‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?
A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:
- It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
- It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.
That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:
- It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
- It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.
In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.
The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:
- Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
- Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
- Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.
Where does your game fall in these two important categories?
Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?
You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:
- They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
- The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.
That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!” See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.
Club Junkie: Titleist TSi3 hybrid and Sugar golf balls on-course review
Finally have the Titleist TSi3 hybrid out on the course and it is an anti-left club that offers tons of control. Hit any shot you want, flight the ball down, and even use it around the green. Sugar Golf is the latest in direct to consumer golf balls. They offer a urethane cover golf ball that competes with the leading tour caliber balls for a much lower price.
Ways to Win: Ham and egg – Teamwork seals the deal for Smith and Leishman
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is a unique event on the PGA Tour as it is the only team event on the schedule where two tour players pair up for the week. The format is quite different from a typical week of stroke play on the PGA Tour. The first and third rounds are played as a Fourball, where the lowest score of the two players is counted as the team score. The second and fourth rounds are played as alternate shot, where players alternate taking shots while playing a single ball into the hole. This also allows for a unique view into how each format impacts Strokes Gained and the quality of golf. The Fourball rounds allow players to swing more freely and take on more risk as they have two chances at a low round, while alternate shot can be absolutely brutal as nerves can kick in when there is potential to leave your partner high and dry.
The format and the weather was perfect for a couple of Aussies to battle a couple of South Africans and play some spectacular golf. In the end, it took 73 holes to determine a champion as the groups traded blows into a playoff late on Sunday. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were able to secure the final par and take down Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked chart from V1 Game, the impact of the format is immediately apparent as the Total Strokes Gained seesaws between a high of gaining 8.9 strokes on the field to losing 0.3 strokes. That is a delta of over 9 strokes between a Fourball (Best Ball) round and Alternate shot. While, intuitively, it makes sense that playing two balls (Fourball) would be easier than having a single crack at it (Alt Shot), there are additional mental hurdles typically in Alt Shot. Therefore, it is interesting to see which parts of the game are most impacted by the format. What jumps off the page at a glance for the Fourball rounds is putting (+6.1) in round 1 and Short Game (+5.3) in round 3. The putting makes sense. If you know your partner has par in the bag, it makes that birdie put much more aggressive, however that mindset also downplays just how good Cam Smith was playing. Leishman said as much after the tournament that he believed Smith would have won the event easily had it been an individual stroke play event.
As a team, they made 168 feet of putts in Round 1. The PGA Tour average for a round is closer to 70 feet. The short game from round 3 is somewhat surprising as to have significant strokes gained in the short game category, you typically have to miss greens. Smith and Leishman gained 2.5 strokes on two holeouts from off the green on 3 and 16. Two different ways to shoot 63, both relying pretty heavily on the play of rising star Smith.
Shifting attention to rounds 2 and 4, which were alternate shot, all strokes gained categories suffered. Specifically, putting and approach were impacted. If you’ve ever played a round of alternate shot, this is relatable. One challenge with the format is that it is much harder to adjust to the greens. Since you are hitting half as many putts and, oftentimes, you are left cleaning up a mess from your playing partner, it is that much harder to get a feel for putting. Add the pressure of not wanting to leave your partner in a tough position and it typically leads to more tentative putting. Still, the team gained strokes putting overall despite only making 63 feet of putts in the final round. I would expect short game performance to increase in Alternate Shot rounds. Mainly because there are typically more opportunities as more greens are missed. Cameron Smith and Leishman ‘ham and egged’ this format perfectly. Picking each other up with great putts and chips at the right times to keep momentum, including a clutch chip-in from Leishman on 16 in the final round.
The team played particularly well in all categories, but they gained the most strokes with the putter. For the week, they gained more than 8.5 strokes over a typical PGA Tour field with the flat stick. How did they do it? Reviewing the Putting by Distance chart from V1 Game, they didn’t have a single three putt. Additionally, they gained strokes on the field from every distance except from 21-30 feet. They made 50 percent of their putts from 11-15 feet. The 50 percent mark is typically closer to 8 feet on the PGA Tour, meaning the duo was significantly outperforming the field with the flatstick.
Lastly, if you want to win in any week on the PGA Tour, you have to minimize mistakes and play to your potential. Referencing the V1 Game Virtual Coach, Leishman and Smith did exactly that. For starters, using the new V1 Game Handicap, the duo played to a +9.0. Incredible! They averaged only 1.1 mistakes per round consisting of a combination of penalties and two chips. A two-chip is when you miss the green from inside 75 yards. Across all four rounds, the team averaged a 67. Had they avoided all mistakes, they could have averaged 65.9 and potentially avoided the playoff. Despite making the rare mistake, they covered them up well with stellar play. The perfect example is the 16th hole on Sunday where an aggressive drive from Smith narrowly missed the green and found the water. Rather than harping on his partner for the mistake that was likely to cost the lead with just a few holes left, Leishman approached the chip with a great attitude telling his playing partner that he was going to hole the chip. He did exactly that and turned bogey into birdie.
There is something about a good attitude manifesting a good result. Leishman believed it could happen and allowed himself to take his best attempt at it. It would be so easy to get down in that moment and blame your partner for potentially costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars and a PGA Tour title. Good teammates and good friends pick you up. Ham and egg. The perfect breakfast combo and the recipe for good team golf.
If you are looking to pair up with a buddy, want to see how you stack up to the tour pros, or just want to measure your handicap trend, V1 Game can help you have fun and reach your goals with its all new Friends mode, V1 Game Handicap Tracking, and the most advanced analytics available in a golf app. Download the free app today and get ready to play your best golf.
Club fitting isn’t magic
I talk with golfers all the time about the benefits of having properly fit clubs and how they can help improve your game. But recently I have encountered some players who have actually come away from a club fitting disappointed in the final results, and it had me asking some questions, the most important being
“What were your expectations going in?”
As much as club fitting has made its way into the mainstream, the biggest misconception is that once you get a set of clubs that have been custom fit, you’ll suddenly start hitting more greens and hitting it 30 yards farther—when in reality that’s just not the case.
It’s not that those things can’t occur, but there is still a direct correlation between swing dynamics and skill level with what is possible in a club fitting because, after all, it’s physics, not magic.
It’s all about creating the potential for better
In the modern “Amazon” world, we all want things NOW! With club fitting, there is still a lot of opportunities to quickly see improvements that come from reduced dispersion and more consistent results. For a driver that means limiting a miss to one direction, while hopefully increasing distance through optimization.
Now speaking of optimization the chart below, which was developed by Ping, it’s a scientific breakdown of launch, spin, and distance optimization based on ball speed. This means that at 150 mph, the farthest you are going to hit the ball under standard conditions is around 270 yards total. To put that into perspective, to reach 150 mph ball speed you need to be just over 100 mph in clubhead speed.
If you are going into a driver fitting, and you are already seeing results within these ranges, don’t expect to magically pick up 25 yards out of thin air. Instead, you should have much more focused goals like the examples below
- Seeing much tighter downrange dispersion. On the course, this will result in hitting more fairways, which should lead to hitting more greens, ultimately resulting in better scoring.
- Reducing a big miss. A big advantage with newer drivers isn’t that they are way longer off the middle of the face—that’s just not true. It’s that away from the “sweet spot,” you will see a tighter variance in the launch and spin because of ever-improving MOI and driver adjustability. If you have one or two big driver misses in a round of golf that leads to a double bogey or worse and you can bring that number down to just one or even zero, you will see shots add up a lot slower on your scorecard.
At the end of the day, golf clubs are inanimate objects, just like a bike or even a car. Just because you have invested in making sure you have the best of the best equipment doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work on your game to see improvement.
New shoes won’t make you faster, but they can prevent injury and allow for more training—the end result you become a faster runner. Much the same way you can buy the most expensive and best-fit road bike in the world, but it’s not going to mean you are ready for the Tour de France.
Properly fit golf clubs give you the best opportunity to make better swings and the potential to be a better player—but it’s still up to you to utilize that potential.
This topic and a deeper discussion can be found in the most recent episode of the GolfWRX “On Spec” podcast with the conversation starting at 34:45
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