You might ask: How would I know the differences between a scratch golfer and a PGA Tour player? Well, it is my full-time job to know these type of things about golf. I have been studying the game from a statistical standpoint for 27 years. I created the Strokes Gained analysis website, ShotByShot.com, and work with PGA Tour members to extract clear answers from the Tour’s overwhelming 653 ShotLink stats.
My experience tells me that there is no such thing as an average game, no matter the handicap level. We’re all snowflakes and find our own unique way to shoot our number. With that said, ShotByShot.com’s 260,000+ round database enables us to create a composite sketch of the average golfer at each level. One of the beauties of our averages is that they are smooth across all five major facets so that every individual golfer’s strengths and weaknesses — and we all have them — stand out clearly by comparison.
The Data Used for this Study
- Mr. Scratch: I averaged the 8,360 rounds in our database that match the zero handicap criteria. In other words, the rounds when Mr. Scratch actually played to his 0 handicap.
- PGA Tour: The average of the 14,557 ShotLink rounds recorded in the 2015 season.
The USGA’s Course and Slope rating system does a sophisticated job of evaluating the relative difficulty of our golf courses. I joined my local course rating committee shortly after the new “Slope” system was added. My specific goal was to gain an understanding of how the system works so that I could effectively apply it in my analysis program.
For the purposes of this article, the Course Rating reflects the relative course par for the scratch golfer. The chart below tells us that the PGA Tour scoring average is 2.25 strokes better than Mr. Scratch. Further, Tour players are playing courses that are 3.2 strokes more difficult. The net result is a 5.45-shot difference between Tour players and Mr. Scratch, but let’s just call it 5.5.
The chart above shows us that the biggest piece of the 5.5-shot pie falls into the Driving category, or Distance, which makes sense to me. To play the game for a living, one must be able to hit it straight and far. Even Zach Johnson, with whom I have had the great pleasure of working with for five years, is often considered a short hitter. I contend that he is simply more intelligent and recognizes the true value of accuracy. Zach is averaging 281 yards this year, only seven off of the Tour average. Short? Not by my standards.
The chart below indicates that the driving distance gap between the Tour and Mr. Scratch is 33 yards. The average approach shot distance on the PGA Tour is 175 yards. Adding the 33 yards to all 14 driving holes puts Mr. Scratch’s average approach distance at just over 205 yards. The Strokes Gained value of this added distance is 2.52 strokes (0.18 per attempt x 14 driving holes = 2.52).
Accuracy and Errors Per Round
Mr. Scratch appears slightly better than the Tour in accuracy and errors per round. With added distance inevitably comes some reduced accuracy and more errors. I believe this slight edge would more than disappear if Mr. Scratch were using the Tour’s big-boy tees.
As you can see by the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less accurate from the distances that account for 80 percent of the Tour approach attempts. I estimate that Mr. Scratch’s reduced accuracy would account for at least two fewer GIR’s per round, at a cost of 1.5 strokes. It is interesting to note that Mr. Scratch incurs an approach penalty with the same frequency as the Tour average (1 in every 5 rounds).
Mr. Scratch leaves his successful short game shots 1 foot farther from the hole. This difference in the range of 7-10 feet is worth 0.08 Strokes Gained. When multiplied by seven short game shots per round it’s 0.56 strokes, but we’ll call it half a stroke.
I am ignoring the minor difference in errors (shots that miss the green). My theory is that Mr. Scratch attains his excellent scoring level through meticulous short game consistency. The Tour players are so good that they try to get even highest-risk shots close to the hole, confident that if they miss the green they will save the next — which they do 75 percent of the time. In 2015, only 25 percent of the short game shots that missed the green took more than three strokes to finally hole out.
As you can see from the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less proficient in the ranges that account for the vast majority of 1-Putt opportunities on Tour. Mr. Scratch also 3-Putts 38 percent more frequently than the Tour average. The Strokes Gained impact of these differences over 18 holes would be 0.9 strokes — let’s call it 1 stroke.
Bottom line, there is a measurable 5.5 stroke difference between Mr. Scratch and PGA Tour players. I have obviously not factored in the immeasurable effect of the added pressure and stress of teeing it up in a Tour event. Anyone who has participated in a PGA Tour Pro-Am will attest to the electric atmosphere and amplified pressure that comes with the experience.
If you want to try to get on the PGA Tour, your handicap needs to be a solid +3. If you want to support a family playing on tour, your handicap should be +5. Much easier said than done, however.
How well do you really know the Teeing Ground rules? Here’s a refresher…
There are a few things you need to know 18 times every round if you want to stay on the right side of the law, and some of them are quirky. They all surround the Teeing Ground, a very specific area defined by the Rules which is different from the larger (undefined) flat area upon which the tee-markers are placed and rotated.
One might think that putting a peg in the ground to start your hole is stupid-simple, but let’s reserve that judgment for a while. I recently had a discussion about this with a friend, and crudely sketched out some scenarios. Please look at Illustration No. 1, and hold off on looking at Illustration No. 2 further below for the moment.
In the first illustration, you will find the depiction of two haphazardly-placed (square) tee-markers; five golf balls; and a representation of the depth of two club-lengths. Which of the balls has been placed in a position to legally start the play of the hole?
Decide, then read on.
While it may seem simple, irregularly shaped tee-markers and tee-markers which “aim” you in an off direction relative to the fairway actually require careful analysis in order to accurately determine where the Teeing Ground begins and ends. Here is the explicit Definition:
The “teeing ground” is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers. A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground.
When square tee-markers are positioned in such a way that their sides are not parallel to each other, the precise rectangular area of the Teeing Ground can have a surprising outline. And the fact that a ball may be partially outside the Teeing Ground and still considered technically within it can add to the possible confusion.
Moving on to reviewing Illustration No. 2, you’ll see the rectangle of the Teeing Ground superimposed over the haphazardly placed tee-markers per the Definition. Ball A, C, and D are partially within the Teeing Ground and therefore legal to play, and Ball B and E are completely outside of it. So if you’re one of those players who wants to get every last inch closer to the hole when you tee it up (or on occasion want to be almost two full club-lengths away from the front of the Teeing Ground) take heed!
The exact place the tee-markers are positioned takes on critical importance in another way, too. Rule 11-2 forbids you from moving the tee-markers to assist you before you make your first stroke from the Teeing Ground. So unless you have already made a stroke (in which case the tee-markers have become movable obstructions which you may temporarily move) don’t intentionally move them — even to “straighten” them for groups behind you. Decision 11-2/2 gives you the fairly complicated details on when you may or may not touch them without penalty, but it’s way easier to just remember to leave them alone!
In wild contrast to the prohibitions against changing the position of the tee-markers, the Rules are downright liberal in terms of what you may do to the surface of the Teeing Ground before you play. While Rule 1-2 generally prohibits you from altering physical conditions with the intent of affecting the play of a hole, Rule 11-1 lets you go hog-wild in changing the surface of this particular area. You’re free to create or eliminate any irregularity of surface you wish: stamp on the ground with your foot, create a divot hole or tuft of turf with your club, pull out a hunk of grass or a weed — have at it if you’re so moved. In addition, Rule 13-2 allows you to remove dew, frost or water from the Teeing Ground. In all cases, make sure you’re doing this landscaping only to the ground within the two club-length deep official Teeing Ground. Do it to the surrounding area and you might be in trouble. (In particular, note that Decision 13-2/14 makes it clear that you may not break a branch off a tree near the Teeing Ground that might interfere with your swing.)
If you’ve got the nerve, there’s a way to sort of expand the Teeing Ground for yourself: Rule 11-1 assures us that a player’s stance may be outside the Teeing Ground when he or she plays a ball from within it. So if you’re looking to get a better angle to a dogleg fairway or to avoid some overhanging branches out there, feel free to tee it up anywhere you wish between the tee-markers and deal with your stance afterward. Just be sure your concentration skills allow you to ignore that tee-marker which may now be between your toe and the ball!
Finally, what do you do if you inadvertently tee off outside the Teeing Ground? Rule 11-4 covers this, and it’s dramatically different in Match Play vs. Stroke Play. In Match, you are fine unless your opponent immediately requires you to cancel your stroke and start again. There is no penalty in either case (other than the possible misfortune of having to cancel a good shot). In Stroke, teeing off outside the Teeing Ground is a critical mistake: You get a 2-stroke penalty for having teed off from an incorrect location and you must re-tee correctly and start again before you tee off on the next hole (or before you leave the 18th green without declaring your intention to re-play) or else you’ll be disqualified from the competition.
In either Match or Stroke Play, you may warn your opponent or fellow-competitor that he or she is about to play from outside the Teeing Ground. If you have the occasion, it’s a nice thing to do. Take care, play well!
The Gear Dive: David Edel explains the true bounce equation that no one talks about
An honest chat with club maker David Edel on everything from the 3 types of wedge body types, a bounce equation, the misconceptions of bounce, and his in-depth fitting process.
2:45 — How it started
4:55 — How his fitting methods came to be
11:40 — Bounce and the misconceptions around it
13:30 — The 3 basic types of golfers
16:20 — The true bounce equation that no one talks about
26:00 — Finally getting the message out to the masses
29:40 — Whats next for Edel
32:45 — The secret vault
35:45 — Advice to the club makers coming up
39:40 — The companies that excite him today
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
13 Revealing Photos from an AJGA golf event
The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) is a breeding ground for college golfers; according to its mission statement, the AJGA is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf.” Some of the best juniors in the country/world collect at AJGA golf events to compete, hone their competitive skills, and also to showcase their talents to college recruiters who use AJGA scores, finishes and performances to evaluate prospective student-athletes. They also pay a lot of money to play in these events — this particular 54-hole event cost $295 entry fee (plus any travel, lodging and practice rounds).
Name a player on the PGA Tour, and chances are he played in AJGA events as a junior… Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, whoever you can think of really. Even yours truly, the GolfWRX Editor, once upon a time played in AJGA events. But that was over 10 years ago now, and I wanted to revisit an AJGA event to see how things have changed.
So, recently, I went to the AJGA Junior at Forest Lake presented by Tom Holzer Ford in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to cover the event. Below are my takeaways.
1) Treated like Tour players
Each of the players are given individual lockers with their names on them for the week. I’ve always been a change-the-shoes-in-the-parking-lot kind of guy myself, but this is a nice touch.
2) It’s official
Like most professional events, the AJGA events have tents, waters, granola bars, tees, scorecards and pencils on the first tee. And they announce your name/hometown, which is always intimidating.
As a popular junior golf organization, the AJGA attracts a number of big-name sponsors.
But the most important sponsor is Care for the Course. These kids hit pretty much every green, so repairing ball marks on the green is crucial.
4) College Coaches do show up
During the first round of a random AJGA event in Michigan, there were a number of college coaches on site, representing DI, DII and DIII colleges. While that does mean added pressure for the 12-18 year old kids, it also means that playing well in these events could very well land you a scholarship. After talking with a few of the college coaches, however, it’s often positive body language even after a double bogey that can really impress coaches. Juniors, keep that one in mind.
5) Push carts, or carry bags?
By my estimation, about 70 percent of the competitors used pull carts. Back in my days of AJGA golf, it was rare to find 1 or 2 juniors using push carts. Why the change? Well, it seems kids have smartened up. Speaking with a few competitors, it seems they prefer push carts over carry bags because it adds additional space for water bottles, scorecards, weather gear, umbrellas, and it’s easier on your body during long rounds.
6) Yea, these kids are good
16-year-old Maxwell Moldovan shot a 9-under 62 (and course record) in the first round of the event. He made 9 birdies against 9 pars. Speaking with him after the round, he seemed unfazed by the 62, instead enjoying his position and plotting his first AJGA victory. These kids just have no fear. (Also, live scoring is awesome).
The new course record holder was gaming a mixed iron set of Titleist CBs and MBs (as shown above), and was using custom Titleist SM7 wedges stamped with “M2,” surely a play on his initials. And yes, he’s pro-push cart.
7) The most nerve-racking moment in the round
Have you ever shot a great round in a tournament, then been nervous you’d make a stupid scoring mistake and get DQ’d, so you go over your round multiple times to confirm the scores? I know I can’t be alone.
8) Tough track
The quirky, par-71 golf course measured just 6,283 yards on the scorecard — AJGA employees estimate most events are played between 6,800 and 7,200 yards — but many of the holes seemed to either take driver out of the players’ hands (although they typically hit driver anyway), or at least made hitting driver very difficult.
Plus, they had pins tucked pretty good. After the round, participants estimated the greens were running at about a 12 on the stimp, and one player said “the greens were some of the hardest I’ve putted on all summer.”
Also, painted dirt inside the cups goes a long way to making the tournament feel more official. I thought they painted cups white so the TV cameras could better see where the hole is, and as far as I know this AJGA event wasn’t televised, but hey, it looks cool.
9) Keeping up
The AJGA keeps players moving, timing them on a number of holes at “timing stations,” and handing out warnings for slow play. Enough warnings and the group gets reprimanded with a penalty stroke. There’s not nearly as much leeway out here as on the PGA Tour… they do actually hand out penalty strokes, and the participants seemed well aware of that.
10) Cross-hand putting grips
Everyone out there was using a cross-handed putting grip. Literally, everyone I saw was putting cross-handed.
11) Rules officials
Like any big tournament, rules officials swarm the course. This kid hooked his tee shot up against an outhouse, and resolved the situation with a volunteer and a rules official. As soon as he hit his shot, he asked to make sure “Are we still on pace?” That’s the timing stations doing their jobs.
Parents can be seen all over the course, following their son/daughter, grinding over each shot just as hard or harder than the players themselves.
“I’m holding up OK, but my husband might have a heart attack,” one mother of a first-time AJGA participant told me. The pressure is real out there for everyone involved.
13) And that’s all she wrote
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