Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thinking About Scoring

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the term ‘scoring’ and what it is and how to go about it.

I think the general feeling I have on scoring is that it’s not really one particular part of the game, it’s more or less shooting a better score than your actual ballstriking (and even putting and short game) deserve.

It seems to me that ‘scoring’ CAN be good putting or a good short game and usually consists of that, but is not mandatory. And a lot of it seems to be ‘hitting the right shot at the right time.’

For instance, my lowest rounds ever have been two rounds of 64. On the first 64 I shot, I can honestly say that I didn’t strike the ball great and didn’t hit it great. I probably hit about 12-13 greens that day. But even more amazing about that 64 was it came with a FOUR PUTT.

For instance, on the first hole I hit a so-so driver in the left hole, then hit a 7-iron to about 12 feet and made the putt. But on the 8th hole I pull hooked a 3-iron into the opposite fairway, then hit a flop shot that was basically a prayer that went THRU a big pine tree, missed the entire tree and lipped out for birdie (and kicked in for par). And in between there I had some times where I hit a good driver, a nice approach and 2-putted from 10-15 feet. So, it wasn’t like I struck the ball exceptionally well or I putted great, I just scored well.

I’ve been starting to think a bit more about scoring lately, particularly from taking the Lag Erickson Advanced Ballstriking modules. One of the protocols is to flatten out your downswing plane quite a bit and to flatten your lie angles on some old, forged irons. I currently have 2 sets of old Hogan irons (’63 IPT’s and ’83 Apex PC’s) that are bent 5* flat from standard. Lag Erickson brought up the point that because you really won’t miss shots left and long of the green with this flatter downswing plane and flatter iron lie angles. And because of that, you won’t put yourself in a tough position to get up and down because missing a green left and long usually puts the golfer in jail.

If you think about it for a second, it does make a lot of sense since most greens are sloped uphill for the golfer. So if they miss long (and left), they’ll have a downhill chip instead of an uphill putt if they missed right (and short or pin-high). And I think it’s little things like this that usually typify ‘scoring’ and what makes a good ‘scorer’ versus a poor ‘scorer.’

Of course, there’s some other things that I think make a good ‘scorer’ and here are some of my thoughts on that.


I think this is extremely important and a big advantage that the ABS modules provide for their students. With that flat downswing plane and flat lie angles, you’re simply not going to come over the top or hook shots well left. Your misses will be pushes out to the right.

Whether or not you miss right or left, I think it’s an ENORMOUS advantage to miss shots one way. Even Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim talked about this in their clinic.

The one way miss is a CONFIDENCE builder. If you know where your misses are going (and they are going in one direction), you can play for that and fire at flags and break down your swing thoughts in a simpler fashion.

That’s a big reason why I’m not interested in hitting a ‘soft draw’ or a ‘power fade’ as my stock shot. My experience hitting both of those is that when you ‘double cross’ the shot (hitting a fade when you play for a draw or vice versa), the misses are too big. However, if your stock shot is a dead straight shot, the double cross is really taken out of the equation. You may hit a fade or a draw when playing for a straight shot and still wind up in decent shape.


The title is quite simple. If you drive the ball well and you putt well, you normally score well. IMO, this is because the iron shots are much easier with the good drives putting you in good position and if you miss an iron shot, your putting saves you. Also, you can chew up those par-5’s as most of them are designed where a good driver and a decent second shot gets you near the green on the approach.


The PGA Tour golfers usually avoid O.B and hazards and just as importantly, spots where you cannot get up and down from.

If there were signs on the golf course that told golfers the percentage of getting up and down, we would certainly treat the 5% or 10% ‘signs’ almost like a hazard. Not only is your chance of getting up and down is anemic, but you’re likely to take 4 or 5 shots instead of 3.

The PGA Tour golfers pretty much map out where they want to avoid missing shots, even in non-hazard or non-O.B. areas. They find the places where if they miss they can get the best chance of getting up and down. The problem with amateurs is that they often don’t take any of this into consideration.


One of the things that caught my eye and got me thinking was the ‘Putts Gained’ statistical article that I wrote a post about earlier this month.

The key point I thought was made here:
The best putter in 2009 by this measure was Luke Donald, who gained an average of 0.905 strokes on the field by virtue of his putting skill alone. Mr. Stricker, who finished No. 1 in putting average last year largely because of his proficiency with approach shots, ranked a surprising 69th in putts gained per round. (Deeper analysis by MIT showed that Mr. Stricker's ranking was also negatively affected because he happened to play on the "easiest" greens of all 166 players sampled.)
While Stricker was the #1 putter on Tour last year in the Putts per GIR stat, he was ranked 69th in the Putts Gained statistic. That doesn’t mean Stricker is a bad putter, in reality he’s still a very above average putter.

However, his ballstriking was phenomenal and he was probably very good at getting his approach shots into makeable positions.

Somebody like Luke Donald who was #1 in putts gained, didn’t fare as well in putts per GIR because Stricker was leaving himself in a much better position to make putts.

But, I also do not believe it’s all about hitting shots closer, but also leaving yourself with makeable putts.

David Orr did a study of nearly 700 golfers, from the 50 PGA Tour pros to the extremely high handicapper, and found that the putt made the most was at the 5 o’clock position of the fall line (an uphill putt that breaks slightly right to left).

I sort of put this information on hold for awhile. But recently the course I play has aerated the greens and the one thing I noticed is that once you get outside of 10 feet, you simply won’t make a downhill put on aerated greens unless you are plain lucky.

The downhill putts are hit softer and thus the ball rolls at a slower velocity. Because of this, the ball tends to ‘grab’ the green more and the aeration holes knock the ball off line. However, with uphill putts the ball has to be hit harder and has more velocity and is not effected by the aeration hole as much.

Even when you are not playing on aerated greens, the same can apply with soft spike indentations, ball marks, etc.

So, golfers can really start making more putts if they can find a way to leave themselves with more makeable putts. If you have a 30 foot putt that bends sidehill, you may want to make sure that you don’t miss it on the high side. Or if you are using the Rule of 12 and you are in between clubs, you may want to use the club that will leave you with an uphill putt.

The same applies with approach shots. Knocking a shot in from 150 yards is almost impossible. Hitting one so close that you have a kick in putt is pretty slim. However, if you can start thinking about leaving yourself with an uphill putt, your chance of making a 20 foot uphill putt should be greater than making a 20 foot downhill putt.

A lot of this reminds me a bit of football strategy. Many times coaches see their defense is struggling and giving up points and blame it on a lack of talent on defense. However, the problem may be more along the lines of the offense throwing the ball too much and not chewing up the clock and the time of possession and putting the defense in a better position to succeed.

I think it’s important to recognize that somebody like Steve Stricker isn’t the best ‘pure’ putter on Tour last year, but he may have been the best ‘scorer’ on Tour last year and did it a lot with his ballstriking.


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