What's In The Numbers?
Golf has become as statistics-crazy as baseball, it seems. OK, well... not even close. But we are learning a lot more about PGA Tour professionals' games since ShotLink came out and can measure just about anything that they do on the course. A lot of the focus initially was on "Strokes Gained – Putting," where the early indications were that those who were putting the best were the ones at the top of the leaderboard each week. And that is still somewhat the case.
But the experts that are studying these statistics for "the secret" are beginning to determine that the overall "ballstriking" efficiency is showing up as possibly a more accurate indicator of how well a golfer will do each week. In this context, what I mean by "ballstriking" is the golfer's ability to hit fairways and greens... mostly greens.
So, as I think about this stuff more than the average guy, I was struck by an article yesterday tracking Graeme McDowell's proficiency in a couple of areas. The article was focused on the relationship between McDowell's recent performance to his improvement in the "up & down" percentage. It seems that he has elevated his green-side performance. In 2013, McDowell was ranked #1 on the tour in saves at 72.6%.
That is impressive, but think about this for a minute.
He was #7 in GIR (greens in regulation) at last year's RBC Heritage at Harbor Town with 66.67%, exactly 2 out of 3. So he missed 27 of the 72 greens — this on a course that is notably short so the players hit lots of approaches with very short-irons and wedges. Of those 27 greens he missed, he would make bogey on 7-8 of them with his green-side save percentage. And of course, those accounted for 27 missed birdie opportunities, right?
So, what if Graeme McDowell would work harder and rebuild his "tool box" in order to improve his short iron and full-swing wedge play to improve his GIR to 15 greens a round? That would have given him 12 less "save opportunities," resulting in three less bogeys. It would also have given him 12 more birdie opportunities, of which he could be expected to make two to three of them.
So, my point here is that he could improve his scoring in this tournament by five to six shots, if he was a better short range GIR performer... and he should be.
Digging deeper, let's take a look into McDowell's bag to see how his tool kit was configured that week. He had his set-match PW, plus a 52° and 58° degree wedges. So, if we assume he hits 9-iron 150+ yards like most of the players, he only had three clubs for all his approaches inside 150 yards, so he deals with at least 20-25 yard gaps between them. Therefore, he is constantly hitting those awkward "in-betweeners."
His tour stats from all of last year indicate he missed one out of three greens from inside 150 yards, which cost him 54 birdie opportunities and put 15 bogeys on the card.
Does that make any sense at all for a tour professional?
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You could be right but it could also be down to a few things:
1: He missed too many fairways which caused him to miss greens.
2: He was going for pins tucked away in tight spots on the greens when he probably should have been more conservative.
3: He just had a bad day with his short irons which happens to even the pros.
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