Friday, March 11, 2011

Some Early Statistical Research Findings...

As some of you may know, recently I’ve been doing some statistical research on the game, using the’s statistics.

I recently wrote a post called ‘Thoughts on Boiling The Game Down…’ where I discussed some of my thoughts on what separates players from one another and used some reading and some of my own experience to draw upon.

I’m still in the beginning stages of my research, but here’s 5 things I’m discovering.

1. The 175+ yard range needs to be tweaked a tad.

I’ve called the 175+ yard range on approach shots, ‘the Danger Zone.’ However, the real big correlation I’ve seen from a statistical standpoint on the PGA Tour is Proximity to the Cup from 175 – 225 yards away. Anything further than 225 yards on an approach shot skews the data a bit because the Tour pros do not have a lot of 225+ yard approach shots. In fact, here’s the average amount of shots attempted per round by the PGA Tour over the years.



As you can see, most of their shots on full swings come from 125-200 yards out. But as far as relating to their score against the field, it’s their performance from 175-225 that matters. But once you get 225+ yards, the number of approach shots drops off quite a bit.

Thus, ‘The Danger Zone’ is best depicted as approach shots from 175-225 yards.

2. Putting Is Overrated, To A Degree. But, I Underrated It.

Like I stated in my ‘Thoughts on Boiling the Game Down…’ post, putting is overrated to a degree. My thoughts were that unless you were a legitimate top 20 putter or a bottom 20 putter on Tour, it really didn’t matter.

It looks like I had the right idea, but it’s more like being in the top ¼ and bottom ¼ of putting that matters.

I used the statistic, Putts Gained Per Round, to figure this. I spoke to one of the people who created PGPR to see if they had a 2010 rankings. They told me they did not as the PGA Tour is considering going with a similar statistic that will allow them to use years up to 2001 or so. I then asked the Web site and they told me that they are still working out the kinks.

Based on the data I had, 2009 PGPR, putting makes a difference if you’re in the top or bottom ¼ of the stat. In 2009 there were essentially 189 players on Tour. So putting made a difference if you were ranked approximately 1st thru 47th in PGPR or if you were approximately ranked 143rd thru 189th in PGPR.

Steve Stricker is the perfect example as he finished 2nd in Adjusted Scoring Average that year despite finishing 69th in PGPR. What really separated him from say Dustin Johnson that season (who finished 90th in PGPR) was Stricker’s superior ballstriking, not his putting.

And from what my preliminary research shows, if Heath Slocum (finished 166 out of 189 in PGPR) would’ve been an average PGA Tour putter in 2009, he would’ve made at least $500,000 more than season.

My theory is that a lot of the time, the players who are fringe PGA Tour members, it has little to do with putting because many Tour players are not that great on the green and there are many fringe PGA Tour players who putt well enough to not finish in the bottom ¼ in putting. In fact, many golfers in ’09 were able to keep their card and even win with awful putting. While there were many great putters who barely made any money in 2009. Why? Because their ballstriking stunk.

3. Finding the Fairway is Still Important.

On average, PGA Tour players hit the ball about 30% more accurately from the fairway than they did from the rough. Another interesting thing I found was that if you took the Tour average of proximity to the cup from the rough in the 175-200 yard range and then took the average from the fairway from the 150-175 range, the average Tour player was about 50% more accurate from that shorter distance in the fairway. Obviously, it makes sense, but I didn’t expect it to be to that extent.

4. It’s Not So Much About Finding the Fairway as it is Executing From the Fairway

Without question, if you had to choose between being the best from the rough or being the best from the fairway, I would take being the best from the fairway. This surprised me because I would’ve thought that more strokes are lost from shots from the rough. But on the PGA Tour, more shorts are ‘lost’ from the fairway.

My guess is this. Let’s say I’m 150-175 yards out and in the rough. Let’s say I’m one of the best on Tour from here. I’m still likely to leave myself about 25-30 feet to the cup. Whereas if I’m one of the worst from this position, I’m likely to leave myself about 40 feet to the cup. The chances of making that 25-30 footer are so minimal over making the 40 footer. However, if you’re one of the best from the fairway from this distance, you could wind up with a 15-20 footer whereas if you’re one of the worst, you could wind up with a 30 footer. And thus the discrepancy between the odds of making those putts is greater.

5. Swing Speed and Play Out Of The Rough

There appears to be some correlation between a golfer’s ability to play out of the rough and their swing speed. The golfers with more swing speed, tend to do better from the rough than the golfers with less swing speed. This can be a bit difficult to measure because if you have a player that swings fast but misses fairways by a mile, they really won’t have a shot at the green from that position and their proximity to the cup will be further away. But there is a pretty clear distinction between golfers with similar ballstriking ability and the golfer with more swing speed being better out of the rough.


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