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What does it take for the best to “go low”?

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One of the most frequent questions I receive is about the numbers behind “going low.” Fortunately with the ShotTracker and ShotLink data, we’re able to analyze what it takes to go low as executed by the types of golfers that go low the most, PGA Tour players.

For the sake of brevity, I will examine golfers who shot a round of 61 or better in the 2012 season. They were:

  • Tommy Gainey (60 — The McGladrey Classic)
  • Brian Harman (61 — The Honda Classic)
  • Padraig Harrington (61 — The Transitions Championship)
  • Tim Herron (61 — The Wyndham Championship)
  • Hunter Mahan (61 — The Travelers Championship)
  • Troy Matteson (61 — The John Deere Classic)
  • Ryan Moore (61 — The Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open)

Robert Garrigus (The Humana Classic) and Charlie Wi (The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) also shot rounds of 61. But, they were on courses that were not tracked by ShotTracker, so I will not include them in the analysis.

But first, we have to understand an important rule of going low. Golfers make a significantly smaller percentage of birdie putts than putts for par or worse. Here’s a look at the make percentage of birdie putts versus non-birdie putts on Tour in 2012:

Birdie Putts

The average Tour player makes nearly half of the non-birdie putts from 5 to 20 feet, while making roughly one-third of his birdie putts from that distance. While most people chalk it up to pressure, I tend to disagree with that claim because the pressure for birdies are likely the same as pressure to save par or a bogey. I think there are other reasons for the discrepancy.

  1. Golfers are much more likely to have an uphill putt when putting for par (or worse) than when they putt for birdie. Particularly after they miss a birdie putt, the next shot is much more likely to be an uphill putt and research has shown that golfers of all levels make a higher percentage of uphill putts.
  2. Golfers can get a better read on a par or worse putt than a birdie putt. If a golfer misses a birdie putt or chip, they can read how the ball breaks as it rolls on the green and can use that information to better judge the line of the putt.

That is part of the reason why going low is difficult. In order to go low, a golfer has to make birdie putts which are inherently more difficult than most par (or worse) putts. This is most noticeable on putts from inside 10 feet of the hole. Here is the average birdie putts per round by Tour players from various distances:

Average Distance of Birdie Putt

What all of this leads to is that in order to go low, the golfer has to strike the ball much better and putt much better than they typically do. It is not a case of simply doing one thing great and struggling with the others. Both the ball striking and putting must improve greatly in order for a golfer to go low. Below is a table looking at the golfers mentioned, their number of birdie putts from within 21 feet and the number of times they converted.

PGA Tour Birdie Putts Within 21 Feet

Most of these players’ birdies came from no longer than 20 feet away from the cup. What the players did was increase their number of birdie attempts from inside 20 feet away. These players averaged 11 attempts in their rounds of golf, a 129 percent increase from the Tour average!

I think that is where the misconceptions about putting and shooting low scores come from. Yes, a golfer has to putt very well as the table above shows in order to go low. But, the golfer also has to have an incredible improvement in his ball striking. Furthermore, I think one could argue that low rounds are due to the golfer having things click and the better ball striking helps their confidence with the putter.

It is fairly obvious that in order to go low, regardless of skill level, the golfer has to hit the ball well and putt well. But, Tour players must get more birdie opportunities inside 20 feet in order to have any chance at having that spectacular round.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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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, 2017 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

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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