Golf is supposed to be fun.
Even for the highest level professionals, it is still supposed to be fun.
The biggest enemy of a golfer and his scorecard is not the wrong equipment, horrible swing flaws, slow play or even your kids jumping off the top turnbuckle of the couch and doing a cannonball into your lap (Yes, this happens to me on a daily basis. The game is called “beat up daddy” and my 3- and 4-year-olds love it more than ice cream).
The biggest enemy of the golfer is being ridiculous in his or her expectations. That leads to course management problems that ruin the enjoyment of the game. It’s ok for golfers to have long-term expectations that are as high as they want, but short-term expectations, as in the very next shot, need to be more mundane at every level.
I have a good friend who is a 5 handicap. Smart guy — he went to an Ivy League law school. I once added up his cumulative expectations for every shot and he literally would have shot in the 50s had he lived up to his ridiculous standards.
He’s not alone. Golfers have a warped perception of what level of golf shots produce what scores. All you have to do is check out the PGA Tour stats.
It is safe to say that the average 0 to 15 handicap golfer is worse than the worst player on the Tour by a margin so wide it cannot be measured. The best average approach shot from the fairway to the green is 32 feet, 3 inches. Yes, you read that correctly. As I write this article, the guy on Tour who averages the closest to the pin from the fairway (shots from rough not included) is more than 32 feet. The worst on the Tour is 43 feet, 6 inches.
That means the average approach shot to the green on the Tour is between 31 and 47 feet. Why then do I hear the constant moans and groans when shots are not stoned dead?
The devil’s advocate would say, “Well, Monte, there are a lot of long approaches to the green, as there are 500-yard par 4s and pros go for the green from as long as 300 yards and those numbers are factored in.”
Fine. The best guy on Tour averages over 16 feet from the hole from 125 to 150 yards, a very common yardage for golfers playing the middle tees on par 4s and a yardage most experienced golfers expect to hit close. Again, using the premise that the average golfer is significantly worse than the worst Tour player, the bottom guy averages over 36 feet from the hole from 125 to 150.
So let’s look at this realistically. If the worst guy on the Tour is 36-plus feet from the hole, the run of the mill scratch golfer should be more than satisfied with that distance. And the 5 to 15 handicap should be doing cartwheels. But we all know that’s not the case.
I play with 15-handicaps who are ready to drive their cart into the nearest lake if they so much as hit the ball outside 30 feet on a shot of that length. Exaggeration? Maybe, but not much. Remember, these are stats from the fairway, not the rough, trees or someone’s patio.
Let’s work in even further. From the fairway, there are only 35 players who are currently averaging under 10 feet from the hole on shots of 50 to 75 yards, and many average over 30 feet. It’s a small sample size at this point on the season, but it is still telling.
These stats tell us one thing: We mere mortals should be happy just to hit the ball on the green, which leads me to the next faux pas I see. A solid single digit has a 100-yard shot to a tucked right pin and is taking dead aim. He shoves it 15 feet and short sides himself.
“If I can’t hit the green from 100 yards, I might as well quit,” I’ve heard many say.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that.
My response is he just hit a great shot and has a 15-foot putt from the fringe, or simple chip that is very make-able. The response is still being incredulous about missing the green because it is a blackmark on the stat sheet. So I do this. I drop five balls and offer them $20 to hit all five balls on the green anywhere. The result is often all five balls on the green between 10 and 50 feet with an average around 40. Basically, not much worse than the average shot of a low-end Tour player.
I am definitely not saying you should be this conservative, but be aware of what a good shot actually is. If you are a good player with a good short game, know that shots that miss the green but are still close to the hole are often more damaging to your stats than your score.
Even with the advent of Flightscope, Trackman and laser range finders, I am still appalled at the horrendous lack of knowledge golfers have about how far they hit the ball. Play any golf course in the world and you will see two things.
- Greenside bunkers short of the green that look as if they were the front of a WWI battle.
- Nearly untouched bunkers behind the green that only receive traffic from the people who hit it in the front bunkers and decide that picking the ball clean is the best way to hit a sand shot.
Let me give you some advice. The distance you hit an iron is not how far you hit one downhill, downwind, at altitude, when you leaned on one orhit the best shot of your life (and after it landed a coyote picked it up and ran another 50 yards). Seeing as how I have played with many golfers who played 18 consecutive holes without hitting a ball that didn’t land short of the green, this is again not much hyperbole.
“OK, Monte, we get the point, we need to take the average distance we hit our clubs, give it a rest.”
Well, I won’t give it a rest because that is wrong too. It is not the average distance you hit a club, but the distance you hit the ball most often. That sounds like the same thing, but I have found though years of harassing poor, unsuspecting amateurs that the “most often” shot is usually five and sometimes as much as 10 yards shorter than the best shot. But the fear of going over the green chides people into being short all day long. Using the most often approach can result in five or more saved shots from not being short, which is a lot better for your score than the one bogey you might make from the career shot that sails over the green.
I like what the great Jackie Burke said to one of his students when he was pondering a club choice. He asked the unsuspecting young star what he could hit over the green. The student responded, “5-iron.”
Burke then responded, “Well then, wouldn’t that make this a 6?”
There are so many ways to improve your scores if you just use some common sense. The Ivy League lawyer I spoke of earlier, well that kind of on-course behavior runs in the family. His father would attempt flop shots (which he was horrible at) from a place where Phil Mickelson would be hard pressed to get the ball within 30 feet. The results were predictable. He would advance the ball 6 feet in front of him from getting too cute, then the second shot would end up 30 feet, which is where it would have ended up with a normal chip, bump and run 7-iron, foot wedge, topped driver or one of Phil’s gravity defying parachute flops.
The answer to this question is the answer to most every other shot in golf. What shot would have the best cumulative results if you hit it 10 times? It might not be the way Tiger plays it, the way Johnny Miller says is the best way to play it or the way your club champion plays it, but if it’s the way you can do it well most times, it’s the right shot even if your friends laugh at you for putting from 20 yards off the green with a sprinkler in your line.
Now that I have segued to putting, more strokes are lost on putting by people trying to make too many putts. You read the putt, you line up, hit it the right speed and it will go in or it won’t. You have no control over anything but proper speed outside of 3 to 4 feet. Don’t believe me? The best putters on Tour only make two out of five putts from 10 to 15 feet, and many only make one out of five or worse.
My question is: Why are we trying so hard to make long putts? Why do we hit them so hard or and try to steer them on line?
Unless you are a masochist and want to provide hours of entertainment for your friends, dollars for their bankroll and keep the producers of Prozac in business, the next time you play golf try this:
1. Hit whatever club (using your normal yardages) will end up 5 yards short of the back edge of the green.
2. Try to hit the ball where your predominate miss won’t miss the green, no mater where the pin is.
3. Try and hit every putt outside of 5 feet the correct speed and don’t worry about whether it goes in or not.
4. Be ambivalent about the results of individual shots.
I guarantee your next 20 rounds will lower your handicap.
On Spec: I fell in love at Sweetens Cove | Finding your golf “community”
In this episode of On Spec, Ryan can’t say enough great things about his first trip to Sweetens Cove for the first Oil Hardened Classic—an event dedicated to persimmon and blade irons. He also talks about a new group of golf buddies in the era of social media.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
It started with a crazy idea…
It’s been nearly six years since Bob Parsons decided he wanted to get into the golf club business, and it was five years ago that Ryan Moore was presented with an iron that looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie.
Since then, the name PXG has been growing in stature as quickly as this industry has seen in a long time. In my time with Tour Ops Director Matt Rollins, I discovered once again that there was a point for all of these department heads, where the ability to work in a vacuum with no boundaries peaked enough curiosity to leave great jobs and take a winger on a man’s idea that at inception may have sounded a bit crazy.
Now let’s be clear, Bob Parsons knows golf clubs. Like many on this site, he’s a gear junkie—yes, with unlimited resources to find exactly what he wants. However, being a gear junkie myself, I always wondered what it would look like if I had the resources to go as far down the rabbit hole as I wanted to without risking the roof over my head AND without the mandate of a company to limit my search. This is important to understand because as you may have seen in the last video, the people Mr. Parsons chooses to work with seem to have this unrelenting curiosity as well.
The tour operations started this way: Ryan Moore was the perfect guy to attract early on. He’s a searcher, he has the resume to gain trust, and he’s extremely measured. Ryan doesn’t do anything on a whim, although it may appear so. He considers everything down to the last point before he says yes. I can say this in confidence knowing his story and interacting with him a few times. I have interacted with a good portion of the early PXG staff and to a person they have all said the same thing: “It seemed a bit crazy at the time, but I was curious: I hit the clubs and I wanted in.”
The current staff like the front office is a good mix of all personalities and as a whole they represent the perfect mix to get the PXG message out into the world. Players like Horschel, Perez, Ko, Hahn, Lee, ZJ, Moore, HOF icon Gary Player, and most recently aspiring LPGA player, long drive champion and influencer Troy Mullins.
Now, I won’t get into all of the club junkie tidbits I get from Matt here: ya just gotta watch the video. It was a fun interview and my biggest takeaway personally is that despite all of the opinions and polarizing discussions around PXG, these guys really care about what they are doing and where they want to go.
As you will see in Episode 6 of The Disruptors, Matt Rollins at first had a kind of “yeah right” reaction to the whole thing—then you start to get around Bob, and Mike and Brad and you begin to understand just how serious these guys are about taking PXG to places we have never seen. Are they one of the Big 4? No. They never will be—it’s not designed that way. Are they a company that has the nimbleness, brains, and swagger to continue to shake things up? Oh, yeah. And that’s exactly how Bob likes it.
PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020
At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:
- Driving effectiveness
- Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
- Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
- Putting (5-15 feet)
- Ball speed
All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.
This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”
Players on the rise
*The following rankings are based out of 194 players
The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.
This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.
The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.
Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.
Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.
Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.
Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.
While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.
Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved
That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.
Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.
Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.
One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.
The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.
Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.
Players on the decline
Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.
Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.
After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.
Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.
The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.
For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.
Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.
The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.
But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.
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