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Opinion & Analysis

How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?

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Hitting more than 50 percent of fairways has long been considered a good goal for amateur golfers. The winners on the PGA Tour tend to hit 70 percent. I have long maintained, however, that it is not the number of fairways HIT that matters. Instead, it is the relative severity of fairways MISSED.

Think about it. By the one-dimensional Fairways Hit stat, every miss is the same. A perfect lie in the first cut is exactly the same as a drive in a hazard… or even OB. There is nothing in the 650+ PGA Tour stats about this. In all, there are 60 stats in seven categories that relate to driving performance, but none about penalties! Like PGA Tour players don’t make any?

Let’s see exactly how important the old tried-and-true Driving Accuracy (Percentage of Fairways Hit) really is. To test it, I used two data clusters: the 2017 PGA Tour season (14,845 ShotLink rounds) and my ShotByShot.com database for the average male golfer (15 to 19 handicappers – 4,027 rounds).

For the graph below, I started with the No. 1-ranked player in the Driving Accuracy category: Ryan Armour. He certainly was accurate by this measure, but why did he only rank 100th in 2017 Strokes Gained Off the Tee with a barely positive 0.020?

Next I looked at the actual top-5 PGA Tour money winners (J. Thomas, J Spieth, D. Johnson, H. Matsuyama and J. Rohm), the 2017 PGA Tour average, and all PGA Tour players that missed the cut in 2017. We all know the significant scoring differences between these three categories of players, but it’s difficult to see a meaningful difference in the fairways hit. They’re not even separated by half a fairway. How important could this stat be?

For those that have not tried ShotByShot.com, our analysis includes Strokes Gained and Relative Handicap comparisons. That enables users to easily differentiate between FIVE MISS categories below based upon severity. The final three categories are what we consider to be Driving Errors:

  1. Good lie/Opportunity: One can easily accomplish their next goal of a GIR or advancement on a par-5.
  2. Poor Lie/Opportunity: One could accomplish the next goal, but it will require a very good shot.
  3. No Shot: Requires an advancement to return to normal play.
  4. Penalty-1: Penalty with a drop.
  5. OB/Lost: Stroke and distance penalty, or shot replayed with a stroke penalty.

As we are fortunate enough to work with several PGA Tour players at Shot by Shot, we have access to ShotLink data and can provide those clients with the same valuable insight.

Let’s see how the frequency and severity of driving errors relates to the above groups of players (removing Mr. Armour, as he simply helped us prove the irrelevance of Driving Accuracy). The graphs below display the number of Driving Errors per round and the Average Cost Per Error. Note the strong and consistent correlation between the number and the cost of errors at each of the four levels of performance.

Finally, the average cost of the errors is heavily driven by the three degrees of severity outlined above (No Shot, Penalty, OB/Lost). The graph below compares the relative number and cost of the three types of errors for the average golfer and PGA Tour players. The major difference is that PGA Tour players do not seem to have a proper share of OB/Lost penalties. I found only TWO in the 14,000+ ShotLink rounds. While I accept that the most severe faux pas are significantly less frequent on the PGA Tour, I also believe there must have been more than two.

Why so few? First and foremost, PGA Tour players REALLY ARE good. Next, the galleries stop a lot of the wayward shots. And finally, I believe that many of the ShotLink volunteer data collectors may not actually know or care about the difference between a Penalty and OB/Lost.

Author’s Note: If you want to know your Strokes Gained Off the Tee (Driving) and exactly how important your fairways and the misses are, log onto ShotByShot.com for a 1-Round FREE Trial.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jason

    Mar 19, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Players know where the boundaries of the shot are, and they aren’t always the boundaries of the fairway. At my course (lots of water, light rough) you’re regularly playing up the side and a good (but not great) shot will find the harmless light rough. Likewise, an aggressive tee shot over a corner might run out of fairway, but the distance saved is worth the small cost of maybe catching light rough. The best pros might not find the fairway as often simply becasue they trust their game enough to take the more challenging line – and know that they can handle a small “penalty” in the form of light rough (and fairway missed stat) if that’s the price. So yeah, fairways hit doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is the ‘did you hit it somewhere you were ok with standing over the ball’ stat – and I’m not sure how you measure that, except that it probably correlates with good judgement, temperament and good skills. Not sure there’s a stat for it though, and not sure there needs to be.

  2. James T

    Mar 19, 2018 at 10:27 am

    “How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?”

    After Sunday, ask Tiger Woods.

  3. Bruce Hart

    Mar 18, 2018 at 11:01 am

    If I miss a fairway, especially if I’m playing by myself, I may never find the ball which would mean slowing play by going back to the tee (or hitting a lot of provisionals) or just not playing by the rules (which is what I usually do). Sometimes even hitting the fairway isn’t a guarantee because the ball can plug. I have found that bright Volvik Vivid balls can help. When the rough is up, it’s windy and clover are everywhere I can’t afford to spray driver. I’d like to do an experiment where you take a pro and put them on a standard muni course (no gallery, no grandstands, no tv coverage, no spotters) by themselves and see how many lost balls they have. I think the pros play a different game.

  4. CrashTestDummy

    Mar 18, 2018 at 2:14 am

    There still is a premium on good ball striking. Yeah the severity of fairways missed matters, but the best ball strikers will have much less severe missed fairways. The best ball strikers are always at the top of the leaderboards consistently. Whenever their ball striking goes awry they start missing cuts. When they miss putts, they are still making cuts or placing well because they are avoiding bogeys and the big numbers. Bottom line is missed fairways and greens means bogeys and big numbers.

    There should probably be a stat for “strokes gained with missed fairway” or “strokes lost with missed fairway”. That would be a telltale metric for knowing the severity of missed fairways.

  5. James T

    Mar 17, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    Personally, I think Greens in Regulation is far more important to scoring. Rare is the course that has U.S. Open rough that keeps you from going for the green.

    • Tal

      Mar 19, 2018 at 2:24 am

      True, but pure greens in regulation doesn’t tell us why greens were missed. Poor driving makes hitting a GIR more difficult so if someone is driving really well and still hits very few greens, their iron play is probably to blame. Whereas if they are missing greens and their driving is poor, that helps paint a picture as to why.

  6. larrybud

    Mar 17, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately, with shotbyshot, and any other system with user driven data, you’re relying on a data which has zero verification to it (unlike shotlink). In other words, you have no idea how accurate the data is which players have entered that you’re basing your analysis.

  7. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Mar 17, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I think it depends on the golf course. My home course is littered with hazards and has little rough to speak of. If you miss the fairway there is a good chance you will find a hazard.

    But overall I agree.

  8. Doug

    Mar 17, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    If I miss a fairway there is a 50% chance that my ball gets lost. So I better go for 100% fairway even when that means I can‘t use my driver

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News

The Wedge Guy: A defense of blades

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One of the longest-running and most active conversations in all of golf equipment is the subject of blades versus game improvement irons. Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” I’ve addressed this in various ways and always stimulated a lively discussion with my readers.

I hope this angle on the conversation will do the same, so all of you please share your thoughts and observations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have always played some kind of blade-style irons, with only a few detours along the way. But I always come back to my blades, so let me explain why.

I grew up in the 1950s and 60s when blades were all we had. As a teenager with a developing skill set, I became a devotee to those models from the old Ben Hogan Company, and played the “Bounce Sole” model, then several iterations of the Apex line after it was introduced. Those few sets served me well into my 30s, when I became involved in the golf equipment industry. Having Joe Powell Golf as a client, I switched to his pure muscle back model called the “PGI.” They were certainly sweet.

In the late 1980s, I was handling the marketing for Merit Golf, who offered a cavity back forging called the Fusion, which was inspired by the Ben Hogan Edge irons, but offered a more traditional face profile. So, I switched to them.
Playing to a low single digit handicap at the time, I really didn’t see my scores change, but I just wasn’t making as many birdies as I had before. Openly pondering why my golf felt different, a regular golf buddy noted, “You’re not knocking down pins as often as you used to,” and I realized he was right. I was hitting just as many greens as before, maybe one or two more, but I wasn’t getting those kick-in birdies nearly as often. So, I went to the closet and broke out the old Joe Powell PGI irons and had an epic day with three birdies inside five feet and a couple more in the 5-10 range.
Those blades stayed in the bag until I developed my first iron design, the “RL blades” by my first company, Reid Lockhart. By this time, I had seen enough robotic testing prove that the most penalizing mishit with a blade was a toe impact, which mirrored my own experience. So, I sculpted a pure muscle back blade, but added a bit of mass toward the toe to compensate for that deficiency of all such designs.

I played those irons for 20 years, until I created the “FT. WORTH 15” irons for the re-launch of the Ben Hogan brand in 2015. In that design, I further evolved my work to very slightly add a bit of modified perimeter weighting to a pure forged blade, taking inspiration from many of Mr. Hogan’s earlier personal designs in the Apex line of the “old” Ben Hogan Company. Those are still in my bag, going on eight years now.

So, why do I think I can make a solid defense for playing blade irons? Because of their pinpoint distance control, particularly in the short irons — those with lofts of 35 degrees or higher.

I’ll certainly acknowledge that some modern perimeter weighting is very helpful in the lower lofts . . .the mid- and long irons. In those clubs, somewhere on or near the green is totally acceptable, whether you are playing to break 90 or trying to win on the PGA Tour. [Did you know those guys are actually over par as a group outside 9-iron range?] That’s why you see an increasing number of them playing a conservative game-improvement design in those lofts. But also remember that we in the golf club design business deal with poor “hits” only . . . we have no control over the quality of your swing, so the vast majority of bad golf shots are far beyond our influence.

But what I’ve seen in repeated robotic testing and in my own play, when you get to the prime scoring clubs – short irons and wedges – having a solid thickness of mass directly behind the impact point on the face consistently delivers better distance control and spin. In my own designs of the SCOR wedges in 2010, and the Ben Hogan FT.WORTH 15 irons and TK15 wedges, I created a distribution of mass that actually placed a bit more face thickness behind the slight mishit than even in the center, and the distance consistency was remarkable.

I’ve carried that thinking to the Edison Forged wedges by positioning much more mass behind the high face and toe miss than any other wedges on the market. And in robotic testing, they deliver better transfer of energy on those mishits than any other wedge we tested.

So, back to that experience when I switched back to my Joe Powell blades from the Merit cavity back forging, I can sum it up this way.

If your pleasure from your golf is derived more from how good your worst shots turn out, then a game improvement iron is probably the way to go. But if your golf pleasure is more about how good your best shots are, I think there is a very strong case to be made for playing some kind of blade iron design, at least in your scoring clubs.

Alright, fans: sound off!

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections

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After an enthralling Italian Open at next year’s Ryder Cup venue, the DP World Tour moves on to Le Golf National, scene of one of Europe’s finest hours, a 17.5-10.5 victory at the 2018 running of the bi-annual festival.

With Valderrama on the schedule in three weeks’ time, the tour showcases a trio of its best courses within a month, and whilst deserving of a better field than present in France this week, the tournament should again provide viewers with a treat.

With the lowest winning total since 2000 being 16-under, and an average of 11-under, the focus is very much on a strong tee-to-green
game. The rough is up, the greens are tricky, and scrambling difficult. Those with low confidence in any aspect of their game need not apply.

2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts somewhat went against the grain when winning via a long driving game , certainly compared to the likes of runner-up J.B Hansen and third-placed George Coetzee, as well as previous winners Jaidee, McDowell and Levet. Like the differing results at the Marco Simone course over the last two runnings, we should resume normal service, with bombers not having so much of an advantage.

In a hard event to weigh up, here is this week’s best bets.

Antoine Rozner 28/1

Ewen Ferguson 45/1

Jorge Campillo 45/1

Marcus Kinhult 60/1

There are few of the top lot that can be ruled out.

All of Thomas Pieters, Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox and, Victor Perez appear very high on the season-long tee-to-green lists. The Englishman was the first one on my list but, at 20/1, he can be left alone, especially given I would have expected him to have done better than a best of 21st in three outings here.

Nevertheless, his is the type of game needed for here and with home support probably a boon, plump for Antoine Rozner to make the Gallic crowd go wild for the first time since Levet’s victory in 2011.

Since his last couple of appearances in his home country – ninth and 13th on the Challenge Tour – the 29-year-old has won in Dubai and Qatar in contrasting styles.

The first saw him putt the lights out to win in 25-under, whilst the more relevant victory was at wind-affected Education City, where he grinded out a one-shot victory in eight under-the-card, a final hole 60-plus foot putt sealing the deal.

2022 has been good.

The record of two top-10s in Spain and Crans disguise four further top-20 finishes, and that he was inside the top-10 after round two of the BMW International, round one of the Czech Masters, and rounds one and three at Glagorm Castle.

Indeed, it was after the first of those that he announced he was very happy with the way his game was trending, and, true to his word, his tee-to-green play has been nothing short of stunning.

Since July, he has averaged a ranking of ninth for approaches, two of those efforts rating him leading the field for tee-to-green. Using the older stats, Rozner has recent greens-in-regulation figures of 21/2/2/7/34/5, perfect for a course that will penalise anyone that constantly misses the short stuff.

There may well be a current issue about his putting, but that is true of all the better ball-strikers. After all, it would be neigh impossible to beat them if every facet was ranking in the top five.

Rozner is bound to know this course better than his ‘debutante’ status, so take him to prove himself in a very beatable field.

Qatar seems a bit of a theme with Ewen Ferguson taking the next spot in the plan.

The Scot owes us nothing after two wins this year for the Players To Follow in 2022 column, but I’m not sure he is quite finished yet.

Slightly naïve when in front on Sunday at the Kenya Open, his next two starts might show finishes of 61st and 40th but, again, they disguise better play than the record shows – Fergie was 11th after three rounds at the MyGolfLife and just outside the top-20 at halfway at Steyn City.

That experience no doubt led to a grinding victory – another to be seen in Qatar – where his solid tee-to-green game outlasted most of his opposition.

The game has continued in that vein, with a 12th place at Celtic Manor (7th after three rounds) being a fine correlation with this week’s track, followed by his second victory of the year at Galgorm Castle.

Probably his best effort was in Himmerland at the beginning of the month, when his all-round game was in superb shape, only giving way to a ridiculous pair of putts by Oliver Wilson. As he did in Ireland, Ferguson led the tee-to-green figures via both driving and irons, whilst his scrambling game was also highly ranked.

Despite the smiles, he may have been feeling that defeat when missing the cut at Wentworth, a course that doesn’t suit everyone on debut, and look at his price – over twice that of players that fail to convert winning chances.

At the same price, the mercurial Jorge Campillo is well worth backing to continue a solid bank of recent and course form.

Rather like previous Spanish winners of the French Open, the 36-year-old (yes, I thought he was older than that, too) has that capability to get out of trouble with the short game so identifiable with his compatriots.

One missed cut in his last nine starts shows he has a belief in his overall game, whilst six consecutive cuts sees him in the sort of form that should enable to challenge for his third European victory, after Morocco and (here we go again) Qatar.

Again his record shows just a couple of top-10 finishes this year, but he was in fourth place going into the final round at Kenya, top 10 for the middle rounds in Belgium, led the Irish Open at halfway and was in the final group on Sunday, whilst he closed late last weekend when it turned tricky in Italy.

With an 8th, 15th and 18th in six starts around here, it’s that ability to grind out a result that gives him claims this week. Campillo isn’t a strong birdie machine, so a winning score of around 10 to 12-under will do just fine.

Marcel Schneider and Romain Langasque both tempted me in at the prices, but whilst the former is in flying form, his record shows he improves after a first sighting at a course, so monitor him for a quiet debut and back him next year! As for the French native, he really should do well if his win at Celtic Manor and his home record has anything in them. The issue is that, at the moment, he is hitting it sideways off the tee and unable to recover with his irons – not a great combo around a tight track.

Instead, take a chance on Marcus Kinhult, who beat Robert MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace to the British Masters in 2019, held at the links of Hillside, his sole victory on tour to date.

The Swede, whose tee-to-green game doesn’t give him as much reward as it may be ought to, followed that win by making a tough up-and-down at the final hole of that season’s Nedbank Challenge to join Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off, both having come from off the pace at the start of the day.

Unfortunately, that one didn’t go his way, but he has continued to bank a solid record, including top-10 finishes in Qatar (hello, again), The Renaissance Club and Wentworth through 2020, before a personal nightmare.

As he explained in his DP World Tour blog, the 26-year-old started suffering with dizzy spells, eventually diagnosed with epilepsy. In terms of golf, we can put a red line through 2021 form.

Fortunately, the condition is now under control and having worked his way through the Nordic Golf League, where in two events he finished ninth and first, arrived at full fitness at Kenya to finish inside the top-10, before a closing third in Qatar (hello…oh, ok.)

Whilst he couldn’t capitalise on a place in the final two-ball at The Belfry, it was a good warm-up for a return to Hillside, where he would finish a never-nearer third, following that effort with a pair of 23rd place finishes at the Czech Masters and Crans.

It is worth noting that his best efforts in 2018 were in Qatar, at Wentworth and around here (when finishing in fifth place), whilst the last time the French Open was played here, he again finished quickly to be just outside the top-10.

Kinhult has ranked top-12 for driving accuracy in his last three completed outings, and in the top-20 for scrambling in five of eight starts. This is his track.

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Equipment

Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa

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Andrew Tursky was on site at the Fortinet Championship this week and got all he could handle in terms of new equipment news. There were new irons, drivers, and even headcovers all over the range, so we had to dig into two of the biggest stories out there on this week’s Two Guys Talking Golf Podcast (give us a follow on Instagram: @tg2wrx).

Rickie Fowler’s new irons

Rickie Fowler has been changing a lot of equipment in his bag as he has struggled to get his golf game back into shape. We have seen him with different drivers, shafts, irons, and putters throughout the 2021-2022 season. Fowler has typically played some form of blade during his career, and Cobra even made him some signature Rev33 blades that were beautiful, but razor thin and intimidating for us mortal golfers.

Rickie showed up to the Fortinet with some brand new, unreleased, Cobra King Tour irons. The King Tour irons look a lot like the current Cobra King Tour MIM irons, and we can only assume that the new Tour will replace the MIM.

The interesting thing about the King Tour irons is that they look a little larger than his preferred blades and that they might have a little more ball speed and distance built into them. From the images you can tell there is a little slot behind the face that might be filled with some type of polymer.

Rickie didn’t get into the tech of the new King Tour irons but did tell Tursky that he was gaining around 3-4 yards on shots that he stuck low on the face. He finished the first round of the Fortinet Championship in the top four, so the new irons have seen some success under pressure. I know many of us hope to see Rickie back to form soon, and maybe these new King Tour irons can be the catalyst.

Hideki Matsuyama’s driver change

The other big story comes from a former Masters Champion testing out some new drivers on the range, Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is well known as a golfer who loves to test and tinker with new golf equipment. Each week there is a good chance that he will have multiple drivers, irons, and fairways in the bag searching for the perfect club that week.

Earlier this week, Hideki was spotted with some new, unreleased, Srixon drivers out on the range in Napa. We spotted a few pros testing the new Srixon ZX7 MkII and ZX 5 MkII LS on the range.

Andrew spoke to the Srixon reps and learned Hideki has been trying the new drivers and seems to have settled on a Srixon ZX5 MkII in 10.5 degrees of loft (and his trusty Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX shaft).

The ZX5 MkII LS looks to have an adjustable weight on the sole that is moved far forward —closer to the face — to possibly lower the spin. We haven’t heard anything specific from Srixon on the new drivers, but with their recent success, we would expect to see some solid performance out of the line.

Check out the full TG2 podcast, below

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