Thursday, February 14, 2013

Critical PGA Tour Holes - #10 at Riviera Country Club


In the next few weeks I will be introducing a new metric called ‘Critical Hole Index.’ In my ongoing research for Pro Golf Synopsis, I’ve discovered the following:

1. Anything can happen in 1 round of golf and it does not justly represent a golfer’s skill.

2. The more rounds in a tournament, the more it accurately represents the golfer’s skill for THAT tournament.

This is very much like any sport. For instance, the worst baseball team in the league can beat the best baseball team in the league in any given game. But if it’s a 4-game series then the best team in the league will likely win 3 out of the 4 games. That’s part of the excitement of college basketball’s ‘March Madness’; the fact that in any given game some small, unheralded school can defeat a powerhouse and end their season. But in the end, usually one of the best teams in college wins the tournament.

In golf, somebody like Henrik Norlander can beat the hottest golfer on the Tour right now in Brandt Snedeker for a round. But for 4 rounds Snedeker is most likely to come up with the lower score.

With that my research has uncovered that each tournament has a certain select amount of holes that are more critical than others. And usually this does not change over the years. I won’t give up how I determine a ‘critical hole’ (proprietary information). But, these are the holes that have historically translated to success in each tournament. The better the golfer does on these specific holes, the more likely they will do better in the tournament. Believe me that cannot be said about all golf holes in a tournament. Often times because you can birdie a certain hole, but everybody else is birdieing the hole as well. In the end, you played the hole well relative to par, but were average relative to the field.

At the Sony Open, there are 3 critical holes at Waialae Country Club.

At the Humana Challenge there are 9 critical holes spread throughout PGA Palmer, PGA Nicklaus and La Quinta.

At the Waste Management there are 4 critical holes at TPC Scottsdale

At AT&T Pebble Beach there a 8 critical holes between Pebble, Monterrey Peninsula and Spyglass.

In fact, one of the critical holes at AT&T Pebble is the 16th hole. While Snedeker won slightly convincingly, Chris Kirk had a real chance to force a playoff, but missed a 6-foot birdie putt on 16. Had he made that he would have gotten to -17, 1 shot from Snedeker. Snedeker was playing in the group behind him and may have felt a little more pressure with Kirk only down by one with a birdie-able hole on 18.

Instead, Kirk missed and missed a chance to gain a stroke on Snedeker. Snedeker extended his lead to 3 strokes by making birdie on 17 and won by 2 shots.


There are 5 Critical Holes at Riviera. One of them being the 10th hole, a reachable 315 yard par-4


Play #10 well and one can make up a lot of shots on the field.

The 10th hole plays into the entire risk vs. reward scenario. However, there are a couple of problems from a statistical analysis standpoint:

A. The Tour does not provide data on scoring on par-4’s that the player attempts to hit the green on the drive.

B. The Tour does not provide proximity to the cup data on bunker shots from certain distances.

If we had those, we could better formulate an idea of whether going for #10 is worth it. Even still, every reachable par-4 does not play the same way. #17 at TPC Scottsdale is relatively a no brainer for a Tour golfer to go for it. While playing a reachable par-4 like the 16th at the K-Club requires heavy consideration due to the water.

Below is a yardage book that one of my clients sent me on #10 at Riviera.


As I’ve mentioned many times, generally the numbers do not like golfers leaving their driver in the bag; even with high handicappers. The loss of potential distance is too great. To me, leaving your driver in the bag should be considered a last resort. Either it’s just not feasible to hit a driver because the landing area is too short or like #1 at Bay Hill, it requires a sizeable enough draw or you will find the fairway bunker.


The absolute last resort is if you are so poor with the driver that you have to hit a lesser club off the tee just to keep it in play. But, if you want to improve your score in the long run, you need to go to the range, see an instructor, get better fitted, etc; and fix your driving woes.

Since #10 does not have any water that tends to favor the players hitting a driver. However, we still have to worry about the bunkers and the rough.

I believe that if the golfer legitimately feels that they can avoid the far left bunker, the far right bunker then it is worth going for it. If they go into the greenside bunkers, this will likely leave a bunker shot of 20-30 yards where the Tour average sand save % was 48% in 2012. A bunker shot from 30-40 yards had a Tour average Sand Save % of 33%. The Tour average of getting up-and-in from 50-125 yards is less than 10%.

The problem arises if the get into the far left bunker where the shot to the middle of the green is about 51 yards. A shot that no player, regardless how good they are, wants to hit. And the right bunker causes even bigger issues.

It’s not to say that laying up on this hole is completely a bad idea. If the golfer does not feel like they can comfortably avoid those 2 bunkers with a driver, then I would wholeheartedly agree that they should lay and try to find the fairway.

But for golfers who can get past those two bunkers, I estimate they increase their birdie chances by about 12% and bogey avoidance by 26%. All that is left is the execution.



putmedownfora6 said...

Hi Rich,

I appreciate the statistical insight.

One of my pet peeves has always been scoring average. I never thought that accounted for the difficulty of the courses played.

Wondering if you see value in my idea to replace scoring average. I suggest that for every event, the cut line be the measuring stick --- the equivalent of "par" for the course. Scoring average should be calculated on the basis of the deviation (+ or -) from the cut line. The best scorer of the year would be the accumulation of the score against the cut line. I don't know...perhaps the eventual winner would be -100 to -150 under par or average -2 or -3.

Your thoughts?


Rich H. said...

It's already done although a bit different. The baseline is the average score for each round. Then they check the scoring average versus what the average score is and they call it 'Adjusted Scoring Average' so somebody shooting 69 at the US Open will likely do much better than shooting 69 at the Humana.