Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Rich Hunt’s 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis, which can be purchased here for $10. Stylistic changes were made to the story for online publication.
At the start of the 2015-2016 season, PGATour.com introduced the Strackaline app to ShotTracker. The app provides 3D topographical scans of each green on the PGA Tour, but its presence with the Tour was short-lived. By early 2016, the Tour stopped using the app in conjunction with ShotTracker. I found the Strackaline app to be helpful in exploring something we have long wondered about; how well Tour players putt on different types of breaking putts.
I was excited to use this app for my own Tour clients to help them with their putting, and I started to notice some interesting trends. Poor putters putted differently from average putters, and average putters putted differently from great putters. Some characteristics started to emerge when players putted significantly better than normal, as well as when they putted significantly worse than normal.
I then used that data and explore other random players: great putters, better-than-average putters, average putters, worse-than-average putters, and the worst putters on Tour. I was interested in seeing how different golfers putted from certain locations on the Fall Line Clock to see if there were any similar characteristics or trends with their putting.
The Tour’s decision to stop using the Strackaline app made my research more difficult. The good news is that the Strackaline app has a function that allows you to place the pin in the position where you think it is located on the green. Then you can place a golf ball on a spot on the green and Strackaline will give the distance to the hole, as well as the contours of the particular putt and where exactly golfers should aim.
Granted, I cannot say that I was 100 percent accurate on my estimations of flag and putt location, but I did examine the following putts:
1. Putts that were on a very planar slope.
These are putts that have one break to them and are not double breakers. They don’t sit on a crown or in a “saddle.” I tried to get putts that were essentially right on one particular position on the Fall Line clock. Any putt that was too difficult to tell, I did not record the data.
2. Putts from 4-20 feet.
These are makeable putts that require more precise green reading, aim, touch/speed and stroke mechanics. I examined 38 right-handed-putting Tour players ranging from excellent putters like Luke Donald and Mackenzie Hughes to the worst putters on Tour like Boo Weekley and Robert Garrigus. In particular, I sighted events where the player was either greater than 1 standard deviation in Putts Gained for the entire event or worse than 1 standard deviation in Putts Gained for the entire event.
Matt Jones was a player I examined. For the 2016-2017 season, his Putts Gained was +0.170 per round. His standard deviation for the year was 0.7092. So I researched two events that he was greater than +0.8792 strokes per round (the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Greenbrier Classic) along with the two events where he putted worse than -0.5392 strokes per round (the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Shell Houston Open). I also examined four more events for Jones that were right around his average for the season.
Here’s a representation of the Fall Line Clock from golf instructor John Dunigan.
Twelve and 6 o’clock represent straight putts (12 o’clock is a straight downhill putt and 6 o’clock is a straight uphill putt). Putts from 4 to 8 o’clock are on an uphill gradient, and putts from 10 to 2 o’clock are on a downhill gradient. Putts from 1 to 5 o’clock break to the left, and putts from 7 to 11 o’clock break to the right.
Lastly, I normalized the data so the putting performance from each position on the Fall Line Clock would represent a probable make percentage from 10 feet. On average, 10-foot putts have a 38 percent make percentage on Tour.
Make Percentages from Different Locations
Here are the make percentages of all of the golfers and rounds I examined. I normalized the data to reflect the projected make probabilities from 10 feet, as well as how the normalized data works out.
There is a theory that downhill putts are easier to make than uphill putts. The reason is that the force vectors on a downhill putt tend to get the ball breaking toward the hole. With uphill putts, the force vectors tend to get the ball breaking away from the hole. My research refutes this theory to a degree. The make percentages are significantly higher on uphill putts, however; the second-highest make percentage location is at the 12 o’clock position (straight downhill).
My conclusion is that the downhill straight putt is very easy to make, but once the putt gets away from the 12 o’clock position it becomes increasingly more difficult to make. In summation, the more a putt breaks the more difficult it is to make — and uphill putts will break less than downhill putts.
Lastly, the players (all right-handed putters) had a slight bias in right-to-left putts versus left-to-right putts. This has been a common theory for as long as I can remember, and it held up to be true. The difference in make percentage, however, may be smaller than many people think it should be.
Break Biases and Putting Skill
The research showed a very strong trend in a player’s bias toward right-to-left or left-to-right breaking putts depending on their skill. I labeled golfers in the following categories:
- Greatest Putter (Upper 90th Percentile in Putts Gained or roughly top-20 in Putts Gained)
- Worst Putter (Lower 10th Percentile in Putts Gained or roughly ranking 170th or worse in Putts Gained)
- Good Putter (ranking roughly 30th to 70th in Putts Gained)
- Mediocre Putter (ranking roughly 120th to 160th in Putts Gained)
- Average Putter (ranking roughly 80th to 105th in Putts Gained)
I found that the vast majority of the players I analyzed had a significant bias toward either right-to-left or left-to-right breaking putts. Here’s an example of PGA Tour player Richy Werenski, who finished the year at 0.000 in Putts Gained. He neither gained nor lost strokes to the field for the entire season with his putter.
Werenski had a clear bias toward right-to-left putts (40.7 percent) versus left-to-right putts (33.7 percent). Just because a player was putting right-handed, however, did not mean the player would automatically have a bias toward right-to-left putts.
Here’s a breakdown of Rory McIlroy’s make probabilities on the Fall Line Clock.
Outside of the 11 o’clock versus the 1 o’clock position, McIlroy had a bias toward making left-to-right putts versus the corresponding location that broke right-to-left.
As it turns out, the putters that did not have a bias were from the “Greatest Putters” group. They had no significant bias toward leftward or rightward breaking putts. Mackenzie Hughes was a good example of this, as he finished 8th in Putts Gained. Not only did he make a high percentage of putts from most locations on the Fall Line Clock, but he did not have a significant bias toward rightward or leftward breaking putts.
Out of all of the players I researched, making putts at 12 o’clock (straight-downhill), 6 o’clock (straight uphill) and 5 o’clock (uphill, breaks left) were consistently the putts with some of the highest make percentages out of all the Fall Line locations. The only players that could struggle to reach the normalized make percentage average of 38 percent from 10 feet from those locations were the “Worst Putters.” It was not always the case with some of the Worst Putters, but there was a segment of the population that could struggle to make those putts.
One of the conclusions I derived from this was that good putting is not necessarily about holing putts. It is fairly easy for better players to make relatively straight putts, and sometimes in a round the golfer may just happen to get a lot of putts that are fairly straight. On the other hand, the golfer may get a lot of breaking putts. That was one of the amazing things about Jim Furyk’s 58 at TPC River Highlands; only two of his putts were not fairly straight. Obviously his ball striking was phenomenal and he holed putts to shoot 58, but there was a certain amount of luck involved in continually getting favorable putt locations.
Break Biases on Performances Outside of Standard Deviation
I wanted to examine the times that golfers putted better or worse than one standard deviation. What are the commonalities when golfers putt significantly better or significantly worse than normal? Golfers that putted one standard deviation worse than their mean in Putts Gained did not have any noticeable change in their putting other than they just putted worse overall. This was particularly the case in breaking putts. The bias remained the same.
Here’s a look at the putting make probabilities from Billy Horschel on average versus the events where his putting was one standard deviation worse than the mean.
The results were different, however, when I examined golfers that putted one standard deviation greater than their mean. Horschel had a bias toward right-to-left breaking putts on his poor putting performances. The bias went away when he putted better than one standard deviation from his norm.
This was common with virtually every player I studied except for the “Greatest Putters” group, as they did not have a bias toward breaking putts to begin with. If they had a bias towards a particular break, they would often putt even better when they putted significantly better than normal. But they made incredible gains on the putts that broke in a direction that caused them problems — to the point that they were putting as well as they did on the breaking putts they preferred and no longer had a bias.
Based on the data we know the following:
- Tour players greatly favor uphill versus downhill putts as a whole.
- The exception was from 12 o’clock (straight-downhill).
- The best location for right-handed-putting Tour players was at 5 o’clock (uphill, slight break to the left).
- The vast majority of Tour players had some sort of bias toward right-to-left or left-to-right breaking putts.
- Not all right-handed-putting Tour players preferred right-to-left putts.
- As a whole, there was a moderate preference toward right-to-left putts from right-handed-putting Tour players.
- The best putters had virtually no bias toward right-to-left or left-to-right breaking putts.
- Virtually all Tour players consistently favored the 5 o’clock, 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions.
- The only Tour players that struggled with straight putts (6 or 12 o’clock) were in the “Worst Putters” category.
- Break bias disappears for a Tour player when they putt one standard deviation better than their mean in Putts Gained.
- Break bias is still present when the Tour player putts one standard deviation worse than their mean in Putts Gained.
For the non-Tour golfer, the data suggests that initial practice on putting should be done on straight putts. The only players I studied that did not do well on straight putts on occasion were the worst putters on Tour. While there has been debate as to how well Tour players putt in relation to the entire world’s golf population, I still tend to believe that even the worst putters on Tour are likely better than any segment of amateur golfers. Thus, if the worst putters of the Tour population can struggle with the straight putts, there’s a strong likelihood that amateur golfers will need to work on straight putts first in order to make a significant improvement in their putting over time.
Once straight putting develops, I recommend that golfers determine how well they putt on right-to-left versus left-to-right breaking putts and see if they have a bias toward a particularly type of break. I recommend that they try to hit putts from various distances and locations between 2 to 4 o’clock (right-to-left) versus 8 to 10 o’clock (left-to-right). It would be best to putt one ball from one side of the hole and then putt the next ball from the opposite side in order to truly determine bias.
Once bias is determined, I would recommend seeking instruction to determine what may be causing the bias against a particular breaking putt. Work on your green reading, stroke mechanics and speed/touch to improve your ability to make more putts from your weak side of the cup. Once you can become a stable putter on uphill putts and erase the bias on breaking putts, you will see much better results and more consistency in your ability to make putts on the course.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
NBA Great Byron Scott explains why Charles Barkley’s golf game deteriorated
It’s the season for basketball and golf, and NBA great Byron Scott had some interesting takes on each when he joined our latest episode of “The 19th Hole with Michael Williams” podcast.
When asked who would win a matchup between his Showtime Lakers — consisting of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy — and the current Golden State Warriors, Scott left no doubt on the outcome.
“I give [the Warriors] a lot of credit for the way they playy the game,” Scott said. “They play a very unselfish brand of basketball and it’s all about winning for them. None of the players have agendas and I admire that. But if we go a a seven game series, we in our heyday and those guys playing the way they play now, we would look at them and say ‘we win this series in five or six games.'”
Scott did recognize the fact that the way the game is refereed would have a bearing on the outcome, however.
“Are we going to play 80’s rules or are we going to play 2018 rules where you can barely touch anybody?” Scot said. “If we play the 80’s rules where you can have the physicality in the game, where we can really get after you, then the series is going to be a pretty short one.”
Scott also talked about playing golf with Charles Barkley and his attempt to cure his now-famous swing issues.
“I played with Charles when he was about a 8-handicap; that was the first time I played with him…he had a really good swing,” Scott said. “Two years later I played with him [at the American Century Celebrity Pro-Am] in Lake Tahoe. That’s when he had the swing that he has today. I was shocked! I was like, ‘Man, what happened?’ He told me the story about hitting somebody (in the gallery) and that he just couldn’t pull the trigger anymore. And I said to him, ‘Are you that mentally weak that you hit someone in the gallery and now you can’t pull the trigger? C’mon, Charles; you’re supposed to be tougher than that.'”
Scott’s motivational speech was well-intentioned, but not especially well-received by Sir Charles.
“He proceeded to curse me out because he didn’t appreciate the way I said that,” laughed Scott. “It was funny, though because the first time he had that really good swing, but ever since then he’s been awful. And he continues to be awful and I don’t think there’s a cure right now for Charles besides just putting it down for a year or two and trying to pick it back up.”
We’d need a time machine to see that Lakers-Warriors matchup, but a Scott vs. Barkley match play on the links sounds like it would be most entertaining.
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
Fantasy Preview: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
The second World Golf Championship of the year begins this week for what will be the final stop before The Masters for the majority of players in the field. As always with WGC events, the field is stacked — only Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are missing from the world’s top-10. With an earlier start than usual, 16 groups of four will battle it out in a round-robin format starting Wednesday. The winner of each group will advance to the last 16, which will complete in a straight knockout format from there on in.
Austin Country Club has held the event since 2016, and it’s been a course that has offered up lots of excitement so far. Expect more of the same this week, with four reachable Par 5s on offer as well as a drivable Par-4. The Par-71 course is a modest 7,043 yards with plenty of elevation changes and a mix of tight, tree-lined fairways on the opening nine. The fairways on the back 9 are more generous. Some of the key stats that I’m focusing on this week include Par-5 Scoring, Proximity to the Hole Inside 125 yards and Birdie or Better Percentage, which is always important in match play. Last year, a red-hot Dustin Johnson beat Jon Rahm in the final 1 up, which was his third-consecutive victory at the time.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Rory McIlroy 7/1
- Dustin Johnson 8/1
- Justin Thomas 10/1
- Jon Rahm 12/1
- Jason Day 14/1
- Jordan Spieth 20/1
- Phil Mickelson 20/1
For me, this is the most difficult event on the calendar to predict. Over 18 holes, any player in the field is capable of beating anyone else. We saw just that last year when Hideto Tanihara defeated Jordan Spieth 4&2 and Soren Kjeldsen took down Rory Mcilroy 2&1. For that reason, it’s certainly an event that I’d advise to play conservatively, especially before we reach the knockout phase. Despite the unpredictability of some of the results, however, recently it’s been an event that has been won by the world’s elite. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day (twice) have claimed the title in the past four years.
From the top of the board, it’s multiple champion Jason Day (14/1, DK Price $9,200) who gets my vote. The Australian has played a limited schedule so far this year, and he seems to be flying under the radar for the year’s first major. I find the lack of attention surprising. He has a win and a second-place finish to his name already in only three starts this year. Last week at Bay Hill he finished T22, where he appeared a little rusty on the opening couple of days before shaking it off and shooting an impressive 67 on Saturday.
Austin Country Club is a course that undoubtedly suits Day. He dominated the event in 2016 when he was playing his absolute best golf, and he was very unfortunate that he was unable to defend last year on account of his mother’s health. It was an issue that appeared to effect his entire season, but there is no doubt that the signs are very good for Day in regards to 2018. Mainly, because he has the magic touch back with the putter. In 2016, he had one of the greatest putting years of recent times, and albeit early on in the season, he is currently on course to match it. Day leads the field in putting for the season by a decent margin, and on the slick bermuda greens of Austin Country Clubs, where he has memories of holing just about everything two years ago, it could play a huge factor yet again this week.
Along with the Queenslander’s fabulous form on the greens, Day is dominating the Par 5’s, where he sits second in the field over his last 12 rounds. Day loves to play aggressive golf, and it’s one of the reasons the match play format suits him so much. The odd blow-up hole is not the disaster that it would be in stroke play, and he has the ability to rack up birdies fast. So far this season, Day is third in this field for birdie or better percentage.
Day will be the favorite to advance from Group 8, which contains James Hahn, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Dufner, but the unpredictability of the match play format means it will be far from easy. Should he do so, however, he may be an extremely difficult man to stop, and 14/1 is not a bad price on him repeating his heroics of 2016.
Patrick Reed’s (30/1, DK Price $7,700) return to form has been long overdue. With back-to-back weeks finishing in the top-10, he should be feeling confident in a format that in the past he has blown hot and cold in. Despite his colossus performances in the Ryder Cup, the WGC-Matchplay has been a frustrating event for the Texan. He has yet to make it past the Round of 16, but he seems to be rejuvenated by the return of his idol, Tiger Woods, to the PGA Tour. We’ve seen a far more aggressive Patrick Reed as of late.
With the top seed in his group being Jordan Spieth, there’s speculation that their matchup could be a fiery one. Last week, Patrick Reed was recorded saying that he guessed he needed to be Jordan Spieth to get a free drop after he was left fuming by a ruling. Personally, I don’t think there will be any hostility from either player, but perhaps the attention it has received over the last day will fire up Reed, who seems to produce his best when in the spotlight.
All facets of Reed’s game are firing at the moment. He is fourth in this field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, Strokes Gained Around the Green and Strokes Gained Total over his last eight rounds. Not withstanding the volatility of 18-hole matchups, there is a sense that Spieth may be a little vulnerable right now. Reed will be relishing the opportunity to take him on in what could possibly be an important Game 3. At 30/1, there is a confidence about Reed at the moment that I like, and it could see him finally deliver in a format that he has adapted to so well in The Ryder Cup.
The star name in Group 7 is the current Masters Champion Sergio Garcia, but I’m willing to take him on this week with Xander Schauffele (66/1, DK Price $7,400). The 2017 Rookie of the Year has been playing well as of late with three-consecutive top-20 finishes. From that period, he scores well in the key statistics, which should bode well for him this week. The Californian is 10th for Strokes Gained on Par 5s for his last 12 rounds, and on a course where wedge play is vitally important, his short irons seem to be in excellent shape. Over the same period, Schauffele is 15th in the field for Proximity to the Hole from 100-125 yards and 16th from 75-100 yards.
He will have to overcome Garcia, as well as Shubhankar Sharma and Dylan Frittelli to advance to the next phase. Garcia has never looked comfortable at Austin Country Club, however, and I think Schauffele may be the best option to pounce on any weakness he shows. Schauffele does not rank outside 30th in this field for his last 12 rounds in any major statistic, and he is eighth overall for Strokes Gained Total.
Last but not least is Webb Simpson (100/1, DK Price $7,800), who is in Group 15 alongside Pat Perez, Gary Woodland and Si-Woo Kim. I think it’s fair to say that this looks to be one of the most unpredictable of the lot. Yet at 100/1, it was an easy enough decision to add Simpson to my stable this week, who just like Xander is performing well in the key statistics.
The former U.S. Open Champion is 17th in this field over his past 12 rounds on Par 5s, but it’s been his wedge play that really got my attention. Over the same period, Simpson ranks seventh for proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards and 15th from 75-100 yards. Some other good signs for Simplson include his putting, as he currently sits 11th for the season in Strokes Gained Putting. His scoring average for the season is also an impressive 69.5, which is seventh on the PGA Tour. At 100/1, it seems worth a small investment in what I’m expecting to be another roller coaster of an event with plenty of surprises.
- Jason Day 14/1, DK Price $9,200
- Patrick Reed 30/1, DK Price $7,700
- Xander Schauffele 66/1, DK Price $7,400
- Webb Simpson 100/1, DK Price $7,800
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