Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Refutation of MyGolfSpy's Practice the Short Game Article

Here's an article from MyGolfSpy.com and their belief that amateurs, regardless of handicap, should practice their short game more instead of practicing their long game.


The article cites Dr. Mark Broadie's book Every Shot Counts in which Dr. Broadie mentions throughout the book that the 'long game' is more important in golf than the 'short game.'  The article does not mention my annual e-book Pro Golf Synopsis (2015 version due out before Christmas).  However, I am in agreement with Dr. Broadie's research for the most part.  I have published Pro Golf Synopsis since 2011, so it has been out there for quite some time.  In fact, one of the main sticking points of the article is how the wedge game is vastly overrated by golfers of all skill levels.

First, let's examine what Dr. Broadie defines as the 'long game' versus the 'short game.'

Dr. Broadie has segmented the game of golf as the 'long game' being any shot that is from a distance longer than 100 yards and the 'short game' as any shot shorter than a distance of 100 yards.  He does have the ability to utilize his strokes gained method to distinguish driving from long game shots that are not hit off the tee on a par-4 or par-5.  He also has the methodology to distinguish putting from short game shots within 100 yards.  And in all, he can use strokes gained in a variety of different ways to distinguish bunker play versus non-bunker short game shots, shots from certain distances, etc.

There are some things with the strokes gained methodology that my colleagues and I disagree with in terms of accuracy.  But all in all, I find it a valid measurement, particularly when it comes to putting and that is why I refer to Strokes Gained - Putting in Pro Golf Synopsis.

Throughout Every Shot Counts Dr. Broadie mentions how putting is overrated and that is his main point of contention.  However, he contradicts that mantra by showing how important putting is to winning an event.  Again, I'm in perfect agreement with the concept that putting is important when it comes to winning an event from a statistical standpoint.  It just is.  The vast majority of winners on the PGA Tour gain +0.5 strokes or more per round in the event they won.  Furthermore, I'm in perfect statistical agreement that putting becomes less important over time when it comes to Tour success.  But, the same applies for a golfer that gradually wants to lower their handicap.  Perhaps 'putting was overrated' was a tagline set forth by the publisher to sell the book.  But, that is where I disagree with Every Shot Counts.

My statistical research which includes amateur research shows that all-in-all, putting is roughly the 2nd most important part of the game.  However, I should mention that I prefer to further segment the game of golf more than Dr. Broadie does because of the following reasons:

The Short Game vs. Long Game segmentation is not exactly an apples to apples comparison.

Let's say for all intents and purposes the long hole we can play is a 650 yard Par-4.  With the long game segment, that's essentially comparing 550 yards of data (650-100) versus 100 yards (Short Game) of data.  I think the comparison warrants something more similar in terms of distance (doesn't have to be exactly similar, but more similar).  And therefore it should not be a big revelation that shots coming from 550 yards of distance range would be more important than shots coming from a 100 yard distance range.  I can understand the segment to a degree because there is a theory that putting is most important because you it can be 'half of the shots you hit in a round' and that is an invalid representation of the game.  But, this broad segmentation is too broad to draw conclusions as well.

For instance, if I was looking at crime data and was looking at the total crimes of city with 5 million residents versus a city with 500,000 residents, I don't think it would be a revelation that the bigger city had more total crime.

There are different skill sets, technique, equipment, etc. involved at different distances within the Long Game vs. Short Game parameters.

The skill sets, techniques, equipment, etc. involved with a 10 yard pitch shot is far different than a 50-yard shot which is far different from a 100-yard shot which is far different from a 150-yard shot which is far different from a 200 yard shot which is far different from hitting your 3-wood off the ground which is far different from hitting a driver off the tee box.  Therefore, you're not giving the golfer precise parts of the game to work on and that can lead to a golfer working on the wrong things.

Not all Short Game shots have the same value and not all Long Game shots have the same value.

For a Tour player, putting is far more important than shots from 100-150 yards.  So, if we were to use the advice that 'the Long Game is far more important than the Short Game' this could lead a Tour player working far more on their 100-150 yard shots versus their putting.  It could lead to a player working on their 75-100 yard shots when they do want to practice their short game more than their putting or 10-20 yard shots because the reasoning would be that the 75-100 yard shots are closer to that 'Long Game' range.  If a Tour player could improve their Driving, Red Zone play (175-225 yards), shots from 10-20 yards and their putting from 5-15 feet, they would be far better served from a historical statistical standpoint...than they would be if they improve their play from 20-100 yards, 100-150 yards, shots from 225-275 yards and fairway bunker play.

Again, for the overwhelming most part, I agree with Dr. Broadie's conclusions based on my own statistical research.  However, it is important to note what Every Shot Counts entails since that is what MyGolfSpy is arguing against.  Furthermore, while my research shows that for amateurs that putting is the second most important factor to improving their handicap, I agree more with Dr. Broadie's statements than I do with the MyGolfSpy article.

First up, the Dave Pelz video:

Mr. Pelz states in a matter of fact fashion that 'putting is number one' which is not the case over time and is often not the case in many events.  In fact, James Hahn won at Riviera last year with a negative strokes gained per round of -0.050.

The debate from MyGolfSpy and Mr. Pelz is the amount of time and how you can practice.  Mr. Pelz argues that they could get a player that could practice every hour they are away for 5 years and never hit the ball as well as Rory McIlroy.  But, that does not make his point valid.  Nobody is saying that you have to hit the ball like Rory McIlroy in order to improve your handicap.  In fact, if we were to take a 10-handicap golfer and give them the choice of improving 1 of the following:

- Improving their driving to a level of Billy Hurley III driving from the 2014-2015 season where he ranked 168th (out of 184 golfers) in Driving Effectiveness while generating 108.5 mph club speed (something reasonable for many amateurs to achieve).


- Improve their putting to Bubba Watson's level in 2014-2015 season where he ranked 54th (out of 184 golfers) in Strokes Gained - Putting.

The 10 handicap would see their handicap get lower with the Billy Hurley improved driving performance than they would with the Bubba Watson improved putting performance.

The MyGolfSpy article then states the following:

The chart above clearly illustrates that as handicap goes up, the amount of practice time devoted to the short game goes down.

What’s also interesting is that when you look at practice time with longer clubs (5 iron and above) and driver, an inverse relationship is revealed. As playing ability goes up, the time spent on this portion of the game goes down.

This presents an interesting dilemma, and it goes against Broadie’s findings. Based on his data you would expect that better golfers would devote more of their practice time to the long game, but the reality is exactly the opposite. - MyGolfSpy

Broadie's book, Every Shot Counts, never states that lower handicaps practice a certain way.  Therefore, the chart does not go against his findings because practice habits are not part of his findings in Every Shot Counts.

I think it is reasonable to expect that if you want to improve upon something, there is a correlation with practice time and improvement.  So Broadie inferring that people should practice their long game more because better long game play will improve a golfer's score more than improvement in short game play at the same level is perfectly reasonable.  The chart does not show actual performance in the short game or the long game.  Furthermore it doesn't show improvement either.  Nor the length of practice.  It just shows the % of time golfers of different handicap levels spend on various clubs.

So, the chart completely ignores the key point in Broadie's work...when it comes to reducing scores, performance in long game matters more than performance in short game.

If you want to argue the ability to improve, the chart ignores a key component of how long was the practice session.  A 5 handicapper may spend 10% of their total practice on the driver compared to a 20 handicapper spending 50% of their total practice.  But, if the 5 handicapper is practicing for 4 hours a week and the 20 handicapper is practicing for 30 minutes a week, the 5-handicapper is spending much more time practicing.  And if you polled instructors across this country, they would tell you that their students that improve the most are the ones that are dedicated to practicing more.

And the chart doesn't account for other factors as far as why lower handicaps are better than high handicaps such as practice time, golf experience, equipment, physical condition, age, etc.

And in all, the chart never shows improvement which is what this thing is about.  In statistical analytics, the chart would be deemed worthless in terms of conveying the point of whether you should practice more with long game or more with the short game.

I think Every Shot Counts goes overboard with the 'putting is overrated' mantra, but if a player wants to make the largest and most permanent improvement on their handicap, they simply have to improve their long game.  Putting can improve the handicap quicker, but the improvement level is far more limited than improving ballstriking by the same level or even at a lesser level.



mlecuni said...

It's part of where you want to put the pressure in your game. To me, if you are not good in long game you put pressure on your short game and viseversa.

I do prefer work my long game because pressure on my short game is easy to control.

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