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.
Club Junkie: Personal golf workshop – What you need to start gripping clubs
You can set up your own golf workshop for regripping for about $100. I go over what you need, starting off with space and a workbench. Then I break down the simple tools, around $100, that it takes to grip and regrip your own clubs. Pretty simple and a great way to get into golf club building and tinkering!
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The Wedge Guy: A shot to a spot
Over the past few years, golf has entered the statistical era, with the help of ShotLink, launch monitors, and “strokes gained.” As more and more data is analyzed, much is being written about which parts of the game are most important to scoring and winning out on tour.
It started out with “strokes gained-putting” as maybe the best indicator, but of late, we are reading more and more about ‘strokes gained-shotmaking’, which is the measure of a golfer’s ability to keep it in play and hit greens in regulation.
However, the statistics on strokes gained on tour are very different from the game most recreational golfers play. Realize that “out there”, all these guys are extraordinarily skilled in every aspect of the game, so what separates the winner from the “also-rans” in any given week drills down to a very few specific things. That is a far cry from the game you play week in and week out.
So, what about your game?
From my observation, for almost any recreational golfer, hitting 2-3 more greens per round does two things for you. 1) It gives you that many more birdie tries, and you’ll just have to make some of them. And 2) it takes that much heat off your scrambling. For the average golfer, a missed green leads to a bogey or worse more often than not. Very few recreational golfers can come close to an up-and-down percentage of anywhere near 50%, and most are around 20% at best. Think about that.
So, here’s one way to look at how you might be able to hit more greens in regulation. On the PGA Tour, greens-in-regulation percentage drops by almost half on shots from the rough over shots from the fairway. If that doesn’t hammer home the importance of hitting fairways, I don’t know what will.
Growing up in the era of persimmon drivers – which I’m sure many of you completely missed – the driver was for positioning the ball in the right part of the fairway for an approach shot, not for just blasting as far “that way” as possible. The top players of the era hit their drives to particular spots that allowed for the best approach to the green, and they didn’t let it “all out” all that often.
In his 1949 book “Power Golf” Ben Hogan, listed his ‘regular’ distance with a driver as 265, but his ‘maximum’ as 300. Who keeps 35 yards in reserve for only those times when you really need it?
So, here’s a little experiment for you the next time you can get out for a “practice nine” in the afternoon or early morning.
Each time you hit a drive in the rough, walk it out to the fairway and then back 10 to 15 yards. My bet is that you’ll find that the hole plays a bit easier, even though you have a longer club in your hands for your approach shot.
Then think about how much better you might score if you thought of each drive as a comfortably controlled shot to a spot, rather than just “hit it that way as far as I can.”
Just something to change the game a bit and keep it interesting.
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