Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Bryson DeChambeau Transformation - By the Numbers

Bryson DeChambeau wins at Detroit Golf Club last week:

A few years ago, I postulated on the GolfWRX forums that there would be a player on Tour that would reach around 195 mph ball speeds very soon that would dominate the Tour off the tee, but possibly dominate the PGA Tour altogether. This was ridiculed as golf has a weird hangup over distances versus accuracy and precision. But my beliefs were based on the data available and the hope that a player and his team of coaches could see the benefit of what I've called in previous versions of Pro Golf Synopsis as 'The Power-to-Putting Principle.'

The Power-to-Putting Factor was actually discovered by my friend, AimPoint Golf Founder (www.aimpointgolf.com) Mark Sweeney. Mark found there was a strong correlation on the PGA Tour between distance off the tee and the length of the player's average birdie putt. Essentially, the longer a player hits the ball the more likely they will have a shorter length average birdie putt.

This explained why poor putters on Tour like Bubba Watson can have so much success on Tour. Watson is one of the longest drivers of the ball on Tour. He also rarely lays up off the tee. With that, he's more likely to give himself shorter length birdie putts on average. Since shorter putts almost always have a higher make percentage than longer putts, Watson can be an inferior skilled putter than say a shorter hitting, but superior skilled putter in Zach Johnson...but Watson can still *sink* more birdie putts than Johnson. Again, all in spite of being an inferior skilled putter.

The key advantages with long distance to get those shorter length birdie putts is not only on par-5's, but also on dogleg par-4's where the bomber can take it over the corner while the shorter hitter has to play more towards the middle of the fairway and losing even more distance to the bomber.

What I've found though is that the bomber's disadvantage tends to come when they miss the green in regulation. Whether it's a poor approach shot or a poor tee shot that flies well offline and requires a punchout, the bomber is more likely to have a longer and more difficult scrambling opportunity when they miss the green compared to the shorter, but more accurate golfer off the tee.

This also led to what I've dubbed the Power-to-Putting Factor

If a player like Bubba Watson can hit it long and have inferior skills with the putt and sink more birdie putts than a shorter hitter who is superior with the putter, then the 'honey pot' would be a player that can hit it long and is a superior putter. That's a player, almost regardless of iron play, can sink a ton of birdie putts because they are getting more makeable putts and have the skill to sink those putts at a higher rate than the average player.

I always look at John Daly's 1991 PGA Championship victory as the example of when you put a long hitter (nobody was coming close to hitting it as far as Daly at that time) who is putting great.

I mean, y'know somebody is on fire when they are walking to the hole like they made it when the ball is still 4 feet from the cup.


But what about the long drive competitors? There's a great myth that long drive competitors are just a bunch of meatheads that can't play worth a lick and just hit it long. However, that's vastly untrue. Most of the long drive competitors I've known are +3 or better handicaps and on more open courses can go really low

Watching Kyle Berkshire's YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE3jCX0g7xq4zRE5MS5c_mw) has allowed me to notice some more potential pitfalls that the long drivers can have on a Tour quality course.  What's interesting is that Berkshire brings his Trackman with him and utilizes on almost every swing, whether it's with a driver or with the irons.

The other interesting facet is unlike other long drive competitors that I've worked with, Berkshire gets about the same spin rate with his individual irons that the average Tour player gets.  Here's the Tour averages for spin rates according to Trackman.

In working with other long drive competitors, it's not unusual to see super high spin rates with their irons. But with Berkshire he typically keeps the spin rate, for example an 8-iron, within the 8,000-9,000 rpm spin range.

But the difference is that Berkshire is hitting his 8-iron with 155 mph ball speeds (115 Tour average) and about 215-220 yards (Tour average is 160 yards). 

And we start to see the issue...Berkshire isn't exactly spinning the ball more with his individual irons compared to the Tour average, but he's getting far more spin for the same length shot than the Tour average.

For instance, on a 215-yard shot a Tour player is spinning the ball about 4,600 rpm's because they are using a longer and more low-lofted club.  Compare that to Berkshire who is using an 8-iron and getting roughly 8,000 rpm of spin for a 215 yard shot.

Using FlightScope's Trajectory Optimizer, it shows the main issue with being able to hit an 8-iron 215 yards...slightly variations in spin and/or launch conditions have a larger impact on distance control.

For instance, using Berkshire's data, if he were to hit an 8-iron with 8,000 rpm of spin it would carry 212 yards.  But if he hit the same conditions and the spin lowered to 7,000 rpm (it's easy to lose or gain 1,000 rpm of spin) it would carry 219 yards.  And if he increases his spin rate to 9,000 rpm his carry goes to 205 yards...a total variance of 14 yards.

Compare that to the average Tour player hitting that shot with 4,600 rpm of spin which they will carry 214 yards.  If they drop to 3,600 rpm it carries 218 yards and at 5,600 rpm it carries 210 yards.  Thus a total variance of 8 yards.  And in approach shot play, distance control is a huge variable with regards to performance.


We've gone into the more accurate benefits of distance with The Power-to-Putting Principle and shown one of the key weaknesses of generating super-duper ball speeds, but we should address some other key roadblocks that come with super-duper ball speeds.

Strategy tends to be a problem as well.  Long hitters can lay-up too often off the tee and thus take away that advantage they have with power.  The other weakness is that they often struggle with hitting quality lay-up shots.  The 3-wood off the tee can present problems mainly because most Tour players find that to be the toughest club for them to hit.  But the other issue is finding that lay-up club that they can hit 285-315 yards comfortably in the fairway and not give up too much distance.  A former client of mine, Matt Dobyns, who generates 180 mph ball speeds found my suggestion of The Gonzo Driver (a 460cc driver head at 12-13* loft and a short shaft) to be an adequate answer to that issue.

So how has Bryson fared?

As far as the strategy goes, he only layed-up on 10 out of 56 tee shots and ended up ranking #1 in Driving Effectiveness at Detroit.  He did manage to hit 58.9% of his fairways despite hitting his average missed fairway tee shot 39 feet wide.  His misses would normally be a bit worrisome, but he made those big misses on holes and in spots where he could afford to miss big and found the fairway other times and it left him with a ton of advantageous positions off the tee.

As far as his lay-up shots at Detroit he was hitting his fairway wood roughly 292 yards on average and was able to gain an advantage off the tee versus the field despite hitting his fairway wood off the tee.

Then we get to his approach shot play.  He struggled here, particularly from the Green Zone (75-125 yards) and the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), but he was hitting Green Zone shots when the rest of the field was hitting Yellow Zone shots and hitting Yellow Zone approach shots when the rest of the field was hitting Red Zone (175-225 yards) shots.  So even with the struggles, he was still managing to hit those approach shots closer because he had much shorter approach shots.

And on the par-3's, where Berkshire tends to struggle given the spin rate issues noted, DeChambeau played the par-3's at Detroit at +1 over par for the event. He only loss -0.432 strokes for the entire event to the field on the par-3's.  For the season, DeChambeau is ranked 4th in Adjusted Par-3 Scoring Average.

As far as his approach shots on the par-3's, he hit them to an average Fractional Remaining Length of 5.9%.  FRL = distance to the hole / length of original shot.

The Tour average on par-3's is 6%.

Meanwhile DeChambeau played the par-5's at -10 under and played the par-4's at -14 under par.

In summation, DeChambeau and his team have identified the opportunity of gaining distance and the pitfalls of what can come along with it and have accentuated those strengths and worked to modify those weaknesses.  And combined with really good putting (DeChambeau was 2nd in Putts Gained/Round last week) we may be seeing the next great top-10 player of all time.

On a side note, I do believe from watching Kyle Berkshire's data that there is room for a Tour player to probably max out at 205-210 mph ball speed and dominate the Tour off the tee,  Particularly if they can figure out the lay-up shot situation.


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