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Opinion & Analysis

How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?

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Hitting more than 50 percent of fairways has long been considered a good goal for amateur golfers. The winners on the PGA Tour tend to hit 70 percent. I have long maintained, however, that it is not the number of fairways HIT that matters. Instead, it is the relative severity of fairways MISSED.

Think about it. By the one-dimensional Fairways Hit stat, every miss is the same. A perfect lie in the first cut is exactly the same as a drive in a hazard… or even OB. There is nothing in the 650+ PGA Tour stats about this. In all, there are 60 stats in seven categories that relate to driving performance, but none about penalties! Like PGA Tour players don’t make any?

Let’s see exactly how important the old tried-and-true Driving Accuracy (Percentage of Fairways Hit) really is. To test it, I used two data clusters: the 2017 PGA Tour season (14,845 ShotLink rounds) and my ShotByShot.com database for the average male golfer (15 to 19 handicappers – 4,027 rounds).

For the graph below, I started with the No. 1-ranked player in the Driving Accuracy category: Ryan Armour. He certainly was accurate by this measure, but why did he only rank 100th in 2017 Strokes Gained Off the Tee with a barely positive 0.020?

Next I looked at the actual top-5 PGA Tour money winners (J. Thomas, J Spieth, D. Johnson, H. Matsuyama and J. Rohm), the 2017 PGA Tour average, and all PGA Tour players that missed the cut in 2017. We all know the significant scoring differences between these three categories of players, but it’s difficult to see a meaningful difference in the fairways hit. They’re not even separated by half a fairway. How important could this stat be?

For those that have not tried ShotByShot.com, our analysis includes Strokes Gained and Relative Handicap comparisons. That enables users to easily differentiate between FIVE MISS categories below based upon severity. The final three categories are what we consider to be Driving Errors:

  1. Good lie/Opportunity: One can easily accomplish their next goal of a GIR or advancement on a par-5.
  2. Poor Lie/Opportunity: One could accomplish the next goal, but it will require a very good shot.
  3. No Shot: Requires an advancement to return to normal play.
  4. Penalty-1: Penalty with a drop.
  5. OB/Lost: Stroke and distance penalty, or shot replayed with a stroke penalty.

As we are fortunate enough to work with several PGA Tour players at Shot by Shot, we have access to ShotLink data and can provide those clients with the same valuable insight.

Let’s see how the frequency and severity of driving errors relates to the above groups of players (removing Mr. Armour, as he simply helped us prove the irrelevance of Driving Accuracy). The graphs below display the number of Driving Errors per round and the Average Cost Per Error. Note the strong and consistent correlation between the number and the cost of errors at each of the four levels of performance.

Finally, the average cost of the errors is heavily driven by the three degrees of severity outlined above (No Shot, Penalty, OB/Lost). The graph below compares the relative number and cost of the three types of errors for the average golfer and PGA Tour players. The major difference is that PGA Tour players do not seem to have a proper share of OB/Lost penalties. I found only TWO in the 14,000+ ShotLink rounds. While I accept that the most severe faux pas are significantly less frequent on the PGA Tour, I also believe there must have been more than two.

Why so few? First and foremost, PGA Tour players REALLY ARE good. Next, the galleries stop a lot of the wayward shots. And finally, I believe that many of the ShotLink volunteer data collectors may not actually know or care about the difference between a Penalty and OB/Lost.

Author’s Note: If you want to know your Strokes Gained Off the Tee (Driving) and exactly how important your fairways and the misses are, log onto ShotByShot.com for a 1-Round FREE Trial.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jason

    Mar 19, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Players know where the boundaries of the shot are, and they aren’t always the boundaries of the fairway. At my course (lots of water, light rough) you’re regularly playing up the side and a good (but not great) shot will find the harmless light rough. Likewise, an aggressive tee shot over a corner might run out of fairway, but the distance saved is worth the small cost of maybe catching light rough. The best pros might not find the fairway as often simply becasue they trust their game enough to take the more challenging line – and know that they can handle a small “penalty” in the form of light rough (and fairway missed stat) if that’s the price. So yeah, fairways hit doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is the ‘did you hit it somewhere you were ok with standing over the ball’ stat – and I’m not sure how you measure that, except that it probably correlates with good judgement, temperament and good skills. Not sure there’s a stat for it though, and not sure there needs to be.

  2. James T

    Mar 19, 2018 at 10:27 am

    “How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?”

    After Sunday, ask Tiger Woods.

  3. Bruce Hart

    Mar 18, 2018 at 11:01 am

    If I miss a fairway, especially if I’m playing by myself, I may never find the ball which would mean slowing play by going back to the tee (or hitting a lot of provisionals) or just not playing by the rules (which is what I usually do). Sometimes even hitting the fairway isn’t a guarantee because the ball can plug. I have found that bright Volvik Vivid balls can help. When the rough is up, it’s windy and clover are everywhere I can’t afford to spray driver. I’d like to do an experiment where you take a pro and put them on a standard muni course (no gallery, no grandstands, no tv coverage, no spotters) by themselves and see how many lost balls they have. I think the pros play a different game.

  4. CrashTestDummy

    Mar 18, 2018 at 2:14 am

    There still is a premium on good ball striking. Yeah the severity of fairways missed matters, but the best ball strikers will have much less severe missed fairways. The best ball strikers are always at the top of the leaderboards consistently. Whenever their ball striking goes awry they start missing cuts. When they miss putts, they are still making cuts or placing well because they are avoiding bogeys and the big numbers. Bottom line is missed fairways and greens means bogeys and big numbers.

    There should probably be a stat for “strokes gained with missed fairway” or “strokes lost with missed fairway”. That would be a telltale metric for knowing the severity of missed fairways.

  5. James T

    Mar 17, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    Personally, I think Greens in Regulation is far more important to scoring. Rare is the course that has U.S. Open rough that keeps you from going for the green.

    • Tal

      Mar 19, 2018 at 2:24 am

      True, but pure greens in regulation doesn’t tell us why greens were missed. Poor driving makes hitting a GIR more difficult so if someone is driving really well and still hits very few greens, their iron play is probably to blame. Whereas if they are missing greens and their driving is poor, that helps paint a picture as to why.

  6. larrybud

    Mar 17, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately, with shotbyshot, and any other system with user driven data, you’re relying on a data which has zero verification to it (unlike shotlink). In other words, you have no idea how accurate the data is which players have entered that you’re basing your analysis.

  7. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Mar 17, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I think it depends on the golf course. My home course is littered with hazards and has little rough to speak of. If you miss the fairway there is a good chance you will find a hazard.

    But overall I agree.

  8. Doug

    Mar 17, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    If I miss a fairway there is a 50% chance that my ball gets lost. So I better go for 100% fairway even when that means I can‘t use my driver

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Opinion & Analysis

Slow players: step aside! A reflection on pace of play by a fed-up golfer

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I’m just gonna say it: You are more than likely, in my opinion, a slow player.

This has nothing to do with handicap, riding vs. walking, or (most likely) the course—it’s about attitude and habits.

Where does this blanket statement come from, you might ask. Well, I consider myself a quick player. Alone and walking on a normal-length (6,500-6,800 yard) course, I can get around in about two hours with nobody in front of me—easily. I don’t run, I walk at a normal pace with intent to get to my ball see what needs to be done, and I hit the shot. When playing alone in a cart, I make it around in under an hour-and-a-half regularly, which makes for either an early day or 36 holes before 10 a.m.

Now before going any further, I need to make a few things clear

  • I’m not an anti-social curmudgeon who gets no pleasure from playing golf with others. I actually prefer to play with other people and talk about golf and whatever else is going on.
  • I’m NOT a golf snob. I mean in some ways I can be, but on the other hand, I’ll take a cart, drink beers, blast music, have fun, pick up short ones, and pay little attention to score. It all depends on the situation.
  • I’m still there to play well. Playing fast and playing well are NOT mutually exclusive. The two can be easily achieved during the same round of golf. Too many people going over too many things is only creating more problems…but I’ll get to that.

So where does this all begin? Like many things, on the putting green before an early round of golf. It is my personal belief that if you are one of the first groups off for the day, you should play in around 3-3.5 hours max. Regardless of handicap, it should be one of those “unwritten” rules of golf—like not randomly yelling in someone’s backswing or walking through someone’s line. I have no problem with a round taking more than four hours at 2 p.m. on a busy Saturday afternoon in July when the course is packed—because the chance of me being out then is pretty close to zero anyway. It’s about the golf course setting expectations with the players especially early in the day and making sure that players understand there are expectations. A marshal tip-toeing around a slow group instead of just asking then to let faster groups play through is the bane of my golfing existence.

Based on previous life experience, it’s actually very similar (but in a weird way opposite) to the restaurant business. A group at a table should never just sit around on a Friday or Saturday night at prime time when there is a lineup, and they have already finished their meal and paid the check. That table is real estate, and if you want to occupy that space, you better keep paying, it’s inconsiderate to the next guests waiting and to the servers that make money from the people they seat—it’s called the restaurant business for a reason. If you want to go on a quiet lunch date and sit and chat with a friend when there are plenty of empty tables, by all means, take your sweet time (and hopefully tip generously), but at the end of the day, it’s about being aware of the situation.

On a wide-open course with everyone behind you, as a golfer, you should be mindful that you should play quickly. If its 7 a.m. and the group behind has been waiting in the fairway for five minutes while you plumbob that six-footer for triple with nothing on the line, maybe it’s time to move to the next tee, or be mindful and let the group behind play through. Don’t think for a second I’m just playing with a bunch of scratch golfers either. I play with golfers of all skill levels, and when I play with beginners I always make sure to politely explain any etiquette in a nice way, and if we “fall behind” to let anyone waiting to play through—it’s common courtesy. Usually, these rounds are played later in the day when we can take our time but if a group comes up we let them on their way as soon as possible.

With so much talk about golf in the UK thanks to The Open Championship, it’s crazy to me how the culture of golf is so different in North America where golf is meant to be social, enjoy the day, take your time, a place to do business (please just pull my hair out now), etc. While in the UK, it’s about playing for score and socializing after: that’s the reason for the 19th hole in the first place. They often employ match play to keep pace up vs. putting everything out too. Golf was never meant to be a full-day event. It’s a game to be played and then one with your day.

I realize we have a problem and instead of just complaining about it, I want to make some simple suggestions for helping things move along a little faster

  • If you are going to use a distance-measuring device have it ready.
  • If you for sure lost a ball, don’t waste time: just drop one—on that note if you are on the other side of the hole, don’t walk across to help your friend look in three inches of grass, play up to the green.
  • Place your bag, or drive your cart to where you will be walking after you finish the hole. It was one of the first things I was taught as a junior and it still amazes me how many people leave their clubs at the front of the green or opposite side of where they will be walking next.
  • Play from the proper tees!!!! I shouldn’t have to explain this.
  • If you are playing with a friend, try match play or Stableford—it’s amazing how this can speed up play.

Golf should never be an all-day activity! If you choose to play early, be mindful of the fact that you hold the power to keep the course on time for the rest of the day. Be respectful of the other players on the course who might want to play quicker—let them through. If you want to be slower and you know it’s going to be a social outing, try to pick a more appropriate time of day to play—like late afternoon.

We all play golf for different reasons but be honest with yourself about your reasons and hopefully, we can all get along out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking about slow play

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Ryan has guest Rob Miller, from the Two Guys Talking Golf podcast, to talk about slow play. They debate on how fast is fast, how much time should 18 holes take, and the type of players who can play fast and slow.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

If Jurassic Park had a golf course, this would be it

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I have had the good fortune of playing some unbelievably awesome tracks in my time—places like Cypress Point, Olympic, Sahalee, LACC, Riviera, and a bunch of others.

However, the Bad Little 9 is the most fun golf course I have ever played…period.

Imagine standing on the first tee of a 975-yard track and praying to God almighty you finish with all your golf balls, your confidence, and more importantly, your soul. Imagine, again, for example, standing on a 75-yard par 3 with NOWHERE to hit it beyond an eight-foot circle around the flag, where any miss buries you in a pot bunker or down into a gully of TIGHTLY mown grass.

Sound fun?

I have played the BL9 twice at this point, with the first time being on a Challenge Day in November. It was cold, windy and playing as tough as it can. My playing partners Chris N., Tony C., and I barely made it out alive. I made four pars that day—shot 40—and played well. Do the math, that’s 13 over in five holes on a course where the longest hole is 140 yards.

It’s a golf course that makes zero sense: it’s punishing, it’s unfair, it’s crazy private, and on “Challenge Day,” it’s un-gettable even for the best players in the world. Rumor has it that there is an outstanding bet on Challenge Day for $1,000 cash to the individual that breaks par. That money is still yet to be paid to anyone…keep in mind Scottsdale National has PXG staff playing and practicing there allllll the time. To my knowledge, James Hahn has the lowest score ever at one over. That round apparently had multiple 20-foot par putts.

The Jackson/Kahn team which is responsible for the two big courses at Scottsdale National (Land Mine and The Other Course) were tasked with a challenge by Mr. Parsons: create a 9-hole course with ZERO rules. Take all conventional wisdom out of it and create an experience for the members that they will NEVER forget.

In this video, you will get a little context as to how it came together straight from the horse’s mouth, so I won’t get into that here.

I will end with this before you get into the video.

The Bad Little 9 sits in a very exclusive club in North Scottsdale, most will never see it. HOWEVER, what the idea of it represents is a potential way into bringing more people into the game, making it more accessible, saving real estate, playing in less time and having an experience. Hell, YouTube made short-form content a necessity in our culture. Perhaps the idea behind the Bad Little 9 will inspire short form golf?

I’m in.

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19th Hole

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