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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Lessons from The Players Championship

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If you read this column regularly, you probably would think I don’t care much for the PGA Tour, but that’s not exactly true. I just don’t think the majority of us recreational golfers can learn all that much from watching these young and supple, big and strong athletes show off their strength and skills.

While there is no question that equipment has changed the game and added yards for all of us, take a look at these guys’ physiques. Even the older guys like Lee Westwood and relatively small players like Justin Thomas are spending countless hours in the gym to optimize their strength. The equipment allows them to go at the ball much more aggressively than was possible back in the days of persimmon woods and tiny forged blade irons and balls that took on an amazing amount of side-spin if not hit just right.

With the majority of U.S. golfers being on the far side of 45-50 years old, and most of us not working out every day specifically to optimize our bodies for our golf swing, we don’t have a chance of matching these guys’ distance. Last fall, I posted a column asking if were playing a harder course than the pros, which received some challenging pushback. But the point of the column was about the relative length and difficulty of the courses you play as compared to those the PGA Tour players play every week. Yes, our skills and strength profiles are vastly different from these guys so let me ask a different way.

Think about the last round you played and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Could you reach the green on all the par-fives with your second shot if you hit a pretty good drive . . . maybe even with a middle iron?
  2. Did you have at least one par four where you had a chance of driving the green, maybe even with a fairway wood?
  3. On the other 13 holes, did you have a wedge or short iron second shot at least 9 or 10 times?

If the answer isn’t “YES” to all those questions, you played a longer (for you) golf course than what the best players in the world played (for them) at the TPC this past weekend. And this wasn’t a “pushover” golf course by any means.

I’ve long opined that tee markers on most golf courses are not anywhere near where they should be for the vast majority of players, so the game is playing much, much longer (and therefore, harder) for most of us than the PGA Tour courses play for them. I also take issue with the inadequate guidance as to the tees you should play–this is not about gender or age, but rather your ability. Why should a 69-year-old single-digit handicap who still hits a tee ball 240-260 be given a shorter course than the 45-year-old 18 handicap who drives it 210?

Regardless of your age and handicap, and assuming reasonably solid tee shots, I believe the game is supposed to be played…

  1. At a length where you can reach every par four with your approach shot, and
  2. At a length where at least half of your par-four and par-three approach shots can be played with a short iron or wedge, and
  3. At a length where no more than 3-4 of your par-four and par-three approach shots require more than a 5-iron, and
  4. At a length where you cannot at least have a chance of reaching one or two of the par fives with a long iron or fairway wood shot.
  5. With only a few exceptions these four conditions define every course the PGA Tour players face each week.

If you want to see how well you should be scoring, the next time you tee it up, choose a tee on each hole that will let you play the game at the same relative shotmaking challenge the pros face every week. If there isn’t one, just pick a spot up the fairway that will. My bet is that you will find the game to be a lot more fun and that your scoring will go down measurably.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Frank

    Mar 18, 2021 at 9:32 pm

    The shortest shot if you drove it 305 yards on all the par 4’s and 5’s at Augusta, which is the average distance of PGA Tour winners’ drives on par 5’s that led to birdies/eagles for the past 30 events, is 45 yards on #3. Then the next longest shot is actually #12 at Augusta at over 155 yards if you hit every par 5 green in 2. Only one shot under 155 yards at Augusta. Yeah, I’ll stick to practicing the long game over short game.

  2. Ms. Maddie

    Mar 18, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    As a lady golfer in her 70’s, you’d think I’d always play from the 5000 yd tees. And sometimes you’d be right. But I also enjoy playing from the 6000 yd tees and the 6500’s, too, often all in the same round. Because despite my age and gender, I’m still a fit athlete and a single digit handicapper with an intimate understanding of the architecture and physical layout of the courses I frequently play. I’ve been doing exactly as Mr. Koehler suggest for years, taking each hole individually and playing it from the tees that offer me the most intriguing strategic challenge and the most fun. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. snowman9000

    Mar 18, 2021 at 9:37 am

    My whole life, I have never found par 5’s to be reachable with two good shots.
    And, par 3’s are tending to be too long for the particular tee boxes too. I suspect the par 3’s and 5’s are where the course find extra yardage to get to the final number they want to see. If they made all the par 4’s longer, people would notice. Maybe ask a couple of architects and see what they say.

  4. Danie Mare

    Mar 18, 2021 at 2:43 am

    It is even worse for women. The tee options for my wife is that, apart from 1 or 2 par 3s, she uses fairway wood ON EVERY approach on our home course. Ans she does not have the option of moving forward. She plays of a 15, so she is a reasonable golfer. But I consistently wonder if I will enjoy the game if I had to use 3 wood so much.

  5. Radim

    Mar 18, 2021 at 2:11 am

    The article is missing any explanation how it works today. Here in Europe you get the teebox based on your handicap index. Is it the same in America?

    • iutodd

      Mar 18, 2021 at 11:19 am

      How it works today is that golfers can tee up wherever they want.

    • Ex-American

      Mar 24, 2021 at 4:31 am

      Radim, that’s how it *SHOULD* work.

      Americans all think they’re on tour. They play stroke, not stableford, from as far back as they can, and everyone complains about 5 hour rounds.

      The mentality is questionable at best.

  6. Mike

    Mar 17, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you, This is so true.

  7. DFM

    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    I completely get the intent of the article, and agree that people should play the game from a tee that suits their game, and allows them to feel comfortable. However, the game is the game. Since I am older and slower than I once was, should I play basketball on a 7 ft. goal where I can dunk like the pros? No, of course not. It might make me feel more like one of the pros to do so, but that isn’t the way the game is played. Rather than concentrating on how we do or don’t compare with pro athletes, people should simply play the course in front of them from whatever tee they feel is most appropriate. If it is harder for you than a pro athlete, so be it. Teeing it up from the middle of the fairway so that you can say you shot even par is silly.

  8. iutodd

    Mar 17, 2021 at 11:20 am

    I completely agree with your breakdown on this. Long par fours/par 3s are certainly part of the game – and the challenge of hitting hybrid/4/5/6 iron into the green is a challenge that should be a part of every round. But only a PART. I’ve played with guys that were hitting those clubs into EVERY par four and most par threes and I have no idea why they do that to themselves. Assuming a combined 14 par 3/par 4…I think 3-4 of those requiring a 5 iron or higher to get to the green is about right. That’s 21-28% of your iron shots on those holes. Which seems like plenty.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Ball striking – Matt Jones tames the Bear Trap

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The Champion Course at PGA National is notorious for its three-hole stretch from holes 15 to 17 known as “The Bear Trap.” It is typically the player who plays these holes the best who’s able to hoist the trophy at the end of the week. Matt Jones was able to do just that in blustery tough conditions, shooting two-under on the Bear Trap for the week. Sticking to a low, flighted ball flight, Jones separated himself from the field and was able to breathe a little easier late on a Sunday.

So, how did the journeyman find his way to his second PGA Tour victory? Ball striking.

It all starts with avoiding mistakes. In V1 Game, mistakes are defined as three putts, penalties, recovery shots and two chips (taking more than one shot to get on the green from inside 75 yards). These four items are scorecard wreckers for any handicap level and must be avoided to play your best. Jones did a fantastic job of doing just that by avoiding penalties entirely for the week. With water at every corner and blustery winds, he was one of the few that came out dry. However, he did have three 3-putts for the week and Strokes Gained Putting is the only category of the four (Driving, Approach, Short, Putting) in which he did not finish the week in the top 10. Using V1 Game to dive into his putting performance, we see that all of those three putts came from >51ft. Jones demonstrated something telling: PGA Tour pros also struggle from long distance. To his credit, he was still able to gain strokes putting over the week, finishing in the top 25 in Strokes Gained Putting.

Jones put together a solid week in all statistical categories, but the common theme among most PGA Tour winners is ball striking. Matt Jones finished first in Tee2Green, 10th in Driving, seventh in Approach, second in Short Game, and 25th in Putting. Add that combination together and Jones finished in first in Strokes Gained Total and won this week’s event the old-fashioned way.
In Ways to Win, we have now tracked tournament winners for over 20 golf tournaments on the PGA Tour. We can take a look at this data to see commonalities amongst these winners to see which areas are the most important to winning at the highest level. For starters, PGA Tour winners tend to gain the most strokes in approach and putting. That is not entirely surprising as the winner tends to be the player that putted best out of the best ball strikers.

We can take an even deeper look using “Scoring Impact” from V1 Game to see how correlated each area of the game is to PGA Tour winners scores. Scoring impact measures the correlation of a specific statistic (ex. Fairways) to scoring. The higher the ‘impact’ number, the more correlated that statistic is to the player’s score. A perfect correlation would be a value of 1 (or -1) representing that an improvement in that category would directly impact scoring. A value closer to 0 indicates a lesser relationship and that that particular factor does not have as big of an impact on the final score. The below scoring impact graphs show the impact of Strokes Gained factors and more traditional stats such as Fairways and Greens.

In terms of impact on score, the statistics shown are ranked as follows:

  1. Tee2Green (0.55): Tee2Green is all golf shots not hit from the putting surface or Driving+Approach+Short Game.
  2. Approach (0.44): All golf shots outside of 75 yards and tee shots on Par 4s/5s.
  3. Greens in Regulation (0.37): Number of greens hit in Par minus 2 strokes.
  4. Putting (0.35): All shots from the green
  5. Fairways (0.24): Number of Fairways hit from the tee box on the first shot.
  6. Driving (0.11): Strokes gained for tee shots on par 4s and par 5s
  7. Short Game (0.01): Strokes gained performance on shots <75 yards.

The two biggest takeaways from that list are:

  • Tee2Green performance dominates scoring potential. More specifically, Approach performance.
  • Traditional stats are not enough to guide improvements for a golfer.

Now this data is for PGA Tour players. The statistics will vary by individual. For example, if you tend to make many penalties off of the tee box, then likely driving will have a higher impact on overall score. Similarly, if you tend to three putt, then putting will likely increase in importance. It is important to know what areas of your game to work on.

One datapoint that may be surprising from the PGA Tour winners is just how low short game correlation is to overall scoring. How can short game be so insignificant?

In order for short game to have a large impact on scoring, the player needs to have a significant amount of short game shots. The reality is that PGA Tour pros (especially those that win) do not often miss greens, averaging somewhere between 13-15 greens per round. Also, PGA Tour pros tend to play very long courses, where it is difficult to drive to within 75 yards of the green. Using the Shot Histogram from V1 Game, we can see just how often these 20 PGA Tour winners have specific types of shots and from this we can see that short game is the least populated bucket with the least amount of opportunities to gain or lose strokes.

This distribution of shots will be different for an amateur golfer and would likely have many more short game opportunities. Knowing what to practice and being able to measure progress is the first step to finding your inner Matt Jones. The next step is finding the nerve to patiently play to your strengths when faced with the type of adversity that the Bear Trap can bring. If you want to play like the pros or just break 90 for the first time, advanced analysis from V1 Game can get you there. As the last few weeks on the PGA Tour have shown there is more than one way to get the job done, but it all starts with ball striking.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Putting Wisdom

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Whether in a tournament or a friendly round of golf looking at the hole is simply not enough you must see the golf ball roll in on the side of the hole or must role in on. At the speed you want to see it roll in on, to give you permission to enter the hole. Permission to enter. Not permission to approach the hole.

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Opinion & Analysis

The seasonal debate: Daily fee or join a club?

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Spring always brings a newfound hope for golfers, from new clubs to warmer weather, it’s prep time for the season.

This also means it’s decision time – join a club or pay as you play at daily-fee courses.

Daily-fee advantages

  • With daily-fee you can pick up and play where ever and whenever without feeling like you’re not getting your value by not “playing at the club”.
  • In many cases, it’s less cost intrusive to play with friends that aren’t members of the same club or course meaning you still get to play with your regular group.
  • Even though private courses are well known for being in great shape, with daily-fee you can always pick the courses that are in the best shape.
  • Thanks to more online booking, finding deals at great golf courses is easier than ever – although getting coveted early times might be a bit more difficult.

Private club advantages

  • With private clubs, you generally always have great access to tee times with many clubs completely working on a first come first serve in-person basis.
  • Based on the generally larger grounds budget, maintenance is a top priority at most clubs meaning you don’t have to call ahead to find out what kind of condition the course is in.
  • With a club environment, there are always various competitions taking place. From weekly events and game times to culminating championships, you can feed your competitive side.

With the options available where will you be choosing this year?

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