Monday, April 4, 2016

How good is Jordan Spieth's Distance Control?

Read my article in this month's Masters issue of Golf Digest

Monday, March 14, 2016

Were the Copperhead greens really that slow?

It is always more fun to watch an event when I have played the course AND when bogeys are more common than birdies as was the case in this week's Valspar Championship.  I find myself anguishing along with the contenders over the difficult drives, approaches, short game shots - how about those buried lies - and putts.  Speaking of putts, I cannot remember seeing greens as slow in a PGA Tour event.  10.5 was mentioned but they looked more like 9 and Justin Leonard said 9 on the telecast after his round.  So what effect did the slow greens have on the field?  What would you expect?

Fewer 3-Putts?
Since one does not have to worry about their lags getting away from them this would make sense.  YES!  3-Putt Avoidance was 19% better for the Valspar field than the 2016 Tour average (2.2% vs. 2.79%).  This says that the Valspar field 3-Putted on 2.2% of their greens of 1.6 times in 72 holes vs. the Tour avg. 2.0 3-Putts in 72 holes.

More 1-Putts? 
Players can be more bold?  Also YES but not by as much as one might think.  The Valspar field
1-Putted 40.1% of their greens vs. the 2016 Tour average 38.5%.

There was ONE major difference in Distance control:  
Lag Putts (20+ ft.) holed or hit past the hole.   The 2015 Tour average for this distance control stat was 67% of lag putts had a chance to go in and, on average, 7% found the hole.  The Valspar field only got 47% of their 20+ ft. lag putts to the hole and only 5% went in.  That is a major difference.

With the majority of lag putts left short, the % 3-Putts from 20+ ft. was exactly the same as the 2015 Tour average - 8%. 

Finally, the dramatically slower greens did not produce a single 4 or 5-Putt.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How difficult were the poa greens at Riviera

I recently did a detailed Putting - Distance Control study comparing Jordan Spieth's 2015 year to the most recent five, year-end, Strokes Gained leaders and the 2015 Tour average (please look for my article in the next issue of Golf Digest).  Something jumped out in that there were 88 4-Putts and five 5-Putts on Tour in 2015.  We obviously don't see these on TV.  I typically have one 4-Putt every season so like to get it out of the way early in the year.  Have never recorded 5 putts yet - WHEW!  In 27 years of Shot By Shot data, we see very few 4-Putts.  Why?  The vast majority of our rounds are match play format and players tend to very appropriately pick up that 3rd putt.

Not only did the fairly large number of 4+ putts stand out but two courses owned more of them than any of the others:
  • CC of Jackson had the most with EIGHT 4-Putts in 2015.  
  • Riviera was 2nd with SEVEN 4-Putts and, even more surprising, was that FIVE of the seven fell on the 1st hole - a very reachable Par 5.  
There was quite a bit of discussion during the Norther Trust telecast about the difficulty of the poa greens so I decided to see HOW difficult and WHY; as well as, see if the 4-Putts were repeated. 
The greater difficulty is not a surprise and was specifically pointed out by Nick Faldo - specifically the ability, or lack thereof, to make the 4-5 ft. putts.  Good get Sir Nick!  To support your point, the biggest difference between the 2015 Tour average and Riviera performance was the 4-5 ft. range (see graphic above).  This key distance led to the highest rate of 3-Putts that I have seen in a PGA Tour event.  Riviera = .72/round vs. 2015 Tour avg. = .51/round

Was it the Lag difficulty?
No!  The average start distances and leaves/results were close enough to be a wash but the average leave distances for 3-Putts was telling.  In 2015 the Tour's average leave  on 3+ Putts was 6.1 ft. (the distance for their 2nd putt).  At Riviera the average 3+ Putt leave distance was 5.7 ft.  In short, the Riviera field 3-Putted with far greater frequency by missing shorter 2nd putts - on average 5 inches closer to the hole. 
What about the 4-Putts? 
There were TEN in 2016 - up from the SEVEN in 2015.  They were obviously caused by unusually difficult pin placements:
  • Round 1, THREE 4-Putts, on three different holes.
  • Round 2, FOUR 4-Putts, 9th hole.
  • Round 4, THREE 4-Putts, 6th hole.
I wonder if the Tour officials review their numbers to identify, and avoid, these overly difficult placements? 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Putting: Two important but different skills

Putting is 40% of the game at virtually every handicap level.  The higher the scoring level, the more putts are needed, but the ratio of # Putts/Score holds steady.  That is, up until the 20+ handicaps when the pickup holes, with no putts recorded, slightly lower the percentage.

So what are the two skills?
1.  Short putts:  Line and accuracy are crucial inside 10 feet.  Practicing a solid setup and alignment routine will help insure consistent accuracy.
2.  Distance control:  In longer, lag putts, the most important skill to develop is feel because distance is more important than line.

How much to practice each skill
A study of putting distances faced by the average golfer (15-19 handicap) reveals that practice time should be split 80% short putts / 20% distance control.  That's because 83% of total putts during an average round occur inside 10 feet (this is all putts:  1st, 2nd and 3rd …).  When looking at just first-putt opportunities outside 10 feet, 88% fall between 11 and 40 feet; only 12% at 41+ feet.  
To practice your distance control, I recommend spending time gaining confidence in your 30 foot lag.  You can then make all other lag putts a function of that stroke.  It is very important when playing away from home to set up 30 foot tees and putt back and forth (I use two balls) until that distance becomes almost automatic.  When you hit the first green, you will be ready to stroke the first putt with confidence.

Work with your instructor on the specific practice drills for each skill, but your goals should be:
Short putts:  Increase your 50% Make distance – the distance from which you hole 50% of your putts.  See where you are on the graph below.

Distance control:  Work to expand your 2.00 Putt distance – the distance from which you two-Putt the vast majority, but one and three-putt with the same frequency on the rest.  Again, see where you fit on the graph below and work to extend your 2.00 distance.

You will need a way of accurately recording and analyzing your putting distances.  I recommend  Self-serving?  Perhaps, but it's the only place I know where you can easily and accurately get the information you need to determine your exact strengths and weaknesses, and why. 

Determining your putting distances? I recommend that you build this into your pre-shot putting routine.  When you reach the green, you need to mark your ball and walk to the flag.  Simply count your steps.  For the longer putts, get to the midpoint - check the break - and count your steps back to your ball.  Then double the number.  Finally, know the distance of your average stride – heel to heel.  I am 6’ 1” and my average, walking stride is 28 inches.  I have to stride out a bit to average 3 feet, something that I actually practiced in my living room until it became automatic.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Strokes Gained Putting - Why is Jordan Spieth NOT #1?

How many times have we heard the TV announcer proclaim that Jordan is the best putter in the game?  Jordan is a GREAT putter, ranked #8 for the year in Strokes Gained and is clearly a PHENOMENAL clutch putter.  For the record, I believe Jordan is the best putter in the game and that he would be appropriately ranked #1 if the Majors were included in the ShotLink stats.  

[It is often overlooked that ShotLink stats are not captured for non-PGA Tour events, notably the Masters, US Open and British Open.  If Jordan's putting performance in these Majors were included, it would add 12 rounds (18%) of superior putting to the his 67 ShotLink rounds for 2015.  In case anyone forgot, Jordan's finishes in the three missing majors were:  Masters - #1, US Open - #1, British Open - #2.]

All that said, using the stats at my disposal:  Why is he not #1?  The simple answer turns out to be consistency.  When compared to the #1's that I have studied over the last four years, Jordan's WORST putting events (those with negative Strokes Gained totals) are slightly more frequent than these other players' (@ 5 of 20 (25%), but more importantly, his are more negative.  Jordan's five negative Strokes Gained events averaged -.99/round while the four most recent Strokes Gained #1's averaged only -.44/round on their negative Strokes Gained events.

The follow-up question is:  What changes about Jordan's putting to produce these negative SG events?   To answer this, I ran my BEST vs. WORST analysis on Jordan's 2015 ShotLink rounds.  [The BEST being the 15 events where Jordan recorded positive SG totals, and the WORST - the five events with negative SG totals.] 

The answer?  It is NOT an uncharacteristic flood of 3-Putts.  In fact, Jordan's 3-Putt numbers are good across the board and slightly better in his WORST putting events.  Jordan ranked 37th in 3-Putt Avoidance - only 3-Putting 2.4% of holes played.  The Tour average is 3.15%, and Aaron Baddeley (#1 Strokes Gained 2015) ranked 22nd @ 2.25.  Further, one of Jordan's strengths is his impressive distance control - but that is a topic for another day.    

The major difference was logically a drop off in 1-Putts almost across the board but specifically in the always critical 6 - 10 foot range.  As you can see from the chart above, this important range involves more 1st Putt opportunities than any other range - just under one in every four.  In his WORST putting events, Jordan fell significantly below his BEST performance AND the PGA Tour average in this range.  Not just coincidently, Jordan missed only four cuts this year.  Three of the four were also included in the WORST putting events.

Congratulations on a spectacular year, Jordan!  Tighten up that 6 - 10 foot range a bit and I look forward to studying you as the #1 ranked putter next year.