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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, 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

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 Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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