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Opinion & Analysis

Checking the numbers: Going For It On Par 5’s

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Every golfer is faced with the dilemma of whether to go for a par 5 on the second shot. I always questioned the validity of being aggressive on the par-5’s versus laying up. As my game improved as a junior golfer and collegiate golfer, I started to notice more golfers laying up on par-5’s in order to have a certain distance into the green where they felt comfortable taking a full swing into the flag.

In my statistical research, one of the glaring observations was that longer players on the PGA Tour have a strong correlation to par-5 scoring average. As I investigated this further, it became very simple to understand. Longer players on Tour typically had a higher percentage of  “go for it” on par 5’s. Thus, in my mind they were playing the par-5s more like a long par 4’s.

I also started to notice that some of the average and even shorter hitters on Tour could play the par 5’s quite well each year such as Bill Haas, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker. When I looked at these players who are not incredibly long off tee, but played well on the par 5’s, I noticed that they were going for par 5’s in two shots at a higher rate than golfers of similar driving distances and club head speeds.

This led to me trying to understand how “going for it” was defined by the Tour’s ShotLink data:

“A player is assumed to be going for the green if the second shot lands on or around the green or in the water. Note: ‘Around the green’ indicates the ball is within 30 yards of the edge of the green.”

The last note is very important to understand. If the ball on the second shot ends within 30 yards of the edge of the green, the ShotLink considers that a “go for it.” Thus, if a golfer has a 300-yard shot to the hole and he hits his 3-wood 250 yards, that could be considered a “go for it” as long as the ball is within 30 yards of the edge of the green.

I would imagine that a Tour player who knows he hits his 3-wood off the ground 250 yards onto a 300-yard shot would not consider himself to be “going for it.” However, since it would technically count as a “go for it,” that could infer that Tour players (and golfers in general) are better off advancing the ball closer to the hole rather than laying up to a certain yardage in order to get a full swing on the third shot.

I also wanted to look up the Tour averages of proximity to the cup on shots from various wedge distances.

Wedge shot distances to hole

As I wrote in my 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis, there are “many long held axioms in the game have some validity.” If we look at the average proximity to the cup on shots from 50 to 75 yards versus shots from 75 to 100 yards, they are virtually the same. Thus, the fear of not having a full-wedge swing into the approach shot is reasonable. But once the golfer can get inside 50 yards, the average proximity to the cup is dramatically closer.

The expected putts data comes from the Tour. Hypothetically, we could state that the golfer who is laying up will end up somewhere between 50 to 125 yards in order to get that full-wedge swing into the hole and the going-for-it golfer will end up somewhere between 1 to 40 yards from the hole. If we average the expected putts, we come up with the going-for-it golfer expected to have 0.42 fewer strokes. That may not sound like much, but the difference on Tour is worth roughly 30 to 50 spots on the scoring average rankings.

Of course, it is not quite that simple. There is more math that needs to be done with regards historical data with regards to how players played that particular hole and their scores and other mitigating factors like the golfer’s skill sets, potential hazards, etc. It does give a good indication of where the concept of laying up to get a full wedge swing stems from; the inability to hit it closer from that mid-range of 50 to 75 yards. However, if the golfer can get the second shot within 50 yards, he is most likely much better off at going for greens in two shots.

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

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. ABgolfer2

    Feb 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    “Every golfer is faced with the dilemma of whether to go for a par 5 on the second shot.”

    Isn’t the average male driving it about 220 yards? When would they ever be faced with this dilema on a full length course? Some of the guys I play with are faced with the decision to go for most par 4s in two.

    • Flip4000

      Feb 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Well ABgolfer2 , if he is playing from the correct tees for his ability and not the tees for his ego, there is still probably a good chance he may face that dilemma at least once a round

      • ABgolfer2

        Feb 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

        Yeah, I know golf is trying to be inclusive and all, but a 380 yard hole is not really a par 5 now is it?!?. 400 yards, let alone 500, is out of reach for most golfers. That’s what I was saying.

  2. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    It’s interesting statistics on par fives Rich.

    I think for the professionals a lot depends on what is around the green in their decision to go for it or not. For me personally i’m always looking at either hitting it on or giving myself a 100 yard or in distance for my third.

  3. Philip

    Feb 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I find this interesting because we do often hear, “… laying up to a comfortable distance.” A bad shot from 100 yards to most pros is 20 feet yet, that is the average from that distance. Instead of pulling a 7 iron to lay it up, perhaps we should be pulling a 5 iron…

  4. Mateo

    Feb 8, 2013 at 1:49 am

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    I really wish someone who could break 80 wrote this.

    • Martin Chuck

      Feb 16, 2013 at 12:03 am

      Mateo, I’d bet my house Rich would thump you 5 and 4 and that is if you are a good player. Rich Hunt is a fine striker and very good player.

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Gear Dive: How Tiger Woods used to adjust his clubs based on swing changes

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Ben Giunta, a former Nike Tour Rep and now owner of the TheTourVan.com, joins host Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser on this episode of The Gear Dive. Ben discusses working in-depth with Nike Athletes before the company stopped producing hard goods. He has some fantastic intel on TW and the setup of his sticks (around the 14-minute mark). They also discuss Ben’s new endeavor.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

The 2018 NCAA Men’s National Championship: By the Numbers

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For the 2018 NCAA Men’s Championship, 156 participants (30 teams of five, and six individuals) will collect at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma on May 25-30 to determine the 2018 NCAA Individual Champion and the NCAA Team champion.

There will be three days of stroke play on Friday through Sunday (54 holes). From there, 15 teams and nine individuals advance to a final day of stroke play on Monday. That will determine the eight teams who will advance to match play, and the individual 72-hole stroke play champion. Match play format on Tuesday and Wednesday will then determine the national team champion.

Who will win? Well, let’s look at the numbers from the NCAA Men’s Championships in the past 9 years (when they began playing match play as part of the national title).

Average winning score for individual stroke play

  • For 3 rounds of stroke play — 832 strokes (avg. 69.3 per golfer)
  • For 4 rounds of stroke play — 1137 strokes (avg. 71.06 per golfer)

Number of No. 1 seeds to win championship: 0

Average match play seed of eventual winner: 4.5

Where the winners have come from

  • 44 percent of winners (4 out of 9) are from the SEC: Texas AM (2009), Alabama (2013, 2014) and LSU (2015)
  • 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from the Big 12: Texas (2012), Oklahoma (2017)
  • 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from Augusta, GA: August State (2010, 2011)
  • 11 percent of winners (1 out of 9) are from the PAC 12: Oregon (2016)
  • 11 percent of the match play field has historically come from mid-major teams

Mid-Majors that have Qualified for Match Play

  • August State (2010, 2011)
  • Kent State (2012)
  • San Diego State (2012)
  • New Mexico University (2013)
  • SMU (2014)
  • UNLV (2017)

Mid Majors with 4+ Appearances in the NCAA National Championship 

  • UCF (2009, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018)
  • Kent State (2010, 201, 2013, 2017, 2018)
  • North Florida (2010, 2012, 2013, 2018)

So with facts in hand, let’s hear your opinion GolfWRX readers… who’s going to be your team champion for 2018?

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

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Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1
  • Jon Rahm 14/1
  • Justin Rose 18/1
  • Webb Simpson 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 20/1
  • Jimmy Walker 28/1
  • Adam Scott 28/1

Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.

Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.

Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.

Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.

As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.

Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.

Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.

Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
  • Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price  $7,100
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