putting for par and watching his opponents slowly falter one by one.

Only this time was different, and even Tiger with a two-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round as much as admitted he was too conservative during round three, saying after his round:

“They gave us a lot of room on a lot of these pins, six and seven even from the side, so you can be fairly aggressive. I just felt that with my lead, I erred on the side of caution most of the time.

“If I did have a good look at it, a good number at it, I took aim right at it. Otherwise I was just dumping the ball on the green and 2-putting.”

The incessant safety first, lag putting strategy of Saturday even transformed into a tentativeness at the beginning of Sunday’s final round.

On the par-five seventh hole, with Yang in trouble, Woods had 245 yards to the pin for his second with a huge opportunity to make a statement eagle or textbook birdie. He inexplicably layed up, hit a poor wedge and once again lagged for par.

Horrific Sunday Putting

To say Tiger’s trusty Scotty Cameron betrayed him during Sunday’s final round would be underselling it. Putt after putt just refused to drop when he needed it most.

In the end, Woods’ seven-foot birdie effort on the 14th hole is the only putt of any note he managed to make on the day.

Tiger played Sunday’s final round in 75 strokes. Thirty-three of them were putts.

Yang Stood Up To Tiger

Critics of Woods have long claimed that in his prime, Tiger would crowd his opponents as an intimidation tactic, or rush off the green to the next tee leaving his competitors to putt out while the crowd dispersed.

Regardless, nothing was going to faze Yang that Sunday.

In fact, during the early stretch of the final round, Tiger’s indecision and tentativeness led to the pairing being behind the pace of play. It forced on-course officials to remind the two that they needed to speed it up—and of course, they only stressed that Yang needed to do so.

How did the Korean respond? By pointing at Tiger and saying “Not me. Him.”

The Pivotal Two-Shot Swing

Many look back on Yang’s chip-in eagle to take the lead at the 14th hole on Sunday as the significant turning point of the Championship. However, Yang was always likely to make birdie on the short par-four hole, and the previous hole may well have been the tipping point for the upset.

On the par-three 13th hole, Yang found the bunker, while Woods hit a beauty to eight feet. The two-shot swing in Tiger’s favor looked even more likely when Yang failed to get his bunker shot inside Woods’ ball.

But when Yang buried his par effort, and Woods let yet another putt slip by, the two remained all square.

Woods’ reaction following his putt was telling; his frustration poured out despite him still being in a share of the lead. It was a show of exasperation that may have given the Korean all the encouragement he needed to turn Tiger’s 54 hole major lead record of 14-0 into 14-1.

Asked following his round when he felt his control on the tournament beginning to loosen, Woods said:

“But as far as the tournament switching, 13, I stuffed it in there. He made a mistake, hit it in the left bunker. He blasted out. I missed my putt. He made his. And then he chipped in on the next hole.

“So that two-hole stretch turned — if I make my putt, he doesn’t chip in, you know, he doesn’t make his putt on 13.”

The 2009 PGA Championship preceded a ten-year barren spell for Tiger at the majors before he claimed his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters. He is still yet to appear in the final twosome on a Sunday at a major since the 2009 PGA.

As for Y.E Yang, the 48-year-old now spends most of his time competing in Japan and his native Korea. He has played in all 10 PGA Championships since his remarkable victory. He has missed the cut seven times.

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Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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