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Opinion & Analysis

Troy Merritt shows what it means to “go low”

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Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions I had when I started to research the statistical part of golf was how players “go low.” This also shaped how I erroneously viewed the game. Years of competitive golf made me believe that in order to “go low” you had to putt really well. It meant that you had to make a lot of long putts. Therefore, I started to overvalue putting — long putts in particular, which I considered to be putts outside 25 feet. I started to focus my practice a lot on putting, especially the long ones.

After some research, it became clear as day that the low rounds on the PGA Tour did not consist of players making a lot of putts. Instead, it consisted of players frequently getting their birdie putts close to the hole, because that is where they have a reasonable chance of making the putt. For Tour players, once the putt is 26-feet long, their make percentage drops to roughly 9 percent. And for golfers that are playing average golf courses where the greens are not as smooth, that make percentage may dip to below 5 percent, even for the better putters in the world.

Troy Merritt’s fantastic score of 28 on the back nine at Harbour Town last Friday was a terrific example of how Tour players go low.

Hole 10

Merritt started this right away on the par-4 10th hole, as he hit his 173-yard approach shot to 5 feet, 2 inches. The Tour average is from that distance is roughly 75 percent and he went on to make the putt.

Hole 11

However, Merritt was not completely unconscious with his putter. He missed this 18-foot, 5-inch birdie putt on the 11th hole. In fact, that was his longest birdie putt attempt in those entire nine holes. While he made a lot of putts, he kept them within close distance to give himself a reasonable chance of making them.

Hole 15

In fact, his longest putt made in the entire nine holes came on the par-5 15th, where he made a 17-foot, 10-inch putt for birdie. He then finished off the nine-hole stretch by hitting his approach shots to 4 feet, 11 inches on No. 16; 7 feet, 3 inches on No. 17; and 4 feet, 11 inches on No. 18.

Hole 16

Hole 17

Hole 18

Here’s a look at how Merritt played each of those approach shots versus the Tour average:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.26.13 PM

Merritt was able to hit those last three approach shots to an average of 5.7 feet, which gave him an average expected make percentage of 67.3 percent. Meanwhile, the Tour average from those distances is 25.3 feet with an average expected make percentage of 10.3 percent.

Here are Merritt’s final numbers for that back nine holes on Friday:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.19.18 PM

Putting is certainly important, as Merritt made seven out of his eight birdie putt attempts. If he only made 46.3 percent of those putts he would roughly have made four birdies. It still would have resulted in a fantastic score of 31, but it is far from the score of 28. So, let’s not undervalue the importance of putting.

Merritt’s round shows us that putting from inside 15 feet is far more critical, because there is a more reasonable odds of making those putts. From there, it comes down to our ability to get our approach shots inside 15 feet so we can put ourselves in the best position to shoot the lowest score possible — instead of hoping we make long putts.

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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, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. MarkNado

    Apr 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Proximity to the hole is the most overlooked stat in golf
    Driving distance and strokes gained putting get all the attention but look at Duval’s 59
    Probably the best proximity to the hole round ever and one of the lowest scores

  2. Pingback: El número de putts no explica nada - Golf76.com

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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