Monday, March 14, 2011

The Power Of Power

One of the things I discussed in the ‘Thoughts On Boiling The Game Down…’ blog post was the advantages of power. I felt those were:

1. Can turn par-72’s into par-68’s.
2. Player is less likely to be in the Danger Zone (175-225 yard approach shots)
3. Player takes less club in the Danger Zone, so margin for error is greater.

After doing some statistical research, it appears that these points have a lot of merit.

First, I wanted to see what the correlation between clubhead speed and driving distance was on the PGA Tour. The correlation coefficient was in the +0.9 range (the highest it can go is +1.0). This means that almost all of the time, the more clubhead speed a golfer on Tour generates, the further they will hit it. Obviously, there are some exceptions like Kenny Perry who maximizes his clubhead speed by hitting up on the driver which carries the ball further and typically reduces the spin rate. And there are some golfers like a Charles Howell III who hit very much down on the ball and lose distance. But by and large, generate more clubhead speed and you will hit the ball further than the guy who generates less clubhead speed. Seems obvious, but I wanted to make sure just how strong of a correlation we are dealing with here.

Can Turn Par-72 Courses into Par-68’s

Obviously, that is true. However, it does have a small correlation to overall stroke average. And when PGA Tour golfers are able to go for par-5 in two shots, regardless if they are successful, it has a strong correlation to their score on that par-5.

So, if a golfer like Camilo Villegas legitimately goes for a par-5 in two, they are likely to do well on that par-5 than if they laid up. Regardless if they miss the green and wind up in the bunker. This also includes shots that end up in the drink. Obviously, if you hit a shot into the drink you’re likely to make a bogey or maybe a par and your score will not be as good had you safely laid up. But *over time*, going for it usually means a better score on those holes that you go for it.

However, this really applies to bomber golfers. One of the things that brings down the correlation between score and going for it is that when the shorter hitters try it, they are typically more successful than not going for it…but, they are not AS SUCCESSFUL as the bomber is when they go for the green.

I am not recommending that everybody start going for par-4’s on their tee shot and par-5’s in two. But if you hit the ball long, you’re likely better off going for it than laying up and if you hit the ball short, you need to really think twice before going for it in two. Again, seems obvious but it’s really not to some because there’s a larger advantage in just going for greens in general.


I’ve found a lot of merit to that. What I did was I looked at the top 10 in driving distance versus the bottom 10 in driving distance over the years.

I also looked at number of shots they hit from certain distances. Here is the average percent of shots hit from certain distances by a PGA Tour golfer for the entire year.

50-75 yards: 3-4%
75-100 yards: 7%
100-125 yards: 11-12%
125-150 yards: 18-19%
150-175 yards: 23-24%
175-200 yards: 20-21%
200-225 yards: 12-13%
225-250 yards: 5-6%

What I saw was that the biggest discrepancy between the top 10 in driving distance and the bottom 10 was the percentage of shots hit from 175-225 yards (Danger Zone) and surprisingly enough, the percentage of shots hit from 100-150 yards. There was just a sizeable difference between where these groups of golfers were hitting the majority of their shots from.

What surprised me is that the bombers were not getting in the 150-175 yard range more, but actually getting into the 100-150 yard range much more often.

And on average, the PGA Tour player is going to be about 40% more accurate from 100-150 yards than they are from 175-225 yards. Again, that’s *on average*, meaning that you don’t have to be particularly adept at hitting shots from 100-150 yards and still likely be much more accurate than an adept golfer from 175-225 yards.

That to me is a very important point of The Danger Zone.

Power Player Will Likely Have Greater Margin For Error With Taking Less Club in the Danger Zone

This seems to be true when it comes to the top 10 in driving distance vs. the bottom 10 in driving distance.

Essentially, while the top 10 were getting into the 100-150 yard range much more often, they were usually mediocre to piss poor from that distance. But when they were in the Danger Zone (175-225) yards they actually got better and started to do much better than the bottom 10 players in driving distance.

One of the things I’ve looked at is typically the players in the bottom 10 in driving distance are about 5% more accurate than the players in the top 10 from 100-150 yards.

But from 175-225 yards, the players in the bottom 10 are about -3% less accurate than the players in the top 10.

Power Doesn't Diminish The Importance of the Danger Zone

If putting skill between two players is equal, over time the player who performs best from the Danger Zone will do the best.

Even though the bombers (top 10) hit much more of their shots from 100-150 yards vs. the shorter hitters (bottom 10), the Danger Zone still dictates the greatest amount of a PGA Tour golfer’s results.

Here’s a good example from 2009.

…………………………...........Lehman………..Gary Woodland
Adj. Scoring Avg Rnk…….....82……………………173
Putts Gained Rnk…………….163…………………..168
Driving Distance Rnk………..184…………………...5
100-150 yards Rnk…………...95……………………105
Danger Zone Rnk……………..7…………………….159

So the putting was basically even, Woodland had a major power advantage, they were basically even from 100-150 yards, but Lehman was far superior in the Danger Zone

This brings me back to Tiger and Jack and why they were so great.

Both had tremendous power. In Jack’s case, known as a sub-par wedge player by Tour standards, he could just hit it past the Danger Zone frequently. He was also incredibly accurate off the tee, so he left himself in the fairway the great majority of the time. So even if his wedge game wasn’t that great, it would still knock the ball a lot closer to hole than somebody in the Danger Zone. Of course, back then, the Danger Zone was probably 150-200 yards away and Jack was probably frequently hitting the ball in the 75-125 yard range and putting it in the fairway. But when Jack needed a long iron into the Danger Zone, you had the greatest long iron player ever hitting that shot and he probably dominated every time from there. How good of a putter Nicklaus was is up for debate, but I’m guessing he didn’t finished in the bottom quarter of putting.

Tiger OTOH wasn’t nearly as accurate off the tee. But, even in the years where he really lost his driver with Haney as his coach, he was still the best in the Danger Zone. And when he was in the top 5 in driving distance, he actually had something the other bombers didn’t have…a great wedge game. And I’m guessing since he did so well in 2009 in Putts Gained, he would’ve done great in Putts Gained in other years had they kept track of that statistic back then. That’s how you win US Opens by a billion shots. Hit it long and straight off the tee. Have a superior wedge game. When you get into the Danger Zone you just dominate even more. And you are the greatest putter in the game.



Andrew said...

Richie, I'd just like to say that your statistical research is proving fascinating to me and shaping my thoughts on course strategy.

Keep up the good work!

Rich H. said...