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The numbers behind going for it or laying up: No. 10 Riviera

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This past weekend, we saw No. 10 at Riviera Country Club provide PGA Tour players with a dilemma as to whether to go for it on the 315-yard par-4. In my last column, I discussed the numbers on Tour behind going for par-5’s in two shots and that in general, golfers are better off going for par-5’s in two shots rather than laying up to a specific yardage. However, much of the decision revolves around whether or not the golfer can get the ball inside 40 yards of the hole. If not, he would be better off laying up to a specific yardage.

With No. 10 at Riviera, it’s a different situation given that it is a par-4 rather than a par-5. Initially, my thoughts were that Tour golfers would be better off going for No. 10 off the tee because there was no out-of-bounds or water in play. Here is what the final numbers through all four rounds looked like:

No. 10 Riviera Stats

Most golfers at the Northern Trust Open went for the green off the tee and in the end, the scoring average slightly favored those who went for the green. However, that does not tell the entire story.

No. 10 Northern Trust Stats

What is noticeable here is that laying up worked in rounds 2 and 4. Those rounds also had a higher percentage of lay-up shots off the tee. However, golfers who went for it in rounds 1 and 3 were the only rounds where the average score was below par.

So, what happened?

The pin location changed.

In rounds 2 and 4, the pin was in the back location of the green. In round 1 the pin was in the middle and in round 3 the pin was up front.

No. 10 Riviera Round Breakdown

Perhaps this table will paint a clearer picture:

Go For It on No. 10 Riviera

With the percentage of pars made being fairly similar, where we can start to see the bigger difference is in the percentage of birdies and bogeys made. And it easily favors laying up when the pin location is in the back and going for it when it’s not in the back.

So, what happens?

In the first round, the pin location was in the middle. The issue the players that laid up were having was that they would often miss the green on the approach shot or hit the approach shot well past the pin and be left with a very difficult 30-plus foot putt. If instead they went for the green, they were more likely to get the approach shot closer to the hole, even if they missed well left or found the right greenside bunker. Thus, when the pin was in the middle, the player who laid up would have to hit a quality tee shot to find the fairway and then another quality approach shot just to come away with par. If they went for the green, the degree of difficulty was lower on both the tee shot and second shot. It may not be pretty hitting out that right greenside bunker or out of the longer grass, but in the end it was more effective way to playing the hole.

When the pin location was in the back of the green, the golfers who went for the green could not miss left because it was guarded by a bunker. And if they missed in the right greenside bunker, they could not get up and down. In fact, not only player who hit the right greenside bunker on Sunday was able to get up and down for birdie.

And when the pin location was up front, the hole was easy regardless if the golfer laid up or went for it. But by going for it on the front pin location the golfer gave themselves a chance to make eagle. No. 10 on Saturday netted three eagles, all from players who went for it on the drive.

Finally, laying-up off the tee on the Sunday pin location was the difference in John Merrick winning the Northern Trust Open. Merrick laid up during regulation and in the playoff and was -1 under par for the day. Charlie Beljan went for the green both times and played the hole +2 over par, losing in the playoff.

Discuss this topic in the GolfWRX forum here.

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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

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