Friday, April 8, 2011
The Statistical Importance of Driver Accuracy
On the forum we’ve been discussing the importance of ‘driver accuracy.’ There’s some that believe that there’s not much, if any importance when it comes to driver accuracy and that distance is more important.
First though, I think we need to get my definition of driver accuracy to understand where I’m coming from and to get everybody on the same wavelength.
From a statistical standpoint, I look at driver accuracy as % of fairways hit and the PGATour.com new statistic ‘proximity to the edge of the fairway.’
Obviously, there are some flaws to these statistics. For instance, I could pop up a driver and find the fairway, but only hit it 120 yards. That would still count as a fairway hit. Also, I can hit a fairway, but miss the side of the fairway I wanted to hit and the golfer who is in the rough may have just missed that fairway and have a better shot at the green. And if I miss the fairway by a foot to the left, perhaps I cannot afford to miss 1 foot to the left. But all in all, it’s a good ballpark particularly for the PGA Tour golfer.
ARE HITTING FAIRWAYS IMPORTANT?
Well, yes and no.
Statistically, a PGA Tour player on average will hit the ball about 30% less accurate from rough than they would from the fairway. So let’s say that a Tour player typically hits a shot from 150 yards in the fairway to 30 feet, from the rough they are likely to hit it on average about 39 feet.
However, if a Tour player has shorter distance into the green, the more likely they will hit the ball closer to the cup. So if they are in the rough from 140 yards out, they should hit it closer than they are from the rough from 180 yards out. The same goes if they are in the fairway. This is fairly obvious.
But, from what I’ve discovered by looking at the statistics, if the golfer wants to be as accurate on the approach shot from the rough as they are from the fairway, they need to be approximately 50 yards closer to the green. Let’s say Robert Garrigus is playing a round by himself and playing with 2 golf balls. If he hits the 1st tee shot to 180 yards and in the fairway, he would…on average, need to be about 130 yards away if he were to…on average…hit the ball the same proximity from the *rough*.
So, there is some obvious importance of the fairway there.
HOW GUYS LIKE PHIL PLAY THE ODDS CORRECTLY
Mickelson is one of the longest hitters on Tour. With that, he has a big advantage of being able to avoid the Danger Zone (175-225 yard approaches) on long par-4’s compared to most of the rest of the field. But the big advantage is when the average Tour player has a shot in the Danger Zone on an approach and Phil winds up with an approach shot from 125-175 yards away AND in the fairway.
Because historically Phil hits it about as close from the rough from 125-175 yards as the average Tour player does from the fairway from 175-225 yards.
So if the Tour average is a 190 yard approach shot and Phil comes in at 140 yards, if Phil is in the rough…in the end, he’s likely to hit it the same distance from the cup than the average Tour player would from 190 yards in the fairway. It’s tough getting some shots in the rough on the green and holding them can be tough as well.
Since ’06, Phil has hit roughly 55% of his fairways. If Phil steps up to a long par-4 where the average golfer in the field has 190 yards in on the approach and he can blast it to about 140 yards, the driver is often the right play. Why? Because the odds are in his favor (55%) that he’ll find the fairway. From there, I’m doing some guessing, but I would say that he’s probably got an 80% chance of having a shot that either lands in the fairway or in the rough where his swing and shot to the green are not impeded.
Thus, it’s like say ‘if Phil hits driver on this hole, he’s got about an 80% chance of leaving him with a birdie shot that is no worse than the average player in the field and a 55% chance of leaving himself with a birdie shot that is much better than the average player in the field.’ Who wouldn’t take that?
Where guys like Phil (and Tiger) get into trouble is when they are not only missing fairways, but missing badly with the driver. When they are catching the deep rough instead of the first cup or intermediate. When they are in the trees and have to punch out instead of being able to take a free swing.
WHY PHIL IS SO SUCCESSFUL
Statistically, Phil is a poor putter, very average with his short irons and hits less fairways than the average PGA Tour golfer. From what ‘common golf theory’ tells us, you must be a great putter with a great wedge game and find fairways to be a great golfer on the PGA Tour. So, what gives?
The strongest point of Phil’s game has consistently been his play from the Danger Zone and his short game around the greens from 20 yards in. He’s also very long off the tee.
As I discussed earlier, his length means he’s going to have less shots in the Danger Zone. But PGA Tour golfers cannot avoid the Danger Zone all together because of the par-3’s. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Phil is consistently in the top 20, year in and year out, from the Danger Zone. And while Phil may be inaccurate off the tee, he could always use a 3-wood on a long par-4, find the fairway and put himself in the Danger Zone…where’s he’s one of the best on Tour.
And if he misses a green, he’s one of the best on Tour at getting that chip or pitch or bunker blast close to the cup.
In essence, Mickelson’s game is designed for top 10 in the world golf. All he has to do is hit the ball like he normally does and if he putts about the average for the field, he’s going to be in contention more often than not. If he strikes the ball like he usually does and putts well (say top ¼ on Tour), he’s going to dominate and be unstoppable.
However, that’s given he strike the ball ‘like he normally does.’ When he has problems with his swing and ballstriking, it’s really because his driver is so inaccurate that he can’t find the fairway or give himself a reasonable shot from the rough. That’s what happened at Torrey Pines in ’09. If all he can do is hit a 3-wood off the tee, now he loses a big chunk of his advantage against the rest of the field.
And that’s why driver accuracy is important.