Friday, March 29, 2013

When Stats Go Bad

A reader and twitter follower showed me this piece in an interview with Zach Johnson in GOLF Magazine.
 
 
As I mentioned that in 2012 when I started working with Tour players and their caddies, each player conveyed the point that they 'want to be the best wedge player on Tour.' This year I added 3 more clients and 2 out of the 3 mentioned the same thing (or to that effect).

As I discussed in 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis one of the major detriments to golfers is televised golf. There's a very inaccurate conception that wedge game matters so much often because those are the shots that are frequently shown by television producers.

Why?

Because those are the shots that are most likely going to be hit closest to the cup. Furthermore, they will likely dance or backspin towards the hole which is appealing to the viewers.

The problem is that it doesn't accurately depict the numbers that affect the golfer's score and success in a tournament. You won't see a golfer hitting a 210 yard approach shot from the rough to 18 feet even though that will likely have a bigger impact (in particular potential impact) on the golfer's score rather than a golfer hitting a 100 yard shot to 6-feet.

I'm not sure where Zach and his statistician got the numbers from and I question whether or not Zach took some of his words out of context. But, I think there are some fallacies to what was said. Although part of it makes some sense if you understand what I call the 'game profile' of a golfer.


***


One of the things I always point out with statistics is that the average Toru player hits shots roughly 30-35% closer to the hole from the fairway than from the rough.

But, the counter to that is that when all is said and done, the forecasted score starts to change noticeably once there is a 25-yard difference on the approach shot. And the kicker is that the forecasted score changes noticeably for amateurs with *less* difference in yardage. Essentially, the higher the handicap the less yardage differential it takes for forecasted score to change.

For example, let's say Brandt Snedeker is playing 2-balls by himself. He hits one drive where he has 150 yards into the hole. Then he hits another drive where he has 175 yards into the hole. When all of the scenarios are played out, even with a reasonable increase in fairway percentage on the *shorter drive*, the forecasted score will generally be better for the 150 yards.

In general, here's how it looks:

175 yards in fairway vs. 150 yards in 1st cut of rough: Moderate advantage 150 yards.

175 yards in fairway vs. 150 yards in fairway: Huge advantage 150 yards.

175 yards in fairway vs. 150 yards in 2nd cut of rough: Push

175 yardsi n fairway vs. 150 yards in deep rough/fairway bunker: Advantage 175 yards.

And that does not account for the 175 yard shot that ends up in the first cut of rough, 2nd cut of rough or the fairway bunker.

That's part of the reason why golfers really cannot just go out and hit 3-wood off every tee and leave the driver in the bag. Especially since most golfers hit their driver much further than 25 yards longer than their 3-wood off the tee.

And here's another kicker:

Most golfers, including most PGA Tour pros...are not very good at hitting 3-wood off the tee (I will go into this in 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis).

Essentially when you lose distance off the tee either be it by not striking a ball well, a change in stroke mechanics or leaving in the driver in the bag, you're 'delaying' the difficult shot for the next shot. Sometimes that is okay if the penalty for a bad shot shot is worse off the tee than on the 2nd shot. But as we saw at #18 at Bay Hill this past week, it's very easy for the next shot to be as difficult if not more difficult. So somebody laying up on #18 at Bay Hill to find the fairway now has to worry about hitting a 200 yard shot over water into a small green. Whereas had they hit driver, they could have gotten it to under 170 yards and the average score on approach shots under 170 yards, be it frmo the fairway or the rough, dropped dramatically once the approach shot got inside 170 yards (again, this will be in 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis)

The real crux of the situation comes down to the yardage to the hole and what the lie is like. If a player hits it 310 yards and is in the fairway versus hitting it 320 yards in the rough, the 310 yard drive will have a lower forecasted score.

But from the tone of it, it seems like Zach thinks that a 260-280 yard drive down the middle will be better off than hitting it 320 yards and the actual numbers point to something differently.

In fact, here's a look at my 2012 Driving Effectiveness rankings and their distance rankings in parentheses.

1. Bubba Watson (1st)
2. Rory McIlroy (5th)
3. Hunter Mahan (61st)
4. Charlie Beljan (2nd)
5. Boo Weekley (37th)
6. Jason Dufner (64th)
7. Graeme McDowell (136th)
8. Graham DeLaet (13th)
9. John Rollins (48th)
10. Keegan Bradley (16th)

And here's a look at the top-10 in Adjusted Scoring Average and their driving distance in parantheses:

1. Rory McIlroy (5th)
2. Tiger Woods (32nd)
3. Jim Furyk (171st)
4. Jason Dufner (64th)
5. Matt Kuchar (128th)
6. Adam Scott (11th)
7. Justin Rose (80th)
8. Dustin Johnson (4th)
9. Bubba Watson (1st)
10. Luke Donald (170th)


What we see is that Effectiveness off the tee clearly leans towards longer players. And so does Adjusted Scoring Average. The only short hitters in the top-10 of Adjusted Scoring Average (Furyk, Kuchar and Donald) are all exceptional putters and good Danger Zone players.




However, for Zach's 'game profile' things change a bit.

For starters, does anybody expect a 37-year old who has been a career low clubhead speed player to make a dramatic improvement to his clubhead speed?

I actually think it is possible, just not very likely.

Because of Zach's low clubhead speed and lack of distance, he has two things working against him:

1) Longer approach shots

2) Less like to get 2nd shots on par-5's closer

As I mentioned with Danger Zone play, the smartest thing one can do if they are on a hole where they are likely to be in the Danger Zone is to focus on hitting the fairway rather than trying to gain the extra bit of distance. Mainly because just because you want extra distance, doesn't mean you will execute it properly. And the difference between being able to hit DZ shots from the fairway and the rough is staggering.

So if you're a player like Zach who hits it short off the tee, we want to focus on fairways in order to give him the easier shot.

BUT, *if* he could somehow hit the ball much further there's a good probability that it would help his success on Tour tremendously. The problem is that he's more likely to hit more fairways rather than gain more distance at this stage of his career.

And since he cannot reach par-5's in two shots that often, he needs to sharpen up his Birdie Zone play so he can master those par-5's and get those crucial birdies. But, the play from the the Danger Zone will have a bigger influence on his success on Tour.

It's not that Zach is entirely off base, but rather missing a key detail in all of this...he is a short hitting player who is not likely to gain substantial distance off the tee. Thus, he has to play a style of game that suits his abilities.







3JACK

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