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The real numbers behind driving the ball on Tour

driving statistics driving accuracy driving distance driving effectiveness rich hunt

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#1 zakkozuchowski

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:01 AM

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The real numbers behind driving the ball on Tour


By Rich Hunt


GolfWRX Contributor


In the era of modern technology, advanced fitness regimens and long driving competitions, there has been a growing sentiment towards golf favoring the ‘bomb-n-gouge’ style of play.  However, we still see many shorter-hitting golfers like Zach Johnson who are successful in the game.  Most of the clients on Tour I work with have questioned the advantages that power can have on Tour versus hitting the ball the more accurately.  As a competitive amateur golfer myself, it was one of the first things I investigated from a statistical standpoint.

Part of the issue deals with the main metric designed to determine driving skill on Tour, called ‘Total Driving." Total Driving utilizes a very simple formula by adding the rankings of a player’s Driving Distance and Fairway Percentage together.  The lower the combined ranking, the better the golfer will rank in Total Driving. But it’s metrics like Total Driving that have only produced more questions than answers for golfers.

The main issue with the Total Driving metric is that it is flawed from a statistical standpoint and it is a very incomplete formula. From a pure statistical standpoint, the addition of taking the rankings and adding them together is a bad idea in general.  Theoretically, a golfer on Tour could hit nothing but 4-irons off the tee and would likely lead the Tour in percentage of Fairways Hit. But, they would also likely be dead last in driving distance. And using the Total Driving formula of adding up the rankings would misrepresent how well the golfer hits the ball off the tee.

In that example, the golf would rank No. 1 in Fairway Percentage and No. 191 in Driving Distance.  That would combine for 192 Total Driving points, leaving this particular golfer ranked 100th out of 192 golfers on Tour in Total Driving.  However, the reality is that if a Tour golfer hit nothing but 4 irons off the tee, they would almost be guaranteed to be the least effective driver of the ball on Tour, if not in the history of the Tour.

And therein lies part of another issue with Total Driving -- it assumes that driving distance is just as important as fairway percentage. When examining Driving Distance and Fairway Percentage to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages, the data shows that they are not of equal importance.

Not wanting to stop at just driving distance and fairway percentage, I examined other metrics as well.  The one metric that showed some statistical influence to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages is called "Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway."  This metric is measured on shots by a Tour player when they miss the fairway.

It’s easy to understand why combining Driving Distance, Fairway Percentage and Distance To the Edge of the Fairway can show a strong correlation to par-4 and par-5 scoring average. Distance helps measure power, fairway percentage helps measure accuracy and distance to the edge of the fairway helps measure precision. Now the question becomes putting it in a formula to best represent its effect on Tour players and then examine the results.

Eventually I came up with my own metric that I call "Driving Effectiveness."  It combines the metrics of Driving Distance, Fairway Percentage and Average Distance To the Edge of the Fairway. However, it utilizes the actual measurements instead of using the rankings.  Furthermore, it weighs those metrics differently to better represent its typical impact on Tour golfers on par-4s and par-5s.  Without giving the formula away, I will say that in the end that Driving Distance and Distance to the Edge of the Fairway have a larger impact on a golfer’s score than fairway percentage. But, do not let that fool you into believing that hitting fairways is unimportant.

Here is a table showing the top-10 and bottom-10 players in Driving Effectiveness and the Total Driving metric.

Top-10 in Driving Effectiveness


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Bottom 10 in Driving Effectiveness

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While there are some similarities between the rankings of the two metrics, there are plenty of players who are not accurately depicted in Total Driving. Here’s a look at the top-10 players who had the largest improvement in Driving Effectiveness ranking from the Total Driving metric.


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Here are the players with the largest decline in Driving Effectiveness ranking from the Total Driving metric.

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In golfers who had a much better Driving Effectiveness ranking, we see that favoring shorter hitters a little. Conversely, with the golfers with a worse Driving Effectiveness ranking, that has a small bias towards longer hitters. The reason being has to do with the Average Distance To The Edge of the Fairway metric.
However, the bias is somewhat small. I believe the reason for that is regardless of their length off the tee, Tour players do not typically see a sizeable difference in where they rank on Tour between fairway percentage and Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway.

For example, KJ Choi saw the largest difference in Driving Effectiveness (67th) versus Total Driving (128th).  Choi was ranked 54th in fairway percentage, hitting 64.08 percent of his fairways. But, Choi was also 2nd in Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway, hitting it 18.7 feet from the edge on average. Thus, Choi was more effective than Total Driving indicates because when he did miss the fairway, he did not miss by much.

I think that amateurs can apply the general principles of Driving Effectiveness in their own game as well. If they are looking to become more effective off the tee, the ways to make the largest improvements would be to increase their driving distance (power) and their Distance to the Edge of the Fairway (precision).  If they are looking at swing changes or a new driver in order to increase distance, they should focus more on how that may possibly affect their Average Distance To The Edge of the Fairway.

However, if they gain power but lose too much precision they may end up being less effective in the long run. And if they do not believe they can gain any power, they should probably focus their efforts on Fairway percentage (accuracy) and Distance To The Edge of the Fairway (precision) in order become more effective off the tee.


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#2 Llortamaisey

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:12 AM

It's hard to really form an opinion on this without knowing the formula for Driving Effectiveness. For all we know, the formula is crap. It's not like you're making fried chicken.

#3 YMark

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:13 AM

Someone is real bored.
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#4 Vindog

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:17 AM

Pretty cool stuff.

Translating these findings to the amateur game is very very helpful.   Keep doing that, because otherwise to me, it's just another set of pros' stats, reminding me how much I stink.

Edited by Vindog, 15 November 2012 - 10:21 AM.

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#5 kevcarter

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:20 AM

Another very interesting article. Thank you!

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#6 RichieHunt

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:31 AM

 Llortamaisey, on 15 November 2012 - 10:12 AM, said:

It's hard to really form an opinion on this without knowing the formula for Driving Effectiveness. For all we know, the formula is crap. It's not like you're making fried chicken.

Llortamaisey, I agree,

But there is no way I can get around that.  I have invested quite a bit of time and knowledge to better depict the formula, so giving it away for free is something I don't want to do.  However, I do feel that one can draw some reasonable conclusions to the flaws of 'Total Driving' and whether or not a metric that includes Distance, Fairway % and Distance to the Edge of the Fairway makes some sense.  And that while hitting fairways is important, distance and distance to the edge of the fairway have a greater level of importance on a Tour player's score.

So it's a bit of 'here's what I have found, here's my line of thinking and here's how the players ranked.'  Hope you understand.






RH

#7 RichieHunt

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:33 AM

 Vindog, on 15 November 2012 - 10:17 AM, said:

Pretty cool stuff.

Translating these findings to the amateur game is very very helpful.   Keep doing that, because otherwise to me, it's just another set of pros' stats, reminding me how much I stink.

Thanks Vindog.

Part of the issue with the first article on Danger Zone play is that the higher the handicap gets, DZ play becomes less important while driving becomes more important.  Plus, the distance range for DZ play changes as a golfer is playing shorter courses.

Part of what I'm doing now is introducing my what I do and my concepts.  So as time goes along, we can start to go from the introductory phase and more to how golfers can apply it to their own game.







RH

#8 Vindog

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:35 AM

To be honest... the Total driving stat and the Driving distance stat have been mulled over here as being grossly misrepresenting, depending on who you talk to.
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#9 RichieHunt

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:44 AM

 Vindog, on 15 November 2012 - 10:35 AM, said:

To be honest... the Total driving stat and the Driving distance stat have been mulled over here as being grossly misrepresenting, depending on who you talk to.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt this way about total driving.

First, driving distance is a bit of a unique metric.  While it doesn't quite represent how far these guys hit the ball, I have found that in the case of driving distance, you can get a better representation by looking at the rankings.  I utilize a complex statistical model, but the for the average person they can just look at the rankings and see that while Lee Westwood 'only' hits it about 6 yards further off the tee than Jeff Overton, the difference in ranking (28th vs. 68th) does represent that Westwood can outdrive Overton a fair amount of the time.  You can also look at clubhead speed which is posted on the PGATour.com Web site http://www.pgatour.c...ats/info/?02401

Although with clubhead speed, if a golfer hits more with an upward attack angle, they can hit it further than a golfer with a downward attack angle.  Typically though, clubhead speed is a larger determining factor than attack angle.

Anyway, while I am sure that many people have spotted the flaws in Total Driving, you would be surprised how many Tour players use that metric to gauge their ability off the tee.  In fact, I usually hear that metric being used in NBC telecasts and on The Golf Channel as the way to gauge a golfer's driving ability.







RH

#10 mwkbmw

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:50 AM

I have always thought that the Total Driving stat was lacking, due to the fact that proximity to the fairway was not taken into consideration. I wonder if you could tweak it even further to consider shots that end in the first cut versus the deep rough.

Thanks for the articles. I am finding them very interesting.

Edited by mwkbmw, 15 November 2012 - 10:51 AM.

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#11 RichieHunt

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 11:05 AM

 mwkbmw, on 15 November 2012 - 10:50 AM, said:

I have always thought that the Total Driving stat was lacking, due to the fact that proximity to the fairway was not taken into consideration. I wonder if you could tweak it even further to consider shots that end in the first cut versus the deep rough.

Thanks for the articles. I am finding them very interesting.

I wish I could do that, but there is no metric for first cuts, intermediate, deep rough, etc.

I have some ideas of how to increase the accuracy of depicting a Tour golfer's skill, but it would take a lot of resources that I don't have.

However, I believe that the Avg. Distance to the Edge of the Fairway does a decent job of representing golfers who are hitting shots in the first cut of rough versus the intermediate and deep rough.  It would help explain why it has a strong mathematical correlation to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages than fairway percentage.





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#12 mwkbmw

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 11:47 AM

 RichieHunt, on 15 November 2012 - 11:05 AM, said:

 mwkbmw, on 15 November 2012 - 10:50 AM, said:

I have always thought that the Total Driving stat was lacking, due to the fact that proximity to the fairway was not taken into consideration. I wonder if you could tweak it even further to consider shots that end in the first cut versus the deep rough.

Thanks for the articles. I am finding them very interesting.

I wish I could do that, but there is no metric for first cuts, intermediate, deep rough, etc.

I have some ideas of how to increase the accuracy of depicting a Tour golfer's skill, but it would take a lot of resources that I don't have.

However, I believe that the Avg. Distance to the Edge of the Fairway does a decent job of representing golfers who are hitting shots in the first cut of rough versus the intermediate and deep rough.  It would help explain why it has a strong mathematical correlation to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages than fairway percentage.





RH

I agree 100%.  I do not track actual proximity to the fairway (too difficult to do while playing), but I try to notate a general indication of the severity of my miss.

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#13 shakey

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 12:35 PM

Either way, Mahan is good.
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#14 RichieHunt

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 12:43 PM

 shakey, on 15 November 2012 - 12:35 PM, said:

Either way, Mahan is good.

Yes because his Average Distance ot the Edge of the Fairway is not too far off from his fairway percentage.  He is routinely one of the best drivers on Tour, year after year.  But he's another example of a player who hits it great off the tee, but is much less effective in the Danger Zone (175-225 yard shots).  He's usually very average on DZ shots.  But off the tee, he is very effective and doesn't exactly bomb it either.






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#15 Jamboy72

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 01:31 PM

Very interesting read...thanks for the stats!


#16 lookma_nobackswing

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 02:36 AM

good stuff, thank you for doing this kind of research.

#17 Padre John

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 08:23 PM

Appreciate you taking the time to post this info.  Interesting reading.

#18 nmanoles3

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 05:46 PM

I love this stuff. Great work man, I'd love to read more!
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#19 J.W.

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 06:02 PM

What do we learn from all of these?  Stats can be spun just about anyway the author wants them to be...

Now if there was a way to measure distance combined with how good the lie turned out to be... Rory can drive it 320 yards and 40 yards left of the fairway and have a clear shot from a good lie and 150 yards.  Meanwhile Luke can drive it fairly straight and 280 yards but miss the fairway by a small margin and find himself in a goofy patch of rough where he can't fly the ball to the green.

There are so many scenario's in golf that at the end of the day the only stat that matters is scoring average and actually when it comes down to it... money list.  But what fun would that be?

#20 tembolo1284

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 04:26 PM

 J.W., on 26 November 2012 - 06:02 PM, said:

What do we learn from all of these?  Stats can be spun just about anyway the author wants them to be...

Now if there was a way to measure distance combined with how good the lie turned out to be... Rory can drive it 320 yards and 40 yards left of the fairway and have a clear shot from a good lie and 150 yards.  Meanwhile Luke can drive it fairly straight and 280 yards but miss the fairway by a small margin and find himself in a goofy patch of rough where he can't fly the ball to the green.

There are so many scenario's in golf that at the end of the day the only stat that matters is scoring average and actually when it comes down to it... money list.  But what fun would that be?

you party pooper you. ;)

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#21 deasy55

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 04:35 PM

The Total Driving stat is such a poor representation of a person's driving that I don't even know why it exists.

Without knowing your exact formula it's hard to comment, but the basics to what you did seem to make much more sense.

#22 Golfnutgalen

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 05:44 PM

I like what you did here, to an extent, but I think you might be undervaluing the "fairways hit" we can't ignore it completely. Because they are the two biggest names in the game currently, let's look at Tiger and Rory's rankings in the relevant stats, throw in Bubba too because you ranked him as the most efficient driver:

1. Driving Accuracy (fairways hit percentage on par 4s and 5s any club)
-- Tiger 63.9% (55th) -- Rory 56.6% (156th) -- Bubba 58.84 (135th)

2. Driving Distance (2 holes measured per round, can be very misleading)
-- Tiger 297y (32nd) -- Rory 310 (5th) -- Bubba 316 (1st)

3. Fairway proximity (average distance from center of fairway when fairwy is hit, Lee Westwoods is the stats leader)
-- Tiger 25'2" (93rd) -- Rory 24'2" (40th) -- Bubba 27'9" (180th)

4. Rough proximity  (average distance from roughline when fairway missed)
-- Tiger 28'6" (147th) -- Rory 22'9" (29th) -- Bubba 29'11" (162nd)

I think that rough proximity stat is extremely relevant, and really proves that Rory is the better driver of the ball this year than Tiger. That said, bubba is near last in both proximity stats, maybe he does makes tons of birdies (and eagles) but it can't be truly due to his driving; he's #2 in GIR and just a freak (no harm intended).

Edited by Golfnutgalen, 30 November 2012 - 05:50 PM.


#23 STEC

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 03:51 PM

Super interesting.




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