Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Statistical Look at Matt Every's Decision at Bay Hill

This past Sunday we had this infamous exchange heard on NBC between Matt Every and his caddie about what decision to make (NSFW).

Every was stuck in a precarious position on the 16th hole. He had a tree partially blocking his shot and there is water in front of the green. Here’s a diagram of the 16th hole at Bay Hill:

Every is one of the most aggressive players on Tour. Last year he ranked 13th in my Tee Shot Aggressiveness ranking which measures the projected amount of times the golfer lays up off the tee on par-4’s and par-5’s. He was also 3rd in Par-5 aggressiveness which measures the percentage of times the golfer Goes for the Green in 2 shots compared to their distance off the tee.

Generally, the numbers work in the player’s favor to be aggressive off the tee (from a driver vs. lay-up perspective ONLY) and on the par-5’s. And I could see Every’s thinking about going for it here as the 16th hole is a birdie hole that played to only a 4.425 scoring average this past week. So the idea of not getting the ball on the green and not making par could be a 2-stroke swing.

However, the bigger issue for Every is that since he was hitting his 3rd shot here, a shot in the water would provide larger damage to his chances of winning. That’s the thing about being aggressive in going for the green on par-5’s (and even on the tee on some short par-4’s); if you end up in the water you can still drop and save the par. But in Every’s situation if he goes in the water par is completely out of play and now he is looking more at making a double bogey.

Every’s caddie states that if they just lay-up and put it in the fairway they will ‘get up-and-down 75% of the time.’ Well, let’s take a look at the numbers on that.

Every decided to punch out and hit his shot to 89 yards in the fairway.

Here’s a look at Every’s numbers for the year:

On shots from 75-100 yards from the fairway: 17’0” Avg. Proximity to the Cup.

Total Putting from 15-20 feet: 32.39%

However, we have to remember that was for a par putt. And Tour players typically make a higher percentage of par putts than birdie putts.

So far this year, Every is 5 for 12 (41.7%) from 15-20 feet on par & bogey putts.

Therefore, the reality is that his odds of getting up and down were at 41.7% instead of 75% given the shot he had hit. Unfortunately it was all taken out of play when he hit that 89 yard shot from the fairway to 25 feet which greatly reduced his odds.

In the end, Every I feel that the data supports Every’s decision to lay-up, regardless of Every going on to victory. Making double bogey on a hole where the majority of golfers made birdie or eagle would have greatly hurt his odds of winning. And since he had made 42% of his par/bogey putts from 15-20 feet for the year, he had more than a puncher’s chance of getting up-and-down by putting the ball in the fairway from 75-100 yards.

This is a typical risk vs. reward strategy in golf. Every and his caddie had the risk and reward percentages skewed and were inaccurate when it comes to the actual probabilities. However, they understood what double bogey meant on a hole where golfers were likely to score low.


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