One of the least surprising parts of analytics in golf is that there is a strong statistical correlation on the PGA Tour between Driving Distance and Par-5 performance. Driving Distance and Par-4 performance does not have nearly the same correlation, which makes it obvious how important power is to performing on the Par-5’s.
I wanted to look at the exceptions to the rule, however: short hitters who performed well on Par-5’s. Conversely, I wanted to examine long hitters who did not perform well on Par-5’s. Then I wanted to see what these groups of players had in common with their game in hopes of explaining why they overachieved or underachieved on Par-5’s.
I decided to take the top-15 Overachievers (nearly the top 10 percent) and the top-15 Underachievers and examine their metrics.
First, I wanted to see how these groups of golfers performed on approach shots, not only the range from which they are likely to hit a fairway wood (225-275 yards), but also on short approach shots where they end up if they decide to lay up on Par-5’s.
What’s interesting is that the Overachievers have a much better ranking in each of the categories except one: shots from 250-275 yards. That area is where the 3-wood is almost exclusively used by Tour players, and yet the Overachievers were significantly worse performers than the Underachievers.
This is one of the key points in the difference between the Overachievers and the Underachievers. Obviously, performing better from 75-150 yards is helpful to performing better on the Par-5’s. But despite the Overachievers being worse with the 3-wood and better from 75-150 yards than the Underachievers, they were significantly more aggressive on the par-5’s.
Par-5 aggressiveness is a proprietary formula that I use to determine how “aggressive” a player is in going for par-5’s in two shots based on their percentage of Par-5 “Go For It’s,” their distance off the tee, their club speed and the percentage of “Go For It’s” for the field on the par-5’s they have played.
For example, Mark Hubbard ranked 114th in actual Par-5 “Go For It” percentage. But he was 165th in Driving distance, which means he has a less likely chance to go for Par-5’s in two shots. Hubbard did it anyway, and therefore was very aggressive on the Par-5’s.
The difference in Overachievers being much more aggressive on the Par-5’s, despite being inferior 3-wood players and superior from 75-150 yards, indicates that it is far more beneficial to be aggressive than conservative on the Par-5’s.
Next, let’s look at Short Game shots around the green data for both groups.
Once again, this is not all that revelatory in general, but the details are a bit more informative. The Overachievers had better short games than the Underachievers. However, the data shows that the larger discrepancy is on shots from 20-30 yards. On Par-4’s, it is far more important to perform well from 10-20 yards and from less than 10 yards than it is to perform well from 20-30 yards. But on par-5 shots, 20-30 yards is a more important distance range.
Here’s how the two groups fared on the greens.
This was a bit more surprising for the most part, as he Overachievers did not putt significantly better than the Underachievers. This indicates that getting the ball close to the green in the first two shots is more important than actual putting performance on the green for Tour players.
Lastly, I wanted to compare the two groups with some driving metrics.
Tee Shot Aggressiveness is a proprietary measurement I use to determine the amount of times a player is laying-up off the tee. Players like Mark Hubbard and Roberto Castro rarely lay up off the tee, while Martin Laird and Lee Westwood were frequently laying up off the tee.
While there is a huge discrepancy in the Tee Shot Aggressiveness rankings for the Overachievers versus the Underachievers and the Overachievers were more effective off the tee in general, the more telling metrics are the ones that indicate a player’s accuracy and precision off the tee.
Despite the Overachievers being much more aggressive off the tee, they were still far more accurate (hit fairway percentage) and much more precise off the tee (Distance to Edge of Fairway, Hit Fairway Bunker Percentage and Missed Fairway – Other Percentage). This goes back to one of the major strategic keys that I stress to all golfers:
If you’re likely to have a long club in your hand (5-iron or longer) on your 2nd shot, it is best to focus on making good contact and finding the fairway rather than swinging for the fences in hopes of gaining an extra 20-30 yards off the tee.
That includes Par-5’s and Par-4’s. For Tour players, the variance in scores on shots from the fairway versus the rough rise dramatically once the second shot is from 175 yards or more. For amateurs who play shorter courses, I recommend looking at it from the club you are using. The general rule of thumb is a 5 iron or longer. I still recommend hitting driver off the tee. As the Overachievers show, they are not laying up off the tee that often. But, it is better to take your “stock swing” and focus on making good contact and finding the fairway than to swing harder in hopes of gaining more yards at the risk of finding the rough.
To summarize, here’s what amateurs can learn from the pros.
- Hit driver off the tee, but focus on good contact and finding the fairway instead of swinging harder in hopes of hitting it farther.
- Three wood performance is not as critical to par-5 performance as one may think. However, it’s still important to try and get the ball as close as you can to the hole when feasible rather than playing for your “money yardage.”
- Short Game performance is fairly important, but it’s more about long-range short game shots (20-30 yards) than shorter range Short Game shots (<15 yards).
- Par-5 performance is more about the first two shots than it is about performance with the putter.
The 19th Hole Episode 170: Grassroots golf and Darius Rucker
Host Michael Williams talks about the benefits of grassroots golf programs in growing the game. Also features a reboot of his exclusive interview with Hootie and the Blowfish.
The Wedge Guy: Have a ‘Plan B’
One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.
ONE. In my thirties and forties, I played at a club outside of San Antonio – Fair Oaks Ranch. The 18th hole was a tough par 4 with a very small landing area and a gaping bunker at about 175 out. The skinny fairway left of that bunker wasn’t more than 15 yards wide, and there was a little mott of trees on the green side of the bunker that you would have to carry with your mid-iron bunker approach. Tough, to say the least.
That hole drove most of us nuts, and double bogeys were more common than birdies, for sure. Par was always a great score and bogey wasn’t “bad” at all.
So, one day it hit me that if I hit 4-wood off the tee, I would have an elevated fairway look at the green from about 200-210, giving me another soft 4-wood or 3-iron to the green, and the fairway was about 40 yards wide back there. Being a good long club player, I began to play the hole that way. Doubles disappeared entirely, pars became the norm and I even made the occasional birdie. Hmm.
TWO. At my recent club, the ninth hole just didn’t fit my eye or my game. I play a fade off the tee most of the time and turning over a draw was just not reliable for me at the time. That ninth is a dogleg left, with a bunker on the right side of the fairway that runs from about 160-125 from the green, right where the prime driving area is. What makes this hole so tough for me is that the prevailing wind is left to right, and trees just 60-100 yards off the tee keep me from starting the ball out left and letting it ride the breeze. This is another one where birdies are rare for me there, and bogies and doubles way too frequent. So, it dawned on me one day, finally, that I could hit 4-wood right at that bunker and not get to it, leaving me a 5- or 6-iron into the green, rather than the short iron the rare proper drive would leave me. So, that became my new strategy on that hole. I’m a good mid-iron player, so I’m fine with that, and that damn fairway bunker never caught me again.
THREE. My new club puts a premium on accurate wedge play. Most of the shorter holes have the smallest greens I’ve ever seen, so distance control with your wedge approaches is critical. And I find that reasonably full-swing wedges are easier to control distance than those awkward 60- to 80-yard partial swings. So, I’ve learned to put a premium on club selection off the tee on those holes to leave my approach shots in the 85-115 range, so that I can “dial in” my approach shotmaking.
My point in all this is that sometimes a hole gets under your skin or just doesn’t set up well for your game. When that happens, design yourself a Plan ‘B,’ and change the way you play it, at least for a while. Quite often you will find a solution to a problem and your scores and attitude will improve.
Club Junkie: Mizuno T-22 wedge and Cuater Moneymaker shoes review!
Mizuno’s new T-22 wedges are forged from the same 1025 carbon steel with boron as the irons, giving them an extremely soft feel. Very versatile, the sole grinds allow for hitting any shot your heart desires.
The Cuater Moneymaker shoes might be some of the most comfortable I have worn in years. Tons of cushioning, exceptional traction all over the course, and they are even waterproof!
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