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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions – GolfWRX

  2. Desi Arnez

    Jun 20, 2019 at 4:27 am

    Stop publishing this RIGHT now. I’m going to have to work MUCH MUCH harder to beat people.

  3. F

    Jun 20, 2019 at 1:19 am

    I would much rather do it the Ben Hogan way.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What we can learn from tour stats

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Today’s post was inspired by a conversation one of the Edison Golf customer service team had with a follower/challenger on Facebook. The skeptical golfer claimed that he could “hit it to 12 feet from 85 yards anytime he wanted.” His claim drove our rep to the PGA Tour website just to compare this golfer’s claim to PGA Tour reality.

His relating of this conversation and my subsequent research into tour stats inspired me to share how actual PGA Tour players’ performance might be used to help you understand your own game and how to get better, no matter whether you are a low single-digit player or still working to break 80, 90, or even 100.

The “entry point” for the research was to see how this golfer’s claims of “hitting it to 12 feet” from 85 yards would stack up to tour-level performance. Turns out this guy would be the best on tour by far if he can really do that.

INSIGHT #1: Through the entire 2021 season, only ONE tour professional averaged less than 12’ from 75-100 yards, and the tour average is almost 18 feet from that range. Now we all know that they hit it to three feet or less reasonably often, so that must mean that it is just as “normal” for tour players to hit a 75- to 100-yard wedge shot to 20-25 feet or further. In fact, just this past weekend, I saw a number of wedge shots of that distance end up 40-50 feet from the hole. It happens, even to these guys.

This revelation inspired me to dive a bit deeper into PGA Tour stats to understand the difference between hitting approach shots from the fairway and from the rough. I’ve done this deep dive periodically through my twenty years of writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” and the data revealed is amazing — and very enlightening.

The PGA Tour “strokes gained” analysis over the years has implied that hitting it far is much more important than hitting it straight. I won’t argue that this approach to statistics must show that, or it wouldn’t be published.

But I’ve long been an advocate for recreational golfers to find a way to get their drives in the fairway, even if it means sacrificing a few yards. There are few courses that play as easy from the rough as the fairway, and PGA Tour statistics seem to support that hypothesis, even for these guys, who have extraordinary skills and strength to gouge shots from the rough. The rest of us just do not have either.
But what is the difference — for them — between hitting approach shots from the rough and the fairway? Here is a look at the entire 2021 season stats for proximity to the hole from both, from various distances:

These figures illustrate that, on average across all approach shot distances from 5-6 iron (200-225) or less, hitting their approach from the rough will increase the length of the resulting putt or chip by about 60 percent or more. The only takeaway you can make from this is that it is extremely important to these guys to be able to hit approaches from the fairway rather than the rough, regardless of what the “strokes gained” numbers seem to imply.

Even more glaring is that the average approach from 150-175 yards in 2021 ended up closer to the hole than one from the rough from only 75-100 yards from the rough! This means that tour professionals are more accurate from the fairway with a 7- or 8-iron than they are from the rough with a sand wedge.
If the rough is that penalizing for them, maybe you should re-think what it does to your scoring.

I’m just sayin’…

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Callaway’s new Rogue ST driver and fairway review

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The launch season continues! This week we talk about the new Callaway Rogue ST Triple Diamond LS driver. For a low spin, better players club it for sure packs a good amount of forgiveness. The new Rogue ST fairway woods are long, hold a lot of ball speed on mishits, and have a nice traditional sound and feel.

 

 

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Awesome new drill for getting through the ball (stop shanking!)

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In this week’s podcast, we describe and discuss how to stop the shanks, The Sentry Tournament of Champions. We also discuss how the LPGA now has more money and is on the official sports betting list.

 

 

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