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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, 2015 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 2015 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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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

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