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Is Tiger’s “No. 1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

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Much was made of Tiger Woods leading the field in Proximity to the Hole in this weekend’s Honda Classic. But what does this stat actually even mean?

Included in Proximity to the Hole are all approach shots, whether they hit the green or not. BUT, if the shot misses, and is not within 30 yards of the edge of the green, it does not count. Think about it: a shot missed just short of the flag but in a hazard counts. Tiger had two wet miscues this week that were included in his proximity calculation. One of those actually helped his average proximity as it was recorded as two feet closer than his average of 29 feet 3 inches. What does the Shotlink team do? Laser the exact distance of the splash? Finally, the fact that the big misses don’t count will dilute the average and cause compaction over multiple events.

I have found some misunderstanding of the importance of this stat among the players and coaches with whom I work. Specifically, there is a tendency to put top priority on hunting flags. I strongly believe that the most important aspect of the approach game is to HIT THE GREEN, and that proximity to the hole is by far secondary. Obviously, proximity is great when one has the right opportunities, but hitting greens should be the overriding goal at every level.

Let’s take the small sample of Tiger in this week’s Honda vs. Justin Thomas, the winner. Tiger’s proximity was exactly four feet closer than Justin’s. At that distance, with average Tour putting, it would take 40 greens to equal one stroke difference. By contrast, Tiger gave up FOUR strokes with the two doubles recorded on hole No. 15 following his approach shots in the water.Additional perspective: In 2017, the average player on the Tour’s Scrambling was 57.9 percent (player makes par after missing GIR 57.9 percent of the time). We can therefore assume that each additional GIR would save him at least 0.42 Strokes (the reciprocal of his Scrambling Percentage).

The Tour average GIR’s in 2017 was 11.68 per round. In order to save that 0.42 strokes per round simply by hitting shots closer to the hole on these 11.68 greens, Mr. Average would need to improve his Proximity by 7 feet* (from 36 ft. to 29 ft.) on ALL 11.68 greens hit. I submit that ONE additional GIR is a much more attainable goal and that striving for the closer proximities may well lead to hitting fewer GIR’s. 

Further, the No. 1 ranked player on the Tour for Proximity to the Hole in 2017 was Ryan Armour at 32 feet 8 inches. Even with that impressive number, his Approach Strokes Gained was only 0.121 (ranked 89th).

My suggestion: Only count the distances when the greens are hit. Then the combination of percentage of GIR’s and Proximity would really mean something.

For a complete analysis of your game, log on to www.ShotByShot.com

*The SG values were extracted from the ShotByShot.com Scratch, Strokes Gained model. It is slightly different from the Tour’s model but the relative values will be virtually identical.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. JThunder

    Feb 27, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    All statistics are (essentially) meaningless without the story; but the corporate media and the defunded educational system have decreased our attention spans and intelligence, so stats are all we have the time or brains for. There’s an agenda here, if only we could see it. 17 more yards!

  2. Tom

    Feb 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Tiger has always led the “proximity to the ho” stat…….

  3. David

    Feb 27, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Of course it’s not meaningless. It good information — just doesn’t tell the whole story. Your suggestion wouldn’t fully tell the story either. For instance, I would include in your improvement green (or fringe) in regulation, since there is virtually no difference between hitting the fringe and hitting the the green on tour courses. And ShotLink keeps fringe data now, I believe….

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 28, 2018 at 10:40 am

      David,
      Right you are! Fringe data is in ShotLink. I originally included it with my suggestion BUT the Tour GIR is a fairly sacred number and does not include balls on the fringe. I believe the Proximity stat could be 2 stats: 1 w/o fringe – strictly GIR’s and 2. w fringe.

  4. Cory

    Feb 27, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Is it meaningless? No. And as you’ve pointed out it is flawed. But with that being said, it should give you an indication that he is starting to dial in his shots, and we could see glimpses of past Tiger. Only time will tell, but they made more of it than what it deserved given his 12th place finish.

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 28, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Cory,
      My point was not a shot against Tiger but the stat AND how even the people in the golf business do not understand it.

  5. Jack

    Feb 26, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Strokes gained is obviously much more important. It calculates how close you need to hit it versus the distance you are away. For Thomas and Woods their distances are not that different, so I think their proximity numbers are actually relevant.

    As discussed by the author, the main difference here are the hazards that Tiger hit. The SG difference in approach was only 1.25 strokes over 4 rounds. Yeah ok that’s a lot for a pro, but hitting it in the water already is 1 stroke penalty plus the extra stroke needed to chip it onto the green. Pro’s can flag hunt when they need, or else they would never score enough birdies to win a tournament LOL. For amateurs just getting on the green consistently already is a huge win.

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:51 am

      Well, that, and the fact that he didn’t make many putts, so his Stroke Gained Putting (or lack of) is what should also be reflected here.
      But lets not forget that as difficult as the course played, the overall score-to-Par for the whole field showed how hard it was, and that should also be reflected but is never really discussed enough. And we’re not talking about amateurs, so stop comparing it to how hackers don’t understand how to break down the stats or the course to be able to go low.

  6. Mad-Mex

    Feb 26, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    The ONLY stat that matters is who gets the “W”

  7. Ogo

    Feb 26, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    I would like to know how many steps-per-green Tiger takes before he holes out. I bet he takes fewer steps than any other tour pro. Udaman Tiger!!!

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:52 am

      What about spits-per-green as well

    • Ogo

      Feb 27, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Tiger not only reads the greens with his eyes, he feels the greens with his feet. Visual and tactile putting method.

  8. GregNormansGreenJacket

    Feb 26, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Its not how, its how many. Got to get in the hole.

  9. Tyler Champ

    Feb 26, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Or we could just look at strokes gained approach because that entails everything approach related. Notice how JT was number 1 in SGA, but one less green?

    Read every stroke counts by Mark Broadie and you’ll understand traditional stats, in addition to Prox and feet of putt made don’t mean anything… strokes gained really tells the whole story week in and week out, and for the season.

  10. Steve Wozeniak

    Feb 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Gee…….after dumping the two let’s swing left clowns, he starts swinging toward the target and plays better……wow…..who would have thunk it!!!!!!

    I always said he is an easy fix if he gets good information, looks like he’s figuring it out by himself. Still has a bit of a block in his swing but it’s WAY BETTER, keep it up Tig……

    Steve Wozeniak PGA

    • James

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:06 am

      But he’s exiting left through impact, as in in-square-in…so he has to swing left? Or am I misinterpreting what you said?

      J

      • CB

        Feb 27, 2018 at 2:54 am

        Outside-in, hands pull left, under-cut twirl with clubhead

  11. Realist

    Feb 26, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    I saw Tiger make a couple of mental mistakes and use a driver that has only made me miss worse on my misses. I think if he dumps the driver, the mental aspects will come to him with confidence. He’s closer than we’ve seen him in a long time. Great for the game

  12. Matt A

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Closer doesn’t mean better.

  13. Kaven

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Lollll he putt well with his scotty
    He’s good with his nike iron
    He chips well with his nike wedge
    The only weakness is the taylormade metalwood

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:55 am

      I reckon the ball isn’t that good either, it’s not helping him make putts

  14. juliette

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Well, I think it’s a good analysis and is well worth reading for understanding how this stat is compiled. Thank you for your good work. As to whether or not it is a telltale stat for the tour, and achieving #1 status means something significant, you’ve shown that there are other stats more meaningful than this one.

    Still, it is a measure of how close your misses are and for that reason it shows mostly that the one with the closest proximity was likely the one whose shots went closer to where he intended than did other players’ shots to the greens. But in the end we all know that putting, more likely number of feet of putts made, is much more telling for a players’ final tournament position.

    Tiger went for a few pins on Sat and Sunday that he thought he needed to go for in order to have a chance to win. He didn’t pull it off and paid a high price. Had he been leading I doubt he would have done that. So strategy is a hard one to figure in to this stat. That said, all these stats lose a bit of luster under close scrutiny.

  15. Humble Golfer

    Feb 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    While I do agree with the fact that this stat can’t have a direct correlation to birdie opportunities or hazard less play, I do believe this shows how well players are hitting approach shots from a consistency perspective. This stat is also important from a round to round comparison to ones self showing improvements in ball striking. This piece is nothing but a “selective hearing” type of reaction to the obvious fact that PGA National is a VERY tough course, and it got to everyone over the course of 4 Days. Let’s not take away the fact that Tiger had lots of good looks at Birdie. It was a matter of who made more crucial puts.

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 27, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Thanks Humble, if the Tour would adopt my idea of only counting Proximity when the green is hit, we would have a perfect answer as to who had the most and best birdie opportunities. My complaint now is that the inclusion of shots that miss the green seriously cloud this perspective.

      • James

        Feb 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm

        It does seem rather strange to include the proximity value when the green is missed or hit into a hazard. Perhaps they should include par 3s in driving distance because that would be equally unintuitive…

  16. DaveyD

    Feb 26, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Avoid shots that result in penalties, minimize #shots to the green, and avoid three-putting. More of a workflow than stats, but it works for me.

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The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

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

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member lawsonman, who takes us to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois. The course sits west of Chicago, and in lawsonman’s description of the course, he cites the immaculate condition of the track as one of the reasons he feels it’s a hidden gem.

“Always in pristine condition. 36 hole layout that is as hard as you want to make it. Trees (big) and water are everywhere. Pace of play is usually very good. Located about 90 minutes west of Chicago’s western suburbs.”

According to Park Hills Golf Course’s website, 18 holes around the course costs just $23, no matter what day you wish to play. There is a $16 charge should you want to use a cart for 18 holes.

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Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Louisville Golf: Post time for persimmon

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“I knew I had to give it a shot. If I had tried and it didn’t work out, I would’ve been okay with that. But I had to go after my passion and see where it went.”

Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:

“You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”

Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.

Master models for Louisville Golf persimmon club heads

Some of Louisville Golf’s more well-known woods that won on the PGA Tour were the Wilson Whale that Payne Stewart used to win the 1989 PGA Championship and the Hogan Apex that Tom Kite used to win the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Then metal woods came into the picture and sales dwindled. When Callaway launched the Big Bertha, sales basically dried up overnight.

Though metal woods took off like a rocket in the 1990’s, there were some holdouts. Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Mark Calcavecchia held onto their persimmon woods into the late 90s. The last man standing was widely considered to be Bob Estes, who used his Louisville Golf Smart ProBE (a club Just developed specifically for Estes) in the Accenture Match Play in 2001.

When Elmore Just passed away in April of 2001, his brother Mike assumed control of the company. Elmore is actually buried at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club in Louisville, an Arthur Hills course he developed in the 1980’s. When Mike took the reins, though the company had successfully limped along through the metal wood revolution, the hard reality was that they needed to reinvent themselves if they were going to remain profitable. Mike left his mark on the company in 2004 by deciding to leverage Louisville Golf’s unique expertise into crafting period-correct hickory shafted golf clubs and restoring vintage specimens. That decision marked a resurgence of sorts, as the niche has served Louisville Golf well. Today, Louisville Golf and St. Andrews Golf Co. are the only large scale manufacturers of such equipment.

Louisville Golf club heads ready for final assembly

It’s a peculiar set of circumstances to be sure, but oddly enough, many golfers in the 21st century have found Louisville Golf through 100-year-old golf clubs. This is exactly how Jeremy Wright came into the picture. Jeremy was a medical sales representative in Houston, TX with a wife, three kids, and a serious golfing hobby. He had recently gone on a search for an exotic shaft upgrade for his Scotty Cameron putter. On a whim, he googled wooden shafts, stumbled across hickory golf clubs, and the rest was history.

“One of the things I learned in that search was that, when the golf industry transitioned from hickory shafts to steel, a lot of players either kept their old hickory putters or would fit their new putters with hickory shafts for decades after that transition because the feel was so much better.

“So I kept digging into hickory golf and tried to learn what it was all about. I discovered there were hickory tournaments and the winners shot like 75-78 and I thought, ‘I can do that. I’m going to get a hickory set together and figure this out.’ From that point on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

So hooked, in fact, that when Jeremy heard the Just family was fielding offers for the company as a result of Mike’s passing in October of 2016, he put his name in the hat. It just so happened that Jeremy and his wife were both at a point in their careers where they were looking for more. Burned out and tired of the cyclical corporate rat race, they decided to go all-in on Jeremy’s passion, submitted an offer to the Just family, and ultimately were selected from multiple potential suitors to carry on the legacy of the company.

Sole plates for Louisville Golf persimmon fairway woods

As for where Louisville Golf goes from here, you can probably expect a lot more of what got them here in the first place. After all, one of the biggest reasons Jeremy was selected to take the reins at Louisville Golf was his commitment to preserving its heritage.  Louisville Golf may not be rubbing elbows with the major OEM’s anymore, but these days, they’re not trying to either. Just like the rest of us golfers, they’re getting by with grit, optimism, and respect for the game. They’ve also seen the fortunate bounces and bad lies that come with a life dedicated to golf, but as the old adage says, the most important shot is always the next one. Time marches on. And so does Louisville Golf. They remain committed to what has brought them this far and see that as a springboard into the future.

“We’ve got some products in the works that I think are really innovative and will show what persimmon is really capable of. I think if you’re a better player who can find the sweet spot on a consistent basis, you really should think seriously about persimmon. Especially if you’re looking to get a specific yardage out of your clubs like with a fairway wood or hybrid. There was a video circulating a few years ago with Rickie Fowler using a steel shafted persimmon fairway wood and he was getting a 1.49 smash factor. You can’t get much better than that. The way the bulge and roll is shaped on a persimmon wood and also the location of the CG allows for a bigger gear effect than modern titanium woods. Persimmons do impart more spin on the ball (especially on a mishit), so we acknowledge the ball may not go as far, but that spin also brings the ball back to the target, too. That’s one of the biggest advantages of persimmon. You’ll be shorter but in the fairway as opposed to long and in the trees.

“The people that find us are looking for a deeper connection to the tradition and the spirit of the game. They’re tired of paying for marketing fluff and silly catch phrases. We make viable alternatives for the modern golfer, we make classic reproductions of the steel shaft/persimmon head era of golf, and we make spot-on hickory shafted clubs as well, so we think we have a place in just about everyone’s bag depending on how you prefer to experience the game. Nothing compares to the joy of a purely struck golf shot with a wooden golf club. You just feel like you’re playing golf the way it was meant to be played.”

A visit to Louisville Golf reveals a group of people who have dedicated their lives to exactly that: playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Hard work, attention to detail, a commitment to quality, and having a lot of fun along the way are the hallmarks of their operation. One strike directly on that persimmon sweet spot will send all of those vibes straight into your bones. Playing golf with persimmon woods in the 21st century may be taking the road less traveled, but it could make all the difference.

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