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Opinion & Analysis

The Encouraging Statistics from Jamie Sadlowski’s PGA Tour Debut

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This past week former long-drive champion, Jamie Sadlowski, took to the PGA Tour by playing the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial Country Club. I was very interested in how he would perform, as we have not seen many long-drive champions actually compete on the PGA Tour level. Sadlowski is not only extremely long (his club speeds in long-drive competitions are upward of 148 mph), but he’s remarkably accurate for a long driver. As a witness to his performance in clinics, he usually hits a tiny draw with a miss that’s a small flare to the right.

Previous long drive champions that have tried to compete in “normal” events generally tend to not only lack the complete game to make the cut, but are too wild off the tee to be taken seriously. But by the same token, we are seeing more top-tier PGA Tour players swinging at higher speeds. The very top of the PGA Tour in club speed also tends to be rising each year. For example, PGA Tour rookie Ryan Brehm has reached speeds of 131 mph in competition this season and routinely gets out-driven by fellow PGA Tour player, Brandon Hagy. It’s clear that there is a trend toward more club speed on the PGA Tour, and I believe that sometime in the future we will see a legitimately competitive Tour player that averages 135+ mph club speed.

Why Speed Matters

This has been often debated, but my statistical research on the subject shows that distance is the great equalizer. A few years ago, AimPoint Founder Mark Sweeney did a study showing the average length of a player’s birdie putt on Tour and found a strong, indirect mathematical correlation between driving distance and the length of the average birdie putt. Simply put, golfers who hit the ball farther are more likely to have a shorter birdie putt on average when they hit the green in regulation. This allows less skilled putters that hit it long to compete on the PGA Tour.

While golfers who hit it farther may have lesser skill with the flatstick, they are more likely to leave themselves birdie putts that have better make percentages. That is, in part, how bombers that have struggled with their putting over the years like Bubba Watson, Robert Garrigus and Rory McIlroy have been able to compete and win on Tour. They are simply giving themselves more makable birdie putts when they hit the green in regulation.

The rub is that while longer hitters are more likely to have shorter birdie putts when they hit the green in regulation, there is also a direct correlation between driving distance and the length of the average shot when they miss the green in regulation. Longer hitters are more likely to wind up in danger off the tee, and that may result in less than ideal approach shots that miss the green by a larger margin.

Here’s one of the questions I frequently get asked as a PGA Tour Statistician. Would you rather be:

  1. Super-long, inaccurate and a weak putter?
  2. Short, very accurate and a pretty good putter?

If I were a Tour player, I would take the former. If a super-long hitter can happen to get four days of accuracy off the tee and four days of good putting (+0.5 strokes gained per round or better), he has a good chance of winning. A classic example of that is John Daly in 1991, where the soft conditions at Crooked Stick helped him find fairways. He also putted insanely well. It became arguably the most unexpected victory in the history of golf.

Driving

I used Driving Effectiveness in order to determine a player’s skill off the tee. Driving Effectiveness is an algorithm that utilizes: distance, hit fairways, average distance from the edge of the fairway, hit fairway bunkers and missed fairway – other percentages and then simulates the data, and not just on the course that was played. I had Sadlowski second in the field in Driving Effectiveness. Granted, he only played two rounds, but the data greatly respected his performance off the tee.

Sadlowski averaged 299.9 yards off the tee on every drive he hit. Jon Rahm was first in driving distance on all drives at 308.1 yards. Sadlowski also hit 50 percent of his fairways compared to the field average of 54 percent. The reason for Sadlowski’s shorter-than-expected distance off the tee is that Colonial is a very tight, dog-leggy type of course that requires a frequent amount of lay-up shots off the tee. In fact, I think this was the biggest factor working against Sadlowski; Colonial is one of the worst golf courses on Tour for his game. It places more of a premium on accuracy off the tee and difficult approach shots to smaller greens.

A bomber like Sadlowski needs a course that will allow him to hit a lot of drivers. From my experience working with numerous Tour players and players that get that special invite, a course with bigger and flatter greens helps as well. Courses like Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational), The Golf Club of Houston (Shell Houston Open) and Las Colinas (Byron Nelson) would be better suited for Sadlowski.

Iron Play

Hunt_Sadlowski_1

Rankings based on 118 players.

Sadlowski performed poorly with his irons at Colonial. The typical skepticism with somebody that hits it as long as Sadlowski does is that he would have trouble with his wedges (since he hits them so far), but Green Zone shots (75-125 yards) was where he actually performed best. His Yellow Zone shots (125-175 yards) really hamstrung him, and because of his length off the tee he was getting more Yellow Zone shots instead of shots from the Red Zone like the rest of the field. The problem was that he could not take advantage of them, which is one of the reasons he finished 10-over par and missed the cut.

Short Game

Sadlowski also finished second-to-last in shots from less than 30 yards. For long hitters (who tend to hit some shots offline and miss some greens by a larger margin), his inability to perform well from around the green presents problems for him in the future. Sadlowski was only able to hit 18 out of 36 greens in regulation, and he needed his short game to make up for his mistakes.

Putting

Sadlowski finished gaining +0.817 strokes per round with his putter. Here is a breakdown of his make percentages by putt distance.

Hunt_Sadlowski_2

Most of Sadlowski’s strokes gained on the greens came from his putting from 3-10 feet. He had 14 opportunities from 5-10 feet and only four chances from 10-15 feet. This discrepancy is indicative of a player who missed a lot of greens and had to make a lot of par saves from 5-10 feet.

Overview and Outlook

The great news is that Sadlowski was fantastic off the tee and very good with the putter. This was particularly impressive since Colonial does not fit Sadlowski very well off the tee, and he still had a great performance driving the ball.

He struggled to play what I call “complementary golf.” He couldn’t take advantage of his long driving and putting because his iron play was abysmal and his short game around the green was even worse. He was gaining on the field from his tee shots, but after he hit his approach shot he was behind the field. Then he fell further behind the field with his short-game shots, and he needed to putt out of his mind just to score close to the field average and make the cut — which of course he didn’t.

Going forward, I would not be surprised if Sadlowski could sustain this type of effectiveness off the tee, as he showed that hitting layups off the tee are fairly easy for him (as I mentioned earlier, bombers on Tour can put together four days of decent accuracy off the tee with good putting and can instantly contend in an event). Sadlowski showed some potential of being able to drive the ball very long and well and combine that with quality putting, but until he improves his iron play and short game, he will be hamstrung by those glaring inefficiencies.

To succeed on the PGA Tour, Sadlowski would need to get on a course that allows him to hit driver more often so he can gain an even greater advantage off the tee in order to counter his weaknesses with the irons and short game.

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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

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Mordaunt

    Jun 2, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    We must remember Jamie is a very “new” pro. He already excels at the most demanding parts of the game, and the short game is an area where huge improvements can be made with sheer repetition to groove feel, reading conditions, effects of spin, contours, green type, etc.

    If Jamie were an established pro, or coming off a long competitive amateur career, then he’d have to play around a weak short game, since he probably would already have maximized his abilities in that area. As it is, I’m much more hopeful of him making large strides in the short game and reaching a level where he can make it on tour.

  2. Jasian Day

    Jun 2, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Have should go to the European Tour….
    We all know why

  3. Wha

    Jun 2, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Are those Iron Play stats from the fairway only?

  4. Jack Nash

    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Costas is working with Jamie so that’s a good start. Talking about his iron play Costas stated his arms and body need to sync better because he’s so fast. Once he dials that in the rest will come quickly, because unlike most long drivers, Jamie’s swing looks like a natural golf swing, not over exerted.

    • Wha

      Jun 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      It’s because Jamie is only 5’11” and 165 pounds

      • cgasucks

        Jun 2, 2017 at 1:05 pm

        Yep. Jamie is tall, but lanky. Just like Tiger in his first few years on tour and he was frickin’ long. I hope he doesn’t bulk up like him.

        • CrashTestDummy

          Jun 2, 2017 at 1:31 pm

          Agreed. Bulking up causes a lot of problems in the golf swing. Limits range of motion, makes the swing less fluid and more twitchy. Strength is important, but only to a point where you still can remain very loose and flexible.

        • Chris

          Jun 2, 2017 at 2:44 pm

          I wouldn’t call 5’11 tall. That’s about average height for men

          • cgasucks

            Jun 3, 2017 at 9:47 am

            I guess you don’t live in Asia…

          • Jack

            Jun 5, 2017 at 11:47 am

            It’s 5’9 in the US. He’s not super tall but a little taller than average.

    • Nigel

      Jun 2, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Bob Costas teaches golf? Peter Kostis might be a better choice.

      • CrashTestDummy

        Jun 2, 2017 at 1:33 pm

        Haha. I know who wants a news commentator teaching you golf. Peter Kostis is a pro.

  5. Tiemco

    Jun 2, 2017 at 7:55 am

    He should play the Travelers in Hartford. It’s a wide open course with a traditionally weak field.

    • Dr Troy

      Jun 2, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      Im sure he would/will if he’s lucky enough to get a sponsor’s invite. He can only accept so many of those also, because he has no status on Tour.

      I thought he did well in his debut. Hell, look at the small group of guys he beat and these are PGA Tour vets:
      Jason Bohn
      Davis Love
      Boo
      Johnny Vegas
      James Hahn
      Mac Hughes
      Jason Kokrak

      Not bad Sads, not bad!

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The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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