As a statistician who works with PGA Tour players, I’m frequently asked by aspiring Tour players and their coaches what statistics they can use to measure themselves against Tour players.
The mistake with this question is that the playing grounds for aspiring Tour players and actual PGA Tour players are often different. In fact, metrics on the PGA Tour can change drastically from one event to another. For instance, the average make percentage of putts from 3-to-5 feet for the year is roughly 87 percent. At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, however, the average make percentage for professionals from 3-to-5 feet was only 76 percent. Thus, a golfer that made 80 percent of their putts from 3-to-5 feet would be putting poorly on many Tour courses, but doing better than average at Pebble Beach. And the same applies for shot proximity to the cup. Some courses are easier than others and for aspiring Tour players. It is not easy to gauge their performance versus the PGA Tour players performance since it depends on the degree of difficulty of the course.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think that using PGA Tour benchmarks can be useful, but expecting that they will provide golfers with an accurate depiction of how the average Tour player would perform on a course is misleading at best. Instead, I advise golfers to focus on what I call their “game profile.” A game profile is various strengths and weaknesses of a golfer’s game. It’s how well they putt, drive the ball, what happens when they drive it effectively or ineffectively, how well they hit their short approach shots, mid-length approach shots and long approach shots and how well they perform with their short game around the green.
The game profile starts with power and how far a golfer hits the ball off the tee. How far a golfer hits the ball dictates what the rest of their game will generally have to look like in order to achieve success. But first, what we should understand is that the biggest advantage to hitting the ball far is that it affects how well golfers will have to putt the ball. And the farther a golfer hits the ball, the more likely he or she can get away with poor putting. Here is a chart showing many of the super-long hitters on Tour and their 2013 PGA Tour performance in money, driving distance and the strokes gained – putting categories.
Conversely, here’s a look at the shorter hitters on Tour that were successful and their rankings.
The biggest reason why the long hitters can get away with weaker putting is that they often have the distance to play the par-5’s in two shots like they are par-4’s. And they are getting more birdie opportunities on those holes, because they’re often hitting it closer to the cup.
The problem with using distance for the aspiring Tour player is that virtually every golfer who tells me how far they hit the ball will give me a number of when they hit the ball the best without the weather conditions affecting their distance. Even Tour players do not consistently make great contact with the ball and are far from being overly consistent with how far they hit their driver.
And that is where launch monitors can help. In 2013, the average club head speed on Tour was 113.6 mph. The highest club head speed was 124.5 mph by Charlie Beljan, and the lowest was 104.7 mph by Jin Park. These numbers should give an initial indication of how much power a golfer has compared to the Tour.
Another important factor to consider is the attack angle. I am not trying to advocate any particular attack angle for a golfer. We know that all things being equal, the more golfers hit up on the ball with a well-fit driver the farther the ball will travel. Therefore, if a golfer has a very downward attack angle, but generates 113.6 mph of club head speed, he or she is effectively now as powerful off the tee as a golfer that may have less club head speed, but hits well up on the driver.
Lastly, we need to consider the Apex Height. The average apex height of a Tour player in 2013 was 96.9 feet. The highest was 131.7 feet by Jason Day. And the lowest apex height was 67.5 feet from Scott Langley. There is a statistical correlation between a player’s apex height and success on Tour. While it is not a strong mathematical correlation, it is substantial enough that it warrants attention. Obviously, golfers with higher club head speeds generally will hit the ball higher, but there are many low club head speed players that hit the ball high and have had resounding success like Brandt Snedeker, Ben Crane, Mark Wilson and Luke Donald, to name a few. What my research has uncovered is that there are too many courses on Tour that favor golfers with higher ball trajectories. I attribute this to the modern course designs, which have more forced carries than older courses.
Once a golfer gets their club head speed and attack angle readings, they can start to determine how much power they have off the tee compared to the rest of the Tour. And for any player, I generally recommend a goal of keeping their fairway bunkers hit to under 5 percent (roughly one fairway bunker hit every other round). As far as hitting the fairways goes, it is rather simple. The farther golfers hit the ball, the lower percentage of fairways they have to hit. Here is a chart of the recommended goal of fairway percentage hit based on club head speed in order to be effective off the tee:
When we examine the table showing the successful lower club head speed players and putting combined with the recommended fairway percentages by club head speed table, we start to see that it becomes virtually impossible to make the PGA Tour if you cannot generate at least 104 mph of club head speed. Once a golfer gets below 104 mph, it requires them to hit such a high percentage of fairways and to putt so incredibly well that they are going to have a hard time keeping their card because golfers can only be so accurate and putt so well.
This leads into power and its influence on the game profile and the player’s ability to hit approach shots. I break down approach shots into three different zones:
- Birdie Zone (shots from 75-to-125 yards)
- Safe Zone (shots from 125-to-175 yards)
- Danger Zone (shots from 175-to-225 yards)
In general, the Danger Zone is the most important zone in golf. In fact, it has the strongest mathematical correlation to success on Tour. Regardless of club head speed, the player’s performance on Tour is largely dictated by how well they play from the Danger Zone. And there is not a substantial correlation between club head speed and Danger Zone play.
My research leads me to believe that this is because the Danger Zone shots requires golfers to have directional and distance control, whereas shots from the Birdie and Safe Zones are more distance-control oriented. The angle for error from the Danger Zone diminishes because it is such a long shot. So while generating more club head speed will have golfers hitting shorter clubs from the Danger Zone, the angle of error diminishes so much that golfers with slower club head speeds like Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell can get the advantage because of their superior directional control from this zone.
What often happens with the long hitters is that they may not actually be that skillful with their irons, but still rank well from the Danger Zone. This is because most of their Danger Zone shots are coming on the Par-3’s. When the rest of the field is playing a long par-4 and can only manage to leave themselves with 175-to-225 yard shots into the green, the long bombers can hit their drives to 125-to-175 yards. This is one of Bubba Watson’s strengths, because historically he has not been a good iron player. If there was a contest from 200 yards between Bubba and Jim Furyk, I would take Furyk. The difference is that in competition Bubba is hitting his approach shots from a much shorter distance than Furyk the majority of the time and that levels the playing field, or even gives the advantage to the lesser skilled iron player.
As I discussed earlier, the shorter hitters normally have to putt better because they cannot hit their second shots as close to the hole on the par-5’s as the long hitters. This also means that slower club head speed players need to hit it better from 100-to-150 yards in order to catchup to the rest of the field on those par-5’s. Shots from 100-125 yards are generally where the shorter hitter will end up laying up to. Even if their “money yardage” is less than 100 yards, the majority of the time they can only lay up to 100-to-125 yards. And if they hit a weaker tee shot, then their lay-up shot tends to move more towards 125-to-150 yards.
Here is a table showing some notable players’ 2013 ranking on shots from 100-to-125 yards and their club head speed with the driver.
If the higher club head speed players were better from 100-to-125 yards, it would have a positive impact on their performance. However, due to their high club head speed, performing well from 100-to-125 yards is a lower priority than it is for the lower club head speed players.
The game profiles are something that the average amateur can use as well. For example, golfers who play to a 10 handicap but hit the ball short for that handicap level and do not foresee themselves increasing their club head speed substantially in the future may want to follow the example set. There is a warning; the distance of the “Zones” changes for amateurs because they are playing shorter courses. So if golfers are playing courses that are roughly 6,000-to-6,300 yards, their ‘Danger Zone’ will about 150-to-200 yards and the Birdie Zone will be about 50-t0-100 yards. But the same game profile concept will remain the same.
The shorter-than-your-average-10 handicap player may want to work more on his putting, focus more on hitting more fairways and on his wedge play. The longer-than-your-average-10 handicapper may want to focus on keeping his drives in play more often so they can use that length to his advantage. This can help players from all levels take the path needed to shoot better scores.
The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses
It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.
I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?
So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.
Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.
These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”
This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.
So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:
We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.
Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.
Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.
The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.
The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.
The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.
The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.
But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.
The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.
Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.
Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.
The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.
This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!
In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.
Vincenzi: How the 2022 Presidents Cup actually grew the game
As fall approached, the world of professional golf was drowning in a sea of continuous division and animosity.
The Presidents Cup, which should have been a silver lining in the most tumultuous time in the history of the sport, had suddenly become a pasquinade.
The Internationals had always been an underdog and had just one win in fourteen tries against the Americans.
In 2019, the scrappy Internationals led by Ernie Els gave the United States team led by Tiger Woods all that they could handle at Royal Melbourne. The United States retained the cup, winning the competition 16–14, but the Els’ team fought to the end. The future was bright for professional golf on the world stage.
In 2022, things were different. The Internationals had just lost arguably their two best players in Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, plus a handful of other Presidents Cup shoe-ins including Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer.
The International players who had joined the controversial LIV Golf series were deemed ineligible to participate in the competition, which resulted in the decimation of what should have been a deep and competitive team of Internationals. By the time the event started, the United States had ballooned to a -900 favorite.
One phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months has been “grow the game”.
After a bleak opening few days at the Presidents Cup, we caught a glimpse of what “growing the game” looked like over the weekend.
There are plenty of ways to potentially grow the game of golf. One of those ways unfolded in real time at Quail Hollow thanks in part to a spirited group of Asian golfers who refused to let their team go quietly into the night.
First, there was the budding superstar, Tom Kim.
Kim scored two points for the Internationals, but the impact he had on the event dwarfed his point total. The South Korean hijacked the event with his charisma, energy and determination to help his team succeed. Golf fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment whenever the 20-year-old was on their television screen.
Kim had already had a handful of moments that will live in our memories for many Presidents Cups to come, but the most memorable came on the 18th hole of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes. Facing a seemingly invincible duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Kim put a 2-iron to less than six feet of the hole. He then sunk the clutch putt to knock off the fourth and fifth ranked players in the world.
TOM KIM FOR THE WIN!!!
— Presidents Cup International Team (@IntlTeam) September 24, 2022
Tom wasn’t the only “Kim” to leave a lasting impact at the 2022 Presidents Cup. Fellow South Korean Si Woo Kim had his share of memorable moments as well.
Going into Sunday singles, the Internationals were trailing 11-7 and in need of a historic day. Typically, the trailing team will “frontload” their best players to attempt a comeback. When United States captain Davis Love III called the name of Justin Thomas to lead off in the first match of the day, many expected the international team captain Trevor Immelmann to call the name of Hideki Matsuyama or Adam Scott. Instead, he called the name of Si Woo Kim.
Si Woo did not disappoint. Kim took out the de-facto leader of the United States team 1-up. The 27-year-old didn’t shy away from the spotlight, and matched Thomas both in his ability to sink clutch putts and to bring energy with his animated style of play.
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) September 25, 2022
Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim provided some of the most memorable moments of the Presidents Cup, but it’s Sungjae Im who’s been the best player for the Internationals in both 2019 and 2022.
Back in 2019, Sungjae tied with Abraham Ancer for the leading points scorer (3.5) for the Internationals during their narrow defeat in Australia. He was a rookie then, but this year he was depended upon to go against some on the United States best teams and delivered, scoring 2.5 points and knocking off young American star Cameron Young in their singles match.
PGATOUR: Winning in style @IntlTeam.
— Triple Bogey Golf Club (@TripleBogeyGC) September 25, 2022
As influential as the performances by the trio of South Koreans were, the overall impact of Asian golfers cannot be discussed without mentioning Hideki Matsuyama.
The 2021 Masters Champion has long been rumored to be interested in joining LIV Golf, but he was at Quail Hollow competing alongside his International teammates.
Stars were born at the 2022 Presidents Cup, but Matsuyama has been “growing the game” for what feels like a lifetime. Labeled from an early age as the savior for Japanese golf, Hideki has delivered time and time again. The former young prodigy has slowly but surely turned into a pillar of global golf and leader of the Internationals.
After a slow start, Hideki was able to grind out a win and a tie to help the Internationals remain competitive throughout the weekend.
While the Internationals were eventually defeated 17.5-12.5, a more important mission that cannot be measured by wins and losses was undoubtedly accomplished.
Amongst all of the turmoil and strife in the world golf, it’s easy to forget how much the game means to so many people.
Countless young golfers across the world went to bed on Sunday night and dreamt of being the next Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim or Hideki Matsuyama.
That sounds like an excellent way to “grow the game”.
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