With the PGA Tour’s season winding down to the final tournament of the year, there will be a faction of golfers fighting to make the top 125 on the Money List in order to keep their Tour Card for 2013. I have personally worked with a few PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors on understanding the game from a statistical standpoint.
When I started the 2012 season working with these clients there were a couple of parts of our initial interaction that surprised me:
1) Each player had made it their goal to be ‘one of the best wedge players on Tour.’
2) Each client initially did not buy into me telling them that in the grand scheme of things, full shot wedge play is not overly important. Particularly on the PGA Tour.
With the PGA Tour’s ShotLink data, the numbers are on display for statisticians like me to decipher the level of importance of each part of the game of golf. It’s very similar to the movie Moneyball and the approach Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, utilized to build his team based on the cold, hard numbers instead of traditional baseball axioms. But even better, there are far less “moving parts” in the game of golf, making the numbers more distinct and easier to see the correlation to success on Tour.
Despite that, there is still plenty of resistance to approaching the game of golf from a metrics standpoint and every year there are about 75 full time PGA Tour golfers wondering where their entire season went wrong.
My development into metrics and the game of golf actually started back when I was only five years old. I immediately took to the game of baseball and each week my dad would go to the local store and grab a few packs of baseball cards and give them to me where I would collect them. Eventually I would spend my entire time reading and studying each card. One of the fascinating parts of baseball is the amount of record keeping of statistics the sport has, dating back to the 19th century.
One of my favorite all-time baseball managers was Billy Martin as he would keep some data on how well certain batters performed against certain pitchers. In fact, in the 1977 American League Championship Series, Martin benched superstar Reggie Jackson because Kansas City’s starting pitcher was Paul Splittorff, who had owned Jackson each time they faced each other. Almost every baseball expert thought Martin was insane, but in the end the Yankees won the game 5-3 and went on to beat the Dodgers to win the World Series.
For better or for worse, statistics lends way to contrarian type of thinking. But if analyzed diligently and with an open mind, it can uncover truths that have eluded even the greatest experts for centuries.
In my own personal journey of golf, I had never understood what the golf term “scoring” exactly meant. Often times, hearing the words “I scored well’ left me with more questions than answers. Generally I would hear it referred to putting and chipping well, but I had plenty of rounds where I shot a low score and did not putt or chip all that well. In fact, one of my lowest rounds ever (64) came with a 4-putt.
With that, I decided to look into the ShotLink data and use my background in statistics to see if I could figure out the level of importance that certain parts of the game have on the success of PGA Tour golfers. In the process, I wound up uncovering a truth that has been long ignored by countless Tour players.
Before I go on, the wedge game does matter in the game of golf. In fact, every part of the game matters in the game of golf. If a golfer improves his fairway bunker play, that will lower their scores over a period of time. However, if a golfer improves their putting, that will have a bigger impact on lowering their scores than if they were to just improve their fairway bunker player. Thus, a metrics based approach to golf is about determining the level of importance that certain parts of the game have and then focusing on improving the parts of the game that have the highest level of importance in order to improve a golfer’s scores.
One of my first observations was that Tour players typically do not hit the ball well from every location with every type of club in the bag. The golfers considered to be top tier ballstrikers are usually good off the tee and then excel with certain irons like the mid-irons or the long irons or with their wedges. But to find a golfer who can hit it well off the tee and hit it well with each iron is quite rare.
I ended up splitting the game in different categories like Driving Effectiveness, Putts Gained and Short Game Play. But for the approach shots, I split them into the following categories:
- Birdie Zone Play (shots from 75-125 yards)
- Safe Zone Play (shots from 125-175 yards)
- Danger Zone Play (shots from 175-225 yards)
What I uncovered was that Danger Zone Play has the strongest correlation to success on Tour than ANY other part of the game, including putting and driving effectiveness. And it has a far stronger correlation to success on Tour than Safe Zone Play and Birdie Zone Play. Despite that, these clients of mine on the PGA Tour would tell me how important it was for them to be one of the best wedge players on Tour.
While I was a little frustrated with their desires to be the best at a part of the game that was relatively unimportant to their success, I did understand where they were coming from. I had to remember that before I did this statistical research, I had the same ideas of good Tour players would almost always get up-and-in on any shot from inside 100 yards. And if a Tour player was unable to execute from that distance, they would not find themselves on Tour for very long. This led me to wondering where this faulty thinking came from.
Currently, the leader in Birdie Zone play is Steve Stricker, who has hit his Birdie Zone shots an average of 15.74 feet to the cup. The average Tour player from the Birdie Zone has hit his shots 20.35 feet to the cup.
The general misconception for golfers, including actual PGA Tour golfers, is that once a good Tour player gets a wedge in their hands they will hit it close and have a tap in putt. But as the data shows, that is far from the reality. The best player from 75-125 yards is averaging almost 16 feet left to the cup on shots from this range. The average Tour player is leaving it over 20 feet to the cup.
Furthermore, the Tour average putts made percentage from 15-20 feet is only 18.3 percent. From 20-25 feet the average make percentage on Tour is 11.7 percent. Therefore, Tour players are not having a lot of tap-ins when they get a full swing wedge in their hand, but also their odds of getting up-and-in with a full swing wedge in their hands are slim at best.
Still, we need to see what the correlation between Birdie Zone Play and success on Tour actually. To give a better idea, take a look at the top-10 Birdie Zone players in 2012 and their ranking on the Money List:
Here’s a list of the players in the bottom-10 of Birdie Zone Play and their Money Ranking:
Out of the players in both lists, the bottom-10 in the Birdie Zone actually have 6 players in the top-100 on the Money List versus the top-10 Birdie Zone players which only has 5 players in the top-100 on the Money List.
Let’s compare that to the best and the worst of the Danger Zone golfers. Here is the top-10 Danger Zone golfers and their rankings on the Money List:
Here’s the bottom-10 in Danger Zone play:
Every single player in the top-10 in the Danger Zone will be in the top-125 on the Money List in 2012, regardless of what happens at Disney. But even better, those who have finished in the top-10 in the Danger Zone have had resounding success on Tour this year. Whereas four of the top-10 Birdie Zone golfers (Mulroy, Taylor, Thatcher and O’Hern) will likely have to win at Disney in order to finish in the top-125 on the Money List.
This is the blind spot for many PGA Tour players. They keep working doggedly on their wedge game whereas if they used their efforts towards the longer irons and hybrids, they would almost assuredly keep their card and get closer to nirvana, winning a PGA Tour event.
I think the cause of the ‘blind spot’ is television. Television producers are far more interested in shots that wind up close to the pin than the shots that actually have a greater impact of a golfer separating themselves from the rest of the field. That is why we see so much putting on televised rounds, those are the shots that golfers are most likely to make. When it comes to full swing shots, golfers are more likely to hit a wedge shot closer to the pin. And to make it even more visually appealing, wedge shots are more likely to get backspin as well.
Thus, the perception is that Tour players stick every wedge shot and get up-and-in with ease. That is what we usually see every week on TV. The reality is far different and that the more spectacular shot happens when a golfer hits a 190 yard shot to 15-feet with no back spin. But television ratings always take precedent over mundane facts.
The Wedge Guy: A few thoughts on off-season improvement
Having lived my entire life in South Texas, one of the things I had to learn very quickly when I went into the golf business nearly 40 years ago was that this was a much more “seasonal” activity than I had ever thought about. Though we are blessed to be able to play golf year-round down here, we do have periods (like the past two weeks), where cold/windy/wet weather keeps all but the most devoted off the courses. Still, I certainly understand that there are many of you who have had to “hang ‘em up” for the next few months and get your golf fix with maybe one or two trips over the winter, or just by watching golf on TV and reading about it.
Over those 4o years I’ve talked with lots of golfers about what they do to “get their fix” during the long months when the weather just does not allow you to get out at all to work on your game. It seems I’ve heard everything from “I just try to forget about it” to “I’ll take a couple of trips to southern climates” to “it hurts every day”.
I’m going to try to offer you a bit more than that today, with some tips anyone can use to actually improve your game during the long off season. So here goes:
Improve your putting stroke. All you need is a strip of commercial grade carpet about 8 feet long if you don’t want to purchase one of the specialized putting mats (get it in a green color if you can, but any neutral earth tone will do). Find a place in your home where you can set this 12-20” wide strip of carpet down on the floor and leave it for regularly scheduled sessions. The goal with this off-season exercise is to improve your mechanics to a point where you have so much trust in your stroke that when you get to the course in the Spring (or on one of your trips) that you can focus entirely on making the putt.
One of my very closest friends was/is maybe the best putter I ever saw in the recreational ranks . . . because he dedicated time nearly every day to honing his putting stroke to a razor edge. He would spend a half hour each night watching the evening news with his putting mat in front of the TV and stroke 6-8 footers . . . one after the other . . . probably several hundred every day. He had so much confidence in his set-up and mechanics that the only thing he thought about on the greens was the line and hitting the putt the right speed.
While you might not work on it every day as he did, you can build an extremely reliable putting stroke over this off season that will pay off very well for you in 2023.
Rebuild your chipping/pitching technique. Making significant changes in our techniques during the golf season is the hardest thing we golfers try to do. What happens is that you learn something new, but on the golf course you are really wanting to get results, so you end up trapped between old and new, and quickly lose confidence in the new. I’ve heard it said that any new physical activity become a habit after 21 consecutive days of doing it. Well, the guy who wrote that probably was not a golfer, because this is a lifelong learning experience.
If chipping and pitching the ball are not your strengths, make this off-season the time to do something about it. In my opinion and years of observation of recreational golfers, poor chipping and pitching are the result of poor technique. There are dozens of good books and videos out there (not to mention dozens of my own posts here) showing you how to develop a proper technique, and physical strength is not an obstacle around the greens. ANYONE can learn to chip and pitch with sound fundamentals, and those can be better learned away from the course than on it.
All you have to do is commit to making the change, get one of the great books by Stan Utley, Tom Watson or others, purchase some of the soft “almost golf balls” that won’t break anything and work on it through the off season.
Keep yourself “golf ready”. As I have transitioned now to life after 70, I have realized that keeping my flexibility was the key to feeling great every morning, and to being able to maintain my golf skills. A number of years ago, I began a simple 4- to 5-minute stretching routine I do every day before I even get out of bed, and it has made a world of difference in everything I do and the way I feel.
Especially for those of you 40-50 years and older, I guarantee you that if you will commit to a daily stretching routine, not only will your golf dramatically improve, but it will change the way you feel every day.
So, there are three ideas for you to consider for using the off season to improve your golf game for 2023. Regardless of your age, there is no reason not to set a goal of making next year your best golf year ever.
2022 Alfred Dunhill Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
As the DP World Tour ends its stint in South Africa, the stars come out to play.
Whilst the Nedbank was officially part of the 2022 season, the invitational was the start of a four -event run that now concludes at the picturesque Leopard Creek, summed up by the course website:
“Golfing hazards take on a new dimension at Leopard Creek, for much of the water is home to the magnificent creatures for which the river is named – crocodiles. Extensive use has been made of water features and sightings of crocodile, hippo, antelope, buffalo and elephant are commonplace, on the course or in the Kruger Park bordering the course.”
Not only is this time for Tony Johnstone to show his exacting knowledge of the local wildlife, but golf fans can witness some of the true legends of South African and European Tour golf.
Whilst single-figure favourite Christiaan Bezuidenhout represents the best of the current generation of players, viewers will also see the likes of former Masters winners as well as the future of African golf.
In Bez we have a worthy favourite that is hard to crab given his current and course form. The 28-year-old won here in 2020 on the way to an impressive back-to-back fortnight that included the South African Open (at another Gary Player design), whilst both his victory at Valderrama and play-off defeat against Lucas Herbert in Dubai can be linked into Adri Arnaus, runner-up and third in those events and, incidentally, sixth here behind this week’s favourite.
Latest form sees the short-game wizard leave some acceptable, if disappointing, PGA results behind, with a fifth at his favoured Gary Player Country Club being followed a fortnight later with a very laidback third place finish at the Joburg Open.
At both home events, Bez started slowly and was never nearer than at the line, and trusting that the cobwebs have been blown away, he has to be in the plan, even if as a saver.
There’s a decent argument to say multiple event champion Charl Schwartzel and still-classy Louis Oosthuizen should challenge for favouritism (Oosty has now shortened up) but I’m simply not convinced their hunger is as strong as it once was, and of the three, I’d much rather be with the player with more to come.
If we are getting Bez beat, then it makes sense to row along with history, at least for a pair of back-up wagers.
There is a host of South African players attempting to continue the run of seven home winners from the last nine, but this course tends to lend itself to experience and Hennie Du Plessis looks the type to ‘do a JB Hansen’ and finally crawl over the line, as the Dane did in Joburg in 2020.
The 26-year-old has been banging his head against the winning line for a few years now, with many of his multiple top-five finishes having genuine potential to bring home the trophy instead of glancing at it.
6th at both runnings of the South African Open in Covid 2020, to Branden Grace and then Bez, he recorded a host of top-20 finishes at Challenge Tour level (including three top fives) before qualifying for the DP World Tour off the back of an 18th place at the Grand Final.
2021 ended well, with his three home visits, including 7th in Joburg and third in his home Open, suggesting a good year, and for more evidence he ended his first full DP season with five top-10s.
Unlike his more obvious compatriots, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, Du Plessis was a surprise call-up to the LIV Golf series, but he hardly let himself down in his brief spell, running-up to the 2011 Masters champion at LIV London.
After his season-ending top-10 behind Jon Rahm in Spain (third at halfway), Du Plessis followed a steady 33rd at Houghton with an improved and closing top-10 at Blair Atholl last week when his game was in acceptable shape in preparation for this week’s test.
Whilst length is somewhat negated around Leopard Creek’s twisting fairways, huge hitter Adrian Meronk finished joint runner-up here two years ago (look at him go now!) and Du Plessis should be able to club down on many of the tee-shots and take advantage of his tee-to-green play – a factor for which he ranked in ninth place through the DP season.
With players catching the eye much earlier than in previous generations, it’s hard to believe that Wilco Nienaber is just 22 years of age.
It’s a tough thing to say that this former amateur star should have won the 2020 Joburg Open, as it was surely only inexperience that cost him the trophy against a determined JB Hansen. Whilst hugely talented, the former world amateur ranked 28 has become frustrating, winning just once and that at the lower level co-sanctioned event, the Dimension Data, in the Western Cape, although an event the likes of Nick Price, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Oosthuizen, amongst others, have won.
Still, back to what he can do today and going forward.
Another huge hitter off the tee, Nienaber has been 18th and ninth in tee-to-green over the last two tournaments, finishing in 24th and 15th but in far better position through the events (10th at halfway in Joburg and 5th into Payday last weekend). Whilst last week’s test was right up his long-driving alley, that should have been a perfect warm-up for an event at which he’s improved to finish 24th and 12th in 2019 and 2020.
Adrian Otaegui has always been a tee-to-green machine, and whilst he already had three trophies in the cabinet, his six-stroke victory at Valderrama was a revelation.
It’s not as if the Spaniard was in poor form, having arrived in Sotogrande off the back off just one missed-cut in 11 starts, including a third place in Scotland and 13th at Wentworth and Le Golf National, interesting comparisons to this week’s venue. However, when recording figures of first in approaches, second for tee-to-green and second in putting, Otaegui not only took his form to a new level, but showed his strength against adversity.
The Spaniard became the first ex-LIV plater to win a ‘proper’ event, overcoming a bizarre attitude from the organising tour, who ignored much of his outstanding play and refused to cover any of the highlights on their social media pages.
I can certainly forgive a moderate effort the following week in Mallorca, but the 30-year-old has performed well of late, finishing 18th at the Nedbank (in seventh place going into Sunday), 16th at the DP World Tour Championship (11th at halfway) and dropping away from 8th overnight to 23rd at Joburg.
Take away the home contingent and Spaniards almost dominate recent runnings of the Alfred Dunhill, with Alvaro Quiros, Pablo Martin (x2) and Pablo Larrazabal winning here since 2006. Otaegui can make a good run at making it the nap hand.
I’m waiting for the right moment to back Joost Luiten, showing some tremendous play but only in spurts, whilst the likes of Tom McKibbin and Alejandro Del Rey are players I’ll have in the list of ‘follows’ through 2023. For the final selection, let’s go big!
Christiaan Maas is a young South African player that has been on the ‘watch’ list for a couple of years. His brilliant amateur career saw him rank a best of 19th and awarded him the Brabazon Trophy, the prestigious national amateur stroke-play event, as well as some of his homelands most valued events.
However, it is hard to understand how he rates 50 points shorter than his amateur rival, Casey Jarvis, who has recently shown he can compete with the legends of the game, leading George Coetzee at the South African PGA Championship before succumbing into second, and following that up with a top-10 at Joburg.
Following a stellar junior career, the 19-year-old won four of the best home amateur events in 2020, beating the best that South African golf could throw at him – including Mass – as he won the African Amateur Stroke Play in back-to-back years.
Maas took revenge on the development tour – the Big Easy – but Jarvis was back on the winner’s rostrum in July this year, and recent form suggests it might be better sticking with him this week.
A 63 in the second round in Joburg was matched only by multiple winner Daniel Van Tonder, and was one shot ahead of Bezuidenhout, so the game is there for all to see.
Jarvis missed the cut on the number when making his debut here in 2020, but the following week improved throughout the week to finish 25th behind Bez at the Gary Player Country Club. That is promising enough without much of what has gone on since, and it might pay to be on at big prices in better fields, before both he and Maas start mopping up the lesser home events.
- Christiaan Bezhuidenhout WIN
- Adrian Otaegui WIN
- Wilco Nieneber WIN/Top-10
- Hennie Du Plessis WIN/Top-10
- Casey Jarvis WIN/Top-10/Top-20
Club Junkie Review: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 Pro Golf Edition
Technology has been playing a larger part in golf for years and you can now integrate it like never before. I don’t need to tell you, but Samsung is a world leader in electronics and has been making smart watches for years. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is the latest Samsung wearable running Google’s Wear OS operating system and it is more than just a golf watch.
The Watch5 Golf Edition is a full function smartwatch that you can wear every day and use for everything from golf to checking your text messages. For more details on the Golf Edition made sure to check out the Club Junkie podcast below, or on any podcast platform. Just search GolfWRX Radio.
Samsung’s Watch5 Pro Golf Edition has a pretty large 45mm case that is made from titanium for reduced weight without sacrificing any durability. The titanium case is finished in a matte black and has two pushers on the right side to help with navigating the pretty extensive menu options. The case measures about 52mm from lug to lug and stands about 14mm tall, so the fit on smaller wrists could be an issue. I did notice that when wearing a few layers on colder days the extra height did have me adjusting my sleeves to ensure I could swing freely.
The sapphire crystal display is 1.4 inches in diameter, so it should be very scratch resistant, and is protected by a raised titanium bezel. The Super AMOLED display has a 450 x 450 resolution with 321ppi density for clear, crisp graphics. Inside the watch is a dual-core 1.18Ghz Cortex-A55 CPU, 16GB + 1.5GB RAM, and a Mali-G68 GPU to ensure your apps run quickly and efficiently.
I do like that the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition’s white and black rubber strap has a quick release system so you can change it out to match or contrast an outfit. The Golf Edition strap is very supple and conforms to your wrist well, holding it in place during multiple swings.
Out on the course the Watch5 Pro golf Edition is comfortable on the wrist and light enough, ~46g, where it isn’t very noticeable. I don’t usually wear a watch on the course, and it only took a few holes to get used to having it on my left wrist. Wearing a glove on the same hand as the watch doesn’t really change much, depending on the glove. If you have a model that goes a little higher on the wrist you could feel the watch and leather bunch a little bit. Some of my Kirkland Signature gloves would run into the watch case while I didn’t have an issue with my Titleist or Callaway models.
The screen is great in direct sunlight and is just as easy to read in overcast or twilight rounds. The images of holes and text for distances is crisp and has a bright contrast agains the black background. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition comes with a lifetime membership to Smart Caddie for your use on the course. Smart Caddie was developed by Golfbuddy, who has been making rangefinders and GPS units for years. I didn’t sign up for the Smart Caddie app as I did not buy the watch and have logins for multiple GPS and tracking apps. Smart Caddie looks to be extremely extensive, offering a ton of options beyond just GPS and it is one that works seamlessly with the Galaxy watches.
I ended up using The Grint as it was an app I have used in the past and was already signed up for. Getting to the app to start a round was very simple, needing one swipe up and one tap to start The Grint app. The screen is very smooth and records each swipe and tap with zero issues. I never felt like I was tapping or swiping without the Watch5 Pro acknowledging those movements and navigating the menu as I desired. The GPS worked flawlessly and the distances were accurate and consistent. With The Grint’s app you did have to keep the phone in your pocket or in the cart close enough for the Bluetooth connection. For most that is’t a big deal and the only time I noticed it was when I used my electric cart and drove it well in front of me down the fairway.
Overall the Samsung Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is a great option for golfers who want one device for everyday wear and use on the course. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition still has all the fitness and health options as well as being able to connect to your email, text messages, and social media apps. With the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition you won’t have to worry about buying a device just for golf or forgetting to bring your GPS to the course.
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