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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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Opinion & Analysis

U.S. Open qualifying and learning from a “bad” round

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On May 10, I competed in a local qualifier for the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. The local qualifier was held at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

You can watch every single shot in the video below.

Spoiler alert, I ended up having one of those disaster type of rounds with an 85 that was good for a missed cut and T-63rd out of 69th place finish. But rather than spending too much time crying over spilled milk, I decided to use it as an opportunity to not only learn something for myself as a pro but also to demonstrate for you some ways in which you might go about holistically analyzing rounds for your own future improvement.

Perspective & confidence

To start, remember to still pat yourself on the back and have some perspective.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to take rank with those poor spirits, who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Unknown

A friend sent me that after my round. Good friend.

Personally, I’ve shot tournament rounds in the 60s. So, an 85 for me at my level feels terrible. Feeling upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated, etc., can happen, but remember it’s important to be a good friend to yourself and do what you can to keep your confidence and attitude up and in a positive place.

If I step back from it all and look from a higher perspective, there are a few little things I can tell myself right off the bat to help me feel better about what happened.

  • In nearly every professional tournament, someone typically shoots in the 80s. Bad rounds happen to everyone. Even world-class players are not exempt.
  • I had a spell during COVID-19 where I didn’t pick up my clubs for about 6 months, and I hadn’t competed in a tournament for nine months. If tournament and general rust is a thing, this could have been a factor in my performance.
  • The conditions were very difficult. We had a 90-minute frost delay, it felt cold, the wind was gusting higher than in the forecast, and the course setup was challenging, with 6 pins cut only 4 paces from the edge of greens (which can lead to a lot of short-sided shots for those that are too aggressive). Normally, a 70 or better would get you through a local qualifier. In this case, no one in the entire field of pros and elite amateurs broke par. In fact, par 70 was the medalist. It was a tough day, and scores were high for everyone, not just me.
  • Unfortunately, most golfers will never break 90. Higher skilled players can do good to remember that. I’m reminded of seeing fellow pros on TV who hang their head on an approach shot but the ball still lands on the green and close to the flag, something that most people would be incredibly happy about.
  • Forgive and forget fast: It’s just a game and we are all lucky to be playing it!
  • “Fail” videos can be entertaining for others to watch!
  • Once you find ways to get a little personal perspective, it can be easier to look back at the round objectively and look for actionable items to take going forward to next time.

If you don’t have full round video like what I have above, you can still just think back about the round later that day or the next day or once you’ve calmed down and can assess what happened more clearly.

Anyway, here are a handful of things I’d tell myself in post-round analysis.

Pre-round

For the most part, I did a pretty good job with my pre-round work.

My bag had appropriate distance gapping between clubs, I had a good practice round (and holed out three times during the round), I slept okay the night before, I got to the course with plenty of time to spare to get ready and warm up, I was hydrated, I dressed warm enough for the cold, etc.

There’s not too much I’d change about what I did pre-round except for just getting in more practice/training.

For example, I had only hit balls for an hour a couple days a week indoors in March, and I chipped/putted a little plus played a few rounds in April. Despite not playing much, I was still shooting in the 70s and figured if I had a good day, I might still get through.

Still, more practice would likely have helped me shoot lower. That will be much easier once I decide on a good home golf base, now that my wife and I are getting settled in after our move from DC to Detroit last Halloween.

Off the tee

As you can see, I hit 11/14 (78.6 percent) fairways, which is much better than the PGA Tour average of 59.8 percent. On the three I missed, I was just off the fairway, and I was still in decent position with a clear shot to the green. So, my accuracy and target selection based on my personal shot dispersion patterns were fine.

You can’t tell from the video, but I will let you know that distance-wise I’ve been averaging about 106 or 107 mph with a driver on the course lately. That’s fast enough to compete professionally, albeit on the lower end of tour pro speed, but as someone who has competed and won events and qualifiers in professional long drive with peak speeds in the low 140s, I know there is a lot to gain by hitting longer again.

But how?

My drivers and ball are fine. I’ve tested those and more distance will not likely come from swapping those out.

However, I hadn’t been in the gym for 15 months prior to COVID-19 to do swing speed training. Granted there are some things one can do at home — peruse my articles here on GolfWRX for more about swing speed training, or visit Swing Man Golf — but quite frankly, I just wasn’t getting in the necessary training to swing fast enough for distance to be an advantage like it’s been for me previously.

That’s something anyone can change easily, though, including myself. It’s just a matter of some elbow grease and getting in some smart and consistent swing speed training — and you don’t have to put on 40 pounds to do it!

Technique-wise, I had been experimenting around with several things. Although I’ve shot well with minimal practice doing those things previously, going forward I do want to make some tweaks to get back closer to more of my old Mike Austin-style swing.

Without getting into too much detail, at a high level that would include:

  • Changing my grip back
  • Narrowing up my stance a bit
  • Keep my head from drifting around so much
  • Making a longer backswing
  • Leveraging more leg power through my skeletal joints
  • Using more of a rock-skipping “wind up and throw” type swing motion
  • Bringing back a bit more calm in to my game and what my wife described in my old swing as “fierce grace”

Approach shots

Despite hitting tons of fairways, I only hit 5/18 (27.8 percent) greens. That’s terrible by pro standards and nowhere near the 63.9 percent PGA Tour average. I’ve previously hit all 18 greens before.

So, what happened and how do I get those percentages back up?

Strategically, I think I did well. I chose smart targets based on my usual dispersions and only once did I deviate and not trust myself (watch the 15th hole in which 6-iron to the middle was the right play for a dangerous back flag but I greedily hit 5-iron and went long and got short-sided in the back bunker). Aside from that, unfortunately, I was just hitting it so much worse than my typical large sample dispersions that I kept getting short-sided anyway and was otherwise missing in the wrong spots far too much to score low.

As per above off the tee, more distance (and accuracy) from technique and swing speed training will also help my approaches. I’ve experimented playing as the bomb and gouger as well as the shorter accuracy type player. I can tell you from experience that it’s much easier to shoot lower scores when you’ve got power in your bag. Plus, it’s just fun to hit bombs.

Equipment-wise, I have a consistency advantage playing Sterling Irons single-length irons. However, I know from testing that for me I get tighter iron shot dispersions with Project X LZ shafts vs the Wishon Golf S2S Stepless shaft I currently have in my iron heads. I’ve been waiting to swap those out until we move forward with the second generation of Sterling Irons, though. Reach out to me if you are an interested investor.

Around the greens

Pros make 95 percent from three feet and that drops off sharply to 50 percent at around eight feet. So, it’s important to miss in smart spots to be able to hit shots around the greens close to save pars.

My bunker play was solid (watch holes 10, 12 and 15), save the one shot on the 5th hole that I hit a little too far behind the ball and left short. I was just in difficult locations that anyone would’ve had trouble getting up and down. Normally being short sided might come from too aggressive of approach shots, but that wasn’t the case today except that 5-iron approach on 15.

With chipping, I had some difficult lies (which are just part of the game) and was short sided quite a bit as mentioned.

Technically, I noticed I was sometimes “hitting” at my chips a bit. When you instead take a longer swing relying more on gravity and less on human effort, the distance control on feel shots is much more consistent day to day and week to week. That’s easy enough to work on.

I also wasn’t feeling the sharpest, which again could simply come down to just settling on a home course and getting in more practice.

Putting

Normally, I’m as good as anyone on lag putts.

But like my chips around the green, I saw I was “hitting” at some of the putts. As I said, that throws off distance control and consistency.

Getting some work in on being more pendular, per my usual, should take care of those things.

With my putter and ball, I’ve tested both of those and I’m fine in both cases.

Other

Aside from that, I did notice a couple other things I’d tell myself to change.

First, I’d say to drop about 15 pounds. Over my career, I’ve weighed anywhere from about 202 to 236. Currently, I’m sitting close to 230. I know from experience that, although I am healthy where I am, I still like it best when I’m around 210-215 and 13 percent body fat.

Getting back to that is as simple as a sustained caloric cut while keeping up my protein for a little over a month, but that’s easier said than done to commit to doing. I don’t know of anyone that likes doing fat weight cuts!

Lastly, my outfits could use a little work. I forgot to clean up my shoes and I thought they looked a little dirty on camera. I’ve also done focus group color testing and know that dressing entirely in dusty soft autumn colors (cardinal red, burnt orange, olive green, teal blue, turquoise, etc.) work best for me, and black doesn’t really do me any favors. Time to get rid of those old cold weather golf clothes!

Of course, I can perform well without changing either of those things (fat weight or outfits). However, there’s also something to be said about performing better when you are feeling confident and good about oneself.

Okay, hope that gives you a quick sample of helpful things to consider using for analyzing your own performances!

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: An ode to fathers

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I write this as I watch the final round of the U.S. Open and think of all the fathers on this day dedicated to them. Though I have certainly seen my share of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, probably the only real regret of my life is never having had children. Unlike most of you, this day passes as just another Sunday for me, for the most part.

But every Father’s Day, I do reflect on the wonderful relationship I had with my own father, who left this world way too soon when I was only 27, and he was just shy of his 63rd birthday. My pain is that I never got a chance to say goodbye, to have one last visit and tap his wisdom and guidance. But I think often about the lessons he dealt with humor, compassion, and his own way of telling stories.

When I rebelled against going to the Methodist church with my mother and brother, my Dad took over my spiritual upbringing and took me on Sunday morning rides through the country where he would share his love of and respect for all of God’s creations and his own “country wisdom” on how our lives are affected and guided by our faith every day.

As I grew up from a young boy, he shared his love of the outdoors – hunting and fishing – and of course, golf. He was mostly a self-taught scratch player, by the way, but I’ll get back to that.

His mantra for what happens after any hunting or fishing trip was simple. Care for your gear first, your game second, and yourself last. To this day, the first thing after any session in the bird field or day on the water is to thoroughly clean my guns, fishing gear, and/or boat. Though we never had hunting dogs, I have added caring for my Labrador retrievers into that “gear” mix, though they are much more important than any hardware.

I can still recall many wonderful moments at my father’s side while he re-built and cleaned fishing reels and shotguns, and reloaded rifle ammunition. He always took the time to explain the “why” as well as the “what” and “how.” We evolved that process to him watching me do those things, while he offered his “pearls of wisdom.”

And my Dad instilled in me his love for golf. I know it would have made him proud that I have been able to spend my entire life working in the equipment industry and writing this blog. Many years after his memorial service, I ran into an old high school golf team-mate and we were talking about how much I missed my Dad (we all did, as he was kind of the de facto coach of our golf team), and how I wished he could have known how I’ve made golf my livelihood as well as played the game at a level he would admire.

It still brings tears to my eyes when I can so clearly see Andy simply replying, “He knows.”

As I have gone through a life intertwined with this wonderful game, I recall so many of his lessons. It’s still important to me to be able to hit the golf shots I know and to keep my ballstriking as sharp as possible. I thought I would share some of those little “pearls” with you this week.

“That’s three of them and one of those” — He always said that after saving a rather ugly par with a great putt. Dad was an excellent putter and had this old Spalding mallet putter that earned the nickname “Mandrake,” after a well-known magician of the 1930s and 40s.

“It isn’t how, it’s how many” — Dad was all about scoring and a super competitor. While I was trying to beat the game into submission with ballstriking prowess, he constantly encouraged me to spend equal time on the short game and putting. “The hole, son, the hole.” That was how he put it. It’s all about getting the ball in the hole by any means you can.

And my favorite: “There’s nothing wrong with your game another five thousand practice balls won’t fix” — He actually played an exhibition match with Ben Hogan in the late 1930s and shared his unbridled appreciation for Mr. Hogan with me. I think that is where that encouragement came from.

There were so many other things my father gave me, but those are the ones I wanted to share with you all today.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad — and to all you fathers out there.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Club changes at the Invitational

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Played in a club invitational and had to make a few club changes during last week’s Invitational that I played in. The driver was really good until it wasn’t, then had to bring in a reliever to finish the tournament. Each morning I was the guy on the range with multiple drivers as you would expect!

 

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