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Is Tiger’s “No. 1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

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Much was made of Tiger Woods leading the field in Proximity to the Hole in this weekend’s Honda Classic. But what does this stat actually even mean?

Included in Proximity to the Hole are all approach shots, whether they hit the green or not. BUT, if the shot misses, and is not within 30 yards of the edge of the green, it does not count. Think about it: a shot missed just short of the flag but in a hazard counts. Tiger had two wet miscues this week that were included in his proximity calculation. One of those actually helped his average proximity as it was recorded as two feet closer than his average of 29 feet 3 inches. What does the Shotlink team do? Laser the exact distance of the splash? Finally, the fact that the big misses don’t count will dilute the average and cause compaction over multiple events.

I have found some misunderstanding of the importance of this stat among the players and coaches with whom I work. Specifically, there is a tendency to put top priority on hunting flags. I strongly believe that the most important aspect of the approach game is to HIT THE GREEN, and that proximity to the hole is by far secondary. Obviously, proximity is great when one has the right opportunities, but hitting greens should be the overriding goal at every level.

Let’s take the small sample of Tiger in this week’s Honda vs. Justin Thomas, the winner. Tiger’s proximity was exactly four feet closer than Justin’s. At that distance, with average Tour putting, it would take 40 greens to equal one stroke difference. By contrast, Tiger gave up FOUR strokes with the two doubles recorded on hole No. 15 following his approach shots in the water.Additional perspective: In 2017, the average player on the Tour’s Scrambling was 57.9 percent (player makes par after missing GIR 57.9 percent of the time). We can therefore assume that each additional GIR would save him at least 0.42 Strokes (the reciprocal of his Scrambling Percentage).

The Tour average GIR’s in 2017 was 11.68 per round. In order to save that 0.42 strokes per round simply by hitting shots closer to the hole on these 11.68 greens, Mr. Average would need to improve his Proximity by 7 feet* (from 36 ft. to 29 ft.) on ALL 11.68 greens hit. I submit that ONE additional GIR is a much more attainable goal and that striving for the closer proximities may well lead to hitting fewer GIR’s. 

Further, the No. 1 ranked player on the Tour for Proximity to the Hole in 2017 was Ryan Armour at 32 feet 8 inches. Even with that impressive number, his Approach Strokes Gained was only 0.121 (ranked 89th).

My suggestion: Only count the distances when the greens are hit. Then the combination of percentage of GIR’s and Proximity would really mean something.

For a complete analysis of your game, log on to www.ShotByShot.com

*The SG values were extracted from the ShotByShot.com Scratch, Strokes Gained model. It is slightly different from the Tour’s model but the relative values will be virtually identical.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. JThunder

    Feb 27, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    All statistics are (essentially) meaningless without the story; but the corporate media and the defunded educational system have decreased our attention spans and intelligence, so stats are all we have the time or brains for. There’s an agenda here, if only we could see it. 17 more yards!

  2. Tom

    Feb 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Tiger has always led the “proximity to the ho” stat…….

  3. David

    Feb 27, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Of course it’s not meaningless. It good information — just doesn’t tell the whole story. Your suggestion wouldn’t fully tell the story either. For instance, I would include in your improvement green (or fringe) in regulation, since there is virtually no difference between hitting the fringe and hitting the the green on tour courses. And ShotLink keeps fringe data now, I believe….

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 28, 2018 at 10:40 am

      David,
      Right you are! Fringe data is in ShotLink. I originally included it with my suggestion BUT the Tour GIR is a fairly sacred number and does not include balls on the fringe. I believe the Proximity stat could be 2 stats: 1 w/o fringe – strictly GIR’s and 2. w fringe.

  4. Cory

    Feb 27, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Is it meaningless? No. And as you’ve pointed out it is flawed. But with that being said, it should give you an indication that he is starting to dial in his shots, and we could see glimpses of past Tiger. Only time will tell, but they made more of it than what it deserved given his 12th place finish.

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 28, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Cory,
      My point was not a shot against Tiger but the stat AND how even the people in the golf business do not understand it.

  5. Jack

    Feb 26, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Strokes gained is obviously much more important. It calculates how close you need to hit it versus the distance you are away. For Thomas and Woods their distances are not that different, so I think their proximity numbers are actually relevant.

    As discussed by the author, the main difference here are the hazards that Tiger hit. The SG difference in approach was only 1.25 strokes over 4 rounds. Yeah ok that’s a lot for a pro, but hitting it in the water already is 1 stroke penalty plus the extra stroke needed to chip it onto the green. Pro’s can flag hunt when they need, or else they would never score enough birdies to win a tournament LOL. For amateurs just getting on the green consistently already is a huge win.

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:51 am

      Well, that, and the fact that he didn’t make many putts, so his Stroke Gained Putting (or lack of) is what should also be reflected here.
      But lets not forget that as difficult as the course played, the overall score-to-Par for the whole field showed how hard it was, and that should also be reflected but is never really discussed enough. And we’re not talking about amateurs, so stop comparing it to how hackers don’t understand how to break down the stats or the course to be able to go low.

  6. Mad-Mex

    Feb 26, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    The ONLY stat that matters is who gets the “W”

  7. Ogo

    Feb 26, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    I would like to know how many steps-per-green Tiger takes before he holes out. I bet he takes fewer steps than any other tour pro. Udaman Tiger!!!

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:52 am

      What about spits-per-green as well

    • Ogo

      Feb 27, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Tiger not only reads the greens with his eyes, he feels the greens with his feet. Visual and tactile putting method.

  8. GregNormansGreenJacket

    Feb 26, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Its not how, its how many. Got to get in the hole.

  9. Tyler Champ

    Feb 26, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Or we could just look at strokes gained approach because that entails everything approach related. Notice how JT was number 1 in SGA, but one less green?

    Read every stroke counts by Mark Broadie and you’ll understand traditional stats, in addition to Prox and feet of putt made don’t mean anything… strokes gained really tells the whole story week in and week out, and for the season.

  10. Steve Wozeniak

    Feb 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Gee…….after dumping the two let’s swing left clowns, he starts swinging toward the target and plays better……wow…..who would have thunk it!!!!!!

    I always said he is an easy fix if he gets good information, looks like he’s figuring it out by himself. Still has a bit of a block in his swing but it’s WAY BETTER, keep it up Tig……

    Steve Wozeniak PGA

    • James

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:06 am

      But he’s exiting left through impact, as in in-square-in…so he has to swing left? Or am I misinterpreting what you said?

      J

      • CB

        Feb 27, 2018 at 2:54 am

        Outside-in, hands pull left, under-cut twirl with clubhead

  11. Realist

    Feb 26, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    I saw Tiger make a couple of mental mistakes and use a driver that has only made me miss worse on my misses. I think if he dumps the driver, the mental aspects will come to him with confidence. He’s closer than we’ve seen him in a long time. Great for the game

  12. Matt A

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Closer doesn’t mean better.

  13. Kaven

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Lollll he putt well with his scotty
    He’s good with his nike iron
    He chips well with his nike wedge
    The only weakness is the taylormade metalwood

    • CB

      Feb 27, 2018 at 2:55 am

      I reckon the ball isn’t that good either, it’s not helping him make putts

  14. juliette

    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Well, I think it’s a good analysis and is well worth reading for understanding how this stat is compiled. Thank you for your good work. As to whether or not it is a telltale stat for the tour, and achieving #1 status means something significant, you’ve shown that there are other stats more meaningful than this one.

    Still, it is a measure of how close your misses are and for that reason it shows mostly that the one with the closest proximity was likely the one whose shots went closer to where he intended than did other players’ shots to the greens. But in the end we all know that putting, more likely number of feet of putts made, is much more telling for a players’ final tournament position.

    Tiger went for a few pins on Sat and Sunday that he thought he needed to go for in order to have a chance to win. He didn’t pull it off and paid a high price. Had he been leading I doubt he would have done that. So strategy is a hard one to figure in to this stat. That said, all these stats lose a bit of luster under close scrutiny.

  15. Humble Golfer

    Feb 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    While I do agree with the fact that this stat can’t have a direct correlation to birdie opportunities or hazard less play, I do believe this shows how well players are hitting approach shots from a consistency perspective. This stat is also important from a round to round comparison to ones self showing improvements in ball striking. This piece is nothing but a “selective hearing” type of reaction to the obvious fact that PGA National is a VERY tough course, and it got to everyone over the course of 4 Days. Let’s not take away the fact that Tiger had lots of good looks at Birdie. It was a matter of who made more crucial puts.

    • Peter Sanders

      Feb 27, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Thanks Humble, if the Tour would adopt my idea of only counting Proximity when the green is hit, we would have a perfect answer as to who had the most and best birdie opportunities. My complaint now is that the inclusion of shots that miss the green seriously cloud this perspective.

      • James

        Feb 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm

        It does seem rather strange to include the proximity value when the green is missed or hit into a hazard. Perhaps they should include par 3s in driving distance because that would be equally unintuitive…

  16. DaveyD

    Feb 26, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Avoid shots that result in penalties, minimize #shots to the green, and avoid three-putting. More of a workflow than stats, but it works for me.

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Club Junkie: Reviewing Callaway’s NEW Apex UW and Graphite Design’s Tour AD UB shaft

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Callaway’s new Apex UW wood blends a fairway wood and hybrid together for wild distance and accuracy. The UW is easy to hit and crazy long but also lets skilled players work the ball however they would like. Graphite Design’s new Tour AD UB shaft is a new stout mid-launch and mid/low-spin shaft. Smooth and tight, this shaft takes a little more of the left side out of shots.

 

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The Wedge Guy: Your game vs. The pros

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I know most of us like to watch golf on TV. Seeing these marvelous (mostly) young athletes do these amazing things with a golf ball makes for great theater. But the reality is that they play a very different game than we do, and they play it differently as well.

I’ve long contended that most rank-and-file recreational golfers cannot really learn a whole lot by watching men’s professional golf on TV. It would be like watching NASCAR or Formula One racing and looking for tips on how to be a better driver.

The game is different. The athletes are different. And the means to an end are entirely different. Let me offer you some things to ponder in support of this hypothesis.

First, these tour professionals ARE highly skilled and trained athletes. They spend time in the gym every day working on flexibility, strength, and agility. Then they work on putting and short game for a few hours, before going to the range and very methodically and deliberately hit hundreds of balls.

Now, consider that the “typical” recreational golfer is over 45 years old, likely carrying a few extra pounds, and has a job, family or other life requirements that severely limit practice time. Regular stretching and time at the gym are not common. The most ardent will get in maybe one short range session a week, and a few balls to warm up before a round of golf.

The tour professionals also have a complete entourage to help them optimize their skills and talents. It starts with an experienced caddie who is by their side for every shot. Then there are the swing coaches, conditioning coaches, mental coaches, and agents to handle any “side-shows” that could distract them. You, on the other hand, have to be all of those to your game.

Also, realize they play on near-perfect course conditions week to week. Smooth greens, flawless fairways cut short to promote better ball-striking — even bunkers that are maintained to PGA Tour standards and raked to perfection by the caddies after each shot.

Watch how perfectly putts roll; almost never wavering because of a spike mark or imperfection, and the holes are almost always positioned on a relatively flat part of the green. You rarely see a putt gaining speed as it goes by the hole, and grain is a non-factor.

So, given all that, is it fair for to you compare your weekly round (or rounds) to what you see on television?

The answer, of course, is NO. But there ARE a lot of things you can learn by watching professional golf on TV, and that applies to all the major tours.

THINK. As you size up any shot, from your drive to the last putt, engage your mind and experience. What side of the fairway is best for my approach? Where is the safe side of the flag as I play that approach? What is the best realistic outcome of this chip or pitch? What do I recall about the slope of this green and its speed? Use your brain to give yourself the best chance on every shot.

FOCUS. These athletes take a few minutes to drown out the “noise” and put their full attention to every shot. But we all can work to learn how to block out the “noise” and prepare ourselves for your best effort on every shot. It only takes a few additional seconds to get “in the zone” so your best has a chance to happen.

PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS. You have complete control over your set-up, ball position and alignment, so grind a bit to make sure those basics are right before you begin your swing. It’s amazing to me how little attention rank-and-file golfers pay to these basics. And I’m firmly convinced that the vast majority of bad shots are “pre-ordained” because these basics are not quite right.

SHAKE IT OFF. The game is one shot at a time – the next one. That has been preached over and over, and something most pros do exceedingly well. Very often you see them make a birdie right after a bogey or worse, because the professional bears down on these three basics more after he had just slacked on them and made a bogey or worse.

MEDIOCRE SHOTS ARE THE NORM. And those will be interspersed with real bad ones and real good ones. Those guys are just like us, in that “mediocre” is the norm (relatively speaking, that is). So go with that. Shake off the bad ones and bask in the glory of the good ones – they are the shots that keep us coming back.

Let me dive into that last point a bit deeper, because some of you might find it strange that I claim that “mediocre shots are the norm,” even for tour professionals. First, let’s agree that a “mediocre” shot for a 20-handicap player looks quite different that what a tour pro would consider “mediocre.” Same goes for a “poor shot.” But a great shot looks pretty much the same to all of us – a well-struck drive that splits the fairway, an approach that leaves a reasonable birdie putt, a chip or pitch for an up-and-down, and any putt that goes in the hole.

Finally, I will encourage all of you – once again – to make sure you are playing from a set of tees that tests your skills in proportion to how their courses test theirs. This past weekend, for example, the winner shot 25 under par “on the card” . . . but consider that Summit had four reachable par-fives (most with iron shots) and a drivable par-four, so I contend it was really a “par 68” golf course at best. Based on that “adjusted par”, then only 20 players beat that benchmark by more than 5 shots for the week. So, obviously, the rest pretty much played “mediocre” golf (for them).

So, did your last round have at least one or two par-fives you can reach with two shots? And did you hit at least 10-12 other approach shots with a short iron or wedge in your hands? More likely, you played a “monster” course (for you) that had zero two-shot par fives and several par-fours that you could not reach with two of your best wood shots. And your typical approach shot was hit with a mid-iron or hybrid.

The game is supposed to be fun – and playing the right tees can make sure it has a chance to be just that. Paying attention to these basics for every shot can help you get the most out of whatever skills you brought to the links on any given day.

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The ghost of Allan Robertson: A few thoughts on the distance debate

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It’s that time of year in certain parts of the world. Ghosts, ghouls, and ghoblins roam the lawns. Departed ancestors return to these fields to visit with living descendants. It’s also a time (is it ever not?) when curmudgeons and ancients decry the advances of technology in the world of golf equipment.

Pretty big narrative leap, I’ll admit, but I have your attention, aye? An October 16th tweet from noted teacher Jim McClean suggested that it would be fun to see PGA Tour players tee it up for one week with wooden heads and a balata ball.

Others beg for a rolling-back of technological potency, raising property acreage as a critical determinant. Fact is, 90 percent of golfers have no experience with hitting the ball too far, nor with outgrowing a golf course. And yet, the cries persist.

Recently, I was awakened from a satisfying slumber by the ghost of Allan Robertson. The long-dead Scot was in a lather, equal parts pissed at Old Tom Morris for playing a guttie, and at three social-media channels, all of which had put him on temporary suspension for engaging violently with unsupportive followers. He also mentioned the inaccuracies of his Wikipedia page, which credits him for a 100-year old business, despite having only spent the better part of 44 years on this terrestrial sphere. Who knew that the afterlife offered such drip internet access?

I’m not certain if Old Tom cared (or was even alive) that his beloved gutta percha ball was replaced by the Haskell. I believe him to have been preoccupied with the warming of the North Sea (where he took his morning constitutional swims) and the impending arrival of metal shafts and laminated-wood heads. Should that also long-dead Scot pay me a nighttime visit, I’ll be certain to ask him. I do know that Ben Hogan gave no sheets about technology’s advances; he was in the business of making clubs by then, and took advantage of those advances. Sam Snead was still kicking the tops of doors, and Byron Nelson was pondering the technological onslaught of farriers, in the shoeing of horses on his ranch.

And how about the women? Well, the ladies of golfing greatness have better things to do than piss and moan about technology. They concern themselves with what really matters in golf and in life. Sorry, fellas, it’s an us-problem. Records are broken thanks to all means of advancement. Want to have some fun? Watch this video or this video or this video. If you need much more, have a reassessment of what matters.

Solutions

Either forget the classic courses or hide the holes. Classic golf courses cannot stand up in length alone to today’s professional golfers. Bringing in the rough takes driver out of their hands, and isn’t a course supposed to provide a viable challenge to every club in the bag? Instead, identify four nearly-impossible locations on every putting surface, and cut the hole in one of them, each day. Let the fellows take swings at every par-4 green with driver, at every par-five green with driver and plus-one. Two things will happen: the frustration from waiting waiting waiting will eliminate the mentally-weak contestants, and the nigh-impossible putting will eliminate even more of them. What will happen with scoring? I don’t know. Neither did Old Tom Morris, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., Lady Heathcoat Amory, or Mildred Didrickson, when new technology arrived on the scene. They shrugged their shoulders, stayed away from Twitter and the Tok, and went about their business.

Add the tournament courses. Build courses that can reach 8,500 yards in length, and hold events on those layouts. Two examples from other sports: the NFL made extra points longer. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. The NBA kept the rim at ten feet. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. We don’t play MLB or MLS on ancient diamonds and pitches. We play their matches and games on technologically-advanced surfaces. Build/Retrofit a series of nondescript courses as tournament venues. Take the par-5 holes to 700 yards, then advance the par-4 fairways to 550 yards. Drive and pitch holes check-in at 400 yards, at least until Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire figure a few more things out.

Note to the young guys and the old guys from this 55-year old guy: live your era, then let it go. I know things.

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