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Checking the numbers: Going For It On Par 5′s
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.
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.