Mark Twain was once said “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
This is often a popular adage from critics of an advanced metrics point of view. Normally this tends to occur with people who utilize anecdotal evidence to formulate their opinions and when the numbers tell them something they don’t like. The reality is that statistics do not lie, but incomplete and flawed statistics can lead to faulty analysis and conclusions derived from that analysis.
A prime example of this right now is the “fall” of Rory McIlroy’s play. People are stating that his dip in his performance is due to switching equipment. Johnny Miller thinks it is a giant mistake for Rory to switch his irons, as he did the same thing in his prime and he could never quite adjust to the change. Let’s take a look at his “traditional” golf metrics:
As we can see, Rory is better this year in fairway percentage and greens in regulation. He has regressed in scrambling percentage. Most people, including statisticians, would agree that greens in regulation has a larger impact on Tour success than scramble percentage. So, why has Rory performed worse this year despite hitting more fairways and greens in regulation?
Let’s take a look at his putting. While putts gained is not a “traditional” metric, it’s becoming more accepted as a traditional metric. Is the putting the problem?
The table shows that Rory is actually putting better this year than he did last year. It’s traditional metrics like GIR percentage, total driving and scramble percentage that tend to confuse golfers and consequently brush off metrics as “lies, damned lies and statistics.”
However, all it takes is to dig a little deeper and to use more detailed statistics and we start to see a better depiction of Rory’s play in 2012. Here’s a look at my main ballstriking metrics which include:
Driving effectiveness: A proprietary formula that uses the metrics of driving distance, fairway percentage, percentage of fairway bunkers hit, distance from the edge of the fairway and “missed fairways – other” to determine a player’s effectiveness off the tee.
Birdie zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 75-125 yards.
Safe zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 125-175 yards.
Danger zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 175-225 yards.
These numbers suggest that the new equipment is not an issue or at least the new irons have worked out better for him this year.
While he is less effective off the tee, considering this is based out of 190 players on Tour he is still a driving the ball great.
So, where is the issue?
From what I have gathered so far, I would look at the two largest statistical regressions: scrambling and driving.
First, let’s look at my metric called “short game play.” This is the average proximity to the cup on all shots that are no more than 20 yards away from the edge of the green. We have seen that Rory has improved his putts gained, so let’s see if his actual skills around the green have regressed.
So yes, there has been a regression. But we simply cannot stop there because it is not a big enough regression to explain Rory’s dip in play from last year as we the numbers tell us that short game play does not have that large of an influence on a player’s score. Let’s drill down further and look at the attempts per round on shots from around the green.
And here is where we start to see some of the issue with Rory’s play. While he has regressed a bit in his ability to get the ball closer to the cup on shots around the green, one major issue is that he is leaving himself with more shots from a longer distance. With that said, that still does not quite tell the entire story. So, let’s drill down and examine his driving a bit further.
We know that he’s hitting it about the same distance off the tee. We also know that he is hitting more fairways this year. Since he is less effective off the tee this year, that leaves it to examining what I call the precision metrics of driving as we have already examined the power (distance) and accuracy (fairway percentage) metrics of driving.
And here is where we are starting to see more of the entire story into the regression of Rory’s play from 2012. Essentially, Rory is hitting his irons better and putting better. He’s hitting the ball virtually the same distance off the tee and is actually more accurate (fairway percentage), but he is much more imprecise off the tee this year and it is affecting his play despite the fact that he’s been better at the popular “traditional metric” greens in regulation percentage.
This is why I generally avoid examining greens in regulation percentage, particularly on the Tour level. For starters, it is too vague of a metric to really learn from. I have seen plenty of high GIR percentage players who struggle off the tee, but hit it great with their irons (Tiger). Conversely, I have seen high GIR percentage players who hit it great off the tee but have their struggles with the irons (Bubba Watson). It simply fails to tell the golfer how they get the ball on the green in regulation, either from a good drive or a good iron shot or both.
Secondly, across the board the numbers show that proximity to the cup has a higher correlation to success on Tour than GIR percentage. In fact, if you go to a Tour event it is obvious that Tour players have some sense of this as they are more apt to fire at a flag, even with trouble nearby, rather than to aim for the middle of the green. Simply put, the average Tour player makes one birdie putt outside 25 feet per 98 holes of golf!
Thus, Tour players instinctively understand that in order to make birdies on the course they need to get the birdie putt close to the hole. And most of the time the Tour players would take a 25-foot chip shot from off the green than the 50-foot putt that is on the green. And if you’re a golfer, you should probably do the same as well or start improving your short game enough so you start to want to have those much shorter chip shots over those longer putts.
What greens in regulation percentage does not tell us about Rory’s game is that he is hitting a higher percentage of greens in spite of being more imprecise with the driver. And what is happening is that when he misses a green it is coming more from a bad tee shot than a bad iron shot. Not only does that possibly mean that he is finding hazards and out of bounds more often (missed fairway –- other), but his bad drives are much worse this year and it leaves him with much more difficult shots to save par from.
So for now, I would say that the new irons and putter are actually helping Rory. But he now has to figure out how to get back his precision off the tee with the new driver. If he can, he’ll be even tougher to beat.
Fantasy Preview: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open
There is a sense that this is the week where the 2018 PGA Tour season truly gets underway. An iconic golf course playing host to a world class field, which includes none other than Tiger Woods. Last year, Jon Rahm won the event in sparkling fashion, draining a monster eagle putt on the 18th green to take the title by three strokes at 13-under par.
With a top field usually on show here, it’s no surprise that the role of honor list is so impressive. Besides Tiger Woods having won the event a remarkable seven times, the likes of Snedeker (twice), Jason Day and Bubba Watson have all won here in recent years — the only surprise victor in the past seven editions being Scott Stallings in 2014. With this being his first event of 2018, Tiger will grab the headlines no matter what happens, and I think every golf fan will be fascinated to see how the 14-time major winner will perform on a course he dearly loves.
The event is played over two courses on the opening two days, Torrey Pines (South) and Torrey Pines (North) before switching to the South Course for the final two days. The South Course is a real test, measuring more than 7,500 yards and usually with thick rough. The shorter North Course offers up the best opportunity for scoring, which adds pressure to each player’s solo trip here during the week. There is even a difference on the greens, as the South Course uses Poa Annua while the North Course has Bentgrass.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Jon Rahm 8/1
- Rickie Fowler 12/1
- Hideki Matsuyama 14/1
- Justin Rose 16/1
- Jason Day 18/1
- Tiger Woods 22/1
- Marc Leishman 22/1
On such a long golf course such as the South Course here at Torrey Pines, there is no doubt that length off the tee is important. But the ability to find the fairway is equally so. It was a surprise that up until last year Justin Rose (16/1, DK Price $10,600 ) had never displayed his best golf at Torrey Pines, but a T4 in 2017 shows that at long last he may have finally figured out the course.
The usually reliable Rose ranks sixth in this field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds and third in Strokes Gained Total. With limited birdie opportunities available, certainly on the South Course, I expect Par-5 scoring to be crucial this week… and Justin is a player with the ability to eat up Par 5’s. He sits fourth in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s in this field over his last 24 rounds. Performance on Par 4’s in the range of 450-500 yards should also prove vital with both courses containing five holes each in this range. Rose is 15th in Efficiency on holes of this length and sixth in Strokes Gained on all par 4’s in his last 24 rounds.
Rose made an important birdie on his final hole last Friday to make the cut in Abu-Dhabi, and in doing so seemed to shake off some of the rust in his game over the weekend. The current Olympic Champion shot bogey-free rounds of 67 and 69 over the weekend, giving him good momentum for this week. Rose finished ninth in Driving Distance last week and 10th in Driving Accuracy. If he can replicate that sort of form with the driver, then he should be able to give himself an excellent chance come Sunday afternoon.
The Farmers Insurance Open is an event which Tony Finau (35/1, DK Price $8,700 ) seemingly loves. In three appearances, he’s improved each time with finishes of T24, T18 and most recently T4. His reliable Tee to Green game is a key factor behind his joy at Torrey Pines. Finau ranks 11th in this field in Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds and ninth in Strokes Gained Approach. On the important 450-500 yard Par-4 range, he sits 13th in Efficiency over the same period. The long hitter also excels on the Par 5’s. In his last 24 rounds, he ranks third in this field for Strokes Gained on Par 5’s. As usual with Finau, the question mark surrounds his putting. But he seems to be a little more comfortable on the greens at Torrey Pines, where he has gained strokes over the field on the greens in all three previous visits here.
If you’re looking for reliability in your DraftKings lineups this week, then it’s hard to look past Charles Howell III (45/1, DK Price $8,300 ). In his last five trips to Torrey Pines, the Augusta native has finishes of T9-T37-T5-T16-T2 with a career Strokes Gained Total of +39 here. DraftKings players using Charles this week will also be glad to know that he has never missed the cut at this event in 15 visits. He scores very well on the key statistics for the week, suggesting another high finish may be in the offing.
Howell III is fourth in this field over his last 24 rounds on Par 4’s between 450-500 yards, while he’s 19th in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s in this same period. He is also trending upward in 2018, finishing T32 at the Sony Open and T20 at CareerBuilder last week. It would hardly be a shock to see Charles post his best finish of 2018 at a site he loves, and if he is ever to win again it would probably be less surprising to see him do it at Torrey Pines than anywhere else.
In terms of value down the board, J.J. Spaun (90/1, DK Price $7,500) jumped out right away at being a little undervalued this week. It seems like Torrey Pines is a good fit for the California native. Last year he finished an impressive T9 on his debut. It also seems like Spaun is hitting the ball better than ever at the moment. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks ninth in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, seventh in Ball Striking, fourth in Approaching the Green and seventh in Strokes Gained Total — excellent statistics that he will be eager to see manifest into positive results soon. Spaun is sixth in Par 4’s ranging between 450-500 yards over his last 24 rounds and is also very competent on Par 5’s, where he sits 21st over the same period. At a price of $7,500, there seems to be good value in adding Spaun to your DraftKings line up this week.
- Justin Rose 16/1, DK Price $10,600
- Tony Finau 35/1, DK Price $8,700
- Charles Howell III 45/1, DK Price $8,300
- J.J. Spaun 90/1, DK Price $7,500
More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training
If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.
Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.
If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.
The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.
Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall
This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!
Med Ball Wall Ball
Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.
Med Ball Sky Chest Throws
This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.
That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.
GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience
Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.
Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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