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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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Do irons really need to go longer?

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At Edison Golf, we put high emphasis on getting the right lofts in our customers bags to deliver precision distance gapping where distance control matters most – in prime scoring range. Our proprietary WedgeFit® Scoring Range Analysis helps us get there, and one of the key questions we ask is the loft of your current 9-iron and pitching wedge.

Please understand I have been collecting this type of data from wedge-fitting profiles for over 20 years, and now have seen over 60,000 of these. What’s interesting is to watch the evolution of the answers to those two questions. Twenty years ago, for example, the 9-iron and PW lofts would typically be around 42-43 degrees and 46-47 degrees, respectively. By 2010, those lofts had migrated downward to 40-41 degrees for the 9-iron and 44-45 for the “P-club”. (I began to call it that, because it’s just not a true “wedge” at that low of a loft.)

But how far are the irons makers going to take that lunacy? I see WedgeFit profiles now with “P-clubs” as low as 42-43 degrees and 9-irons five degrees less than that – 37-38 degrees. The big companies are getting there by incorporating mid-iron technologies – i.e. fast faces, multi-material, ultra-low CG, etc. – into the clubs where precision distance control is imperative.

Fans, you just cannot get precision distance control with those technologies.

But the real problem is that golfers aren’t being told this is what’s happening, so they are still wanting to buy “gap wedges” of 50-52 degrees, and that is leaving a huge distance gap in prime scoring range for most golfers.

So, to get to the title of this post, “Do Irons Really Need To Go Longer?” let’s explore the truth for most golfers.

Your new set of irons features these technologies and the jacked-up lofts that go with them, so now your “P-club” flies 125-130 instead of the 115-120 it used to go (or whatever your personal numbers are). But your 50- to 52-degree gap wedge still goes 95-100, so you just lost a club in prime scoring range. How is that going to help your scores?

Please understand I’m not trying to talk anyone out of a new set of irons, but I strongly urge you to understand the lofts and lengths of those new irons and make sure the fitter or store lets you hit the 9-iron and “P-club” on the launch monitor, as well as the 7-iron demo. That way you can see what impact those irons are going to have on your prime scoring range gapping.

But here’s something that also needs to get your close attention. In many of the new big-brand line-ups, the companies also offer their “tour” or “pro” model . . . and they are usually at least two degrees weaker and ¼ to 3/8 inch shorter than the “game improvement” models you are considering.

But really, how much sense does that make? The tour player, who’s bigger and stronger than you, plays irons that are shorter and easier to control than the model they are selling you. Hmm.

It’s kind of like drivers actually. On Iron Byron, the 46” driver goes further than the 45, so that’s what the stores are full of. But tour bags are full of drivers shorter than that 46-inch “standard”. So, if the tour player only hits 55-60% of his fairways with a 45” driver, how many are you going to hit with a 46?

I’m just sayin…

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Opinion & Analysis

GolfWRX Book Review: Phil by Alan Shipnuck

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The most awaited golf book of 2022 is titled “Phil: the Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s most Colorful Superstar,” featuring a look at Phil Mickelson’s life and times. Alan Shipnuck, long a respected writer in the golf interweb, has produced another long-form contribution to the vast library of golf tomes. Early leaks did nothing but heighten the anticipation of the residents of golfdom for the book’s release. Shipnuck wrote for GOLF Magazine for years, before heading out with other proven and decorated scribes to form The Fire Pit Collective. His place at GM reveals how he was able to get close to Mickelson and his inner circle. Before we continue on with the book review, it’s important to determine how Shipnuck and I have a cosmic bond. It is summed up in two words.

Bob Heppel

Bob Heppel was the guy who stood me up in the fifth grade, swim locker room. I swung and bloodied his nose. I was more stunned than he was, but I retired as a fighter with a debatable record of 1-o. Alan Shipnuck tells a similar story in the introduction to his most recent literary effort. No kindred-spirits malarkey here; the type of coincidence that the cosmos allow on occasion.

How does the book read? Well, it has an element of stream of consciousness, combined with a heavy reliance on anecdotal sequencing. It is necessary to stack story after story, to connect the dots of a sometimes-indecipherable image. That’s Phil, to a T (or a P.)

Back to me for a moment. I received the digital copy of the volume about three weeks before the release date of the paper edition. On Friday the 13th, I finally opened the PDF. As I held the PgDn button on my laptop, stopping intermittently to catch up, a random turn of phrase caught my attention:

a man’s man with big calloused hands and the briny demeanor that came from having been at sea for weeks at a time. 

It takes a special awareness of how language intersects with life to string words like that together. Those words describe one of Phil Mickelson’s grandfathers. Shipnuck gives us so much information on Phil’s ancestor that we forget for a moment, that this is a book about Phil. This is a good thing, because we need to learn about the others that helped to forge the Phil Mickelson from whom we cannot avert our eyes.

The chapter in the book that will most ally you as a Mickelson sympathizer is, predictably, the one about Winged Foot and the 2006 USGA Open. The one that will most distance you from Lefty, is the one that begins around page 150, concerning his gambling habits. The section that will have you question golf administrators in general is the one about the 2014 Ryder Cup. In other words, there are a lot of chapters that expect the reader to suddenly jump up and scream at anyone who will listen, You won’t believe this, but …

At times throughout the reading of this book, you feel like a student in a statistics class. The author presents anecdotal evidence in tens and twenties, and you try to determine if Phil Mickelson is enviable or pitiable; sincere or counterfeit; ultimately, good or bad. And then, Shipnuck delivers a knockout punch in which he melds the detached storyline of wealthy professional golfers with the reality in which the rest of us live. Shipnuck resists the temptation to offer too many of these body blows; the book is, after all, about Phil Mickelson.

At about the midway point of the book, it is revealed that Mickelson might have something of a James Bond complex, a need to put himself at greater risk than before, to determine if he can handle the pressure. This notion explains a purported interest in gambling, or a suggested enthusiasm for abandoning the US PGA tour in favor of mideast money; the latter would be the straw that broke the back of Mickelson’s most loyal sponsors.

Without giving too much away, nor attempting to drive the reader toward any sort of conclusion (which would probably have been impossible, in hindsight) there are two, late-volume sequences that lead us toward an understanding of Phil Mickelson and of Alan Shipnuck’s intent:

even Mickelson’s failings feed his image as an uninhibited thrill-seeker

This is the image that he has cultivated over the course of a lifetime. It is the gift that his parents and his grandparents bequeathed to him.

In his public statement, Mickelson allowed that his comments were “reckless” but couldn’t resist making himself both the victim and the hero of his narrative …

This statement reveals the cleverness of Shipnuck’s efforts. He allows the readers to determine which one Mickelson is. My guess is that the readership will be split down the middle. As if I needed to tell you, go buy this book. You’ll enjoy revisiting the glory days of the southpaw, but be warned: you won’t feel the same about him when you turn the final page.

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Opinion & Analysis

Viktor Hovland can dominate if he addresses this key weakness…and it’s not his chipping

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Ahead of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the expectations for star Viktor Hovland are sky high. Hovland is a native of Oslo, Norway but played his college golf at Oklahoma State University before turning professional in 2019.

During Hovland’s time as an amateur, he won the 2018 U.S. Amateur and earned invitations to the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open the following year. He became the first player to win low amateur honors at both the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season since 1998.

As if expectations for the 24-year-old weren’t already lofty enough, he is now returning to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as one of the favorites in a major championship in the state that he played college golf.

There is an argument to be made that Viktor Hovland is the most talented golfer on the PGA Tour. Since he arrived on the scene in 2019, the young phenom has dazzled the golf world with his tee to green excellence. He’s also become a fan favorite due to his abundance of charisma and infectious smile.

Hovland’s career thus far cannot be categorized as a disappointment. He has three regular PGA Tour victories: one at an alternate field event in Puerto Rico, and two at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He also became the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour (Now DP World Tour) when he won the BMW International Open in June of 2021.

Despite the relative success, it would be hard to argue with the fact that something is missing.

In terms of skill set, one of the most accurate comparisons for Hovland is Rory McIlroy. By the age of 25, McIlroy had four major championships. It would be unfair to compare Hovland to McIlroy in terms of career trajectory, but I find it reasonable to expect more out of him.

Hovland will also draw many comparisons to Collin Morikawa. For better or worse, Viktor Hovland will always be mentioned in the same breath as Morikawa due to the fact that both golfers arrived on Tour at the same time, are within a year of each other in age and rank in the top five in the world.

For all of their similarities, Hovland and Morikawa are in many ways polar opposites. Hovland is a flashy, big hitting, birdie maker. Morikawa is steady, sharp, and has what I believe to be the highest golf IQ since Tiger Woods.

The Norwegian is every bit as talented as his friend and rival, but Morikawa has five PGA Tour victories, including two major championships and a World Golf Championship victory. Hovland is still searching for his first win in a marquee event.

Much has been made in recent months about Viktor Hovland’s troubles around the green. The 24-year-old has lost an average of 1.0 stroke to the field in his career in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. Hovland will be the first to tell you that he has a major weakness in his short game.

“I just suck at chipping,” The Norwegian said after his first career victory at the Puerto Rico Open in February of 2020.

While his chipping undoubtedly needs improvement, it is not his fatal flaw. Poor course management is.

Thus far, course management has been the most consequential detractor to Hovland’s career.

There have been numerous instances where Hovland has had a chance to win or at the very least contend at a tournament that would qualify as a “signature win” on Tour for Hovland. Yes, his short game has been a hindrance, but his poor course management has been a non-negotiable disqualifier.

There are countless examples of this, but in particular, three of them stuck out to me.

Back in February of 2021, Hovland was in the midst of a spectacular second round at the WGC-Concession in Bradenton, Florida. He had seven birdies and no bogeys and found himself two shots back of the lead with one hole to play.

Then disaster struck.

After driving it into the fairway bunker, Viktor put his second over the green and into the palmetto bushes. Instead of taking an unplayable and trying to get up and down for bogey from a decent lie, he decided to try and punch it out of the bush.

After his failed punch out left him in a terrible spot in the greenside bunker, he put his next shot right back into the palmetto bush where he started. He continued to mangle the 18th hole until he finally made his quadruple bogey-8. He went from two back of the lead and possibly in the final pairing to six back of the lead with a slim to none chance of contending.

There’s that infectious smile again.

Back in March, Hovland once again found himself in contention on Sunday with a chance to win the most meaningful victory of his career at The Arnold Palmer Invitational. As he approached the par-3 17th, he was tied for the lead with Scottie Scheffler at -5. The conditions in the final round were very challenging, and the obvious play was to the middle of the green to try and make par. Instead, Hovland went for the pin and came up short, leaving himself a short-sided bunker shot. He went on to make bogey. Scheffler played it to the middle of the green and two-putt for an easy par and went on to win the tournament by one stroke.

Hovland’s course management issues continued to plague him in the first round of The Masters Tournament. After ten holes, he was -1 for his round and three shots off of the lead as he headed to back nine with some birdie holes in front of him. That’s when the lack of proper course management hurt Viktor once again.

The 11th hole at Augusta National is notoriously difficult, and even more so this year as it was lengthened by fifteen yards. With very few exceptions, the entire field played the approach shot into 11 short, not daring to go over the penalty area left with such a long iron shot coming in. At the time, there was only one birdie on the hole all day.

After a beautiful tee shot, Hovland had 221 yards into the green. Inexplicably, he decided once again to attack a pin that he had no business trying to take on. In the late part of the afternoon, there had only been one birdie made there all day, and it was a 35 foot putt. Predictably, his approach shot was left of the target and splashed in the penalty area. After grinding out a very good front nine, he made a double bogey-6 on the hole. As has happened so many times in the past, his poor decision making cost him precious strokes in an event where he can’t afford to give them away.

Hovland has had a good start to his career, but with generational talent comes lofty expectations. He has plenty of time to redirect his career trajectory and accomplish all of the feats his talent should all him to, but first he must address his fatal flaw.

The PGA Championship at Southern Hills would be a good place to start.

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