My Golf Analytics – 5/25/15 – Tangle Ridge

The rain continues… The state of Texas is fixing to turn into Waterworld. What a contrast from two years ago when Texas was experiencing extreme drought. The water would be great for the golf courses, but we need the sun to come out as well. Somewhere in between storms I was able to sneak out on Memorial Day and spend some much needed time on the golf course with my wife and my pops. We were lucky enough to squeeze in 18 holes and though the course was wet, it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. We played lift, clean, and place. Other than the greens being slow from lack of mowing, we couldn’t have asked for a better day.

I saw some good signs from this round. The unexpected dip in my ball striking turned itself around. I started to adjust to the new driver setup and golf started feeling easy again. Even though the story of being bipolar between tournament and non-tourney rounds continues, playing like I did on Monday tells me that the game is there. Monday had potential to be special. I use Game Golf to track all my shots, you can view the round here.

Lets dive into the analysis. It’s about to get nerdy…

The Damage

Tangle Ridge Scorecard - 5/25/2015

Tangle Ridge Scorecard – 5/25/2015

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Lipouts… Annoying Playing Partners

It’s time! The wife gave you the okay to get out of the house and squeeze in a few holes. You call your best golfing buddy and head to the course. Squeeze in a small bucket, roll some putts, and head to the first tee. Nothing can ruin this beautiful Saturday afternoon. But there it is… waiting for you on the first tee… your nightmare pairing. This might have just turned into a 5 hour nightmare…

So who is it? Who is your pairing nightmare? Maybe its the plays bad music guy. Or the plays the wrong tees guy. For an introduction to golf stereotypes and a dose of comedy, check out Dude Perfect’s Golf Stereotypes. Everybody plays golf for different reasons, whether its to be competitive, to enjoy the outdoors, or to punish yourself in ways only golf can. Because of this variety in motive, everyone is looking for different things in an ideal playing partner and at any given time we can all be that nightmare pairing for someone. Here are some nightmare pairings…

1) Rage monster – Almost nobody likes this guy. This is the guy whose expectations are entirely out of line with reality. The slightest misstep could send him spiraling out of control into an expletive laden rant. The round becomes an exhibition in waiting for a club to snap or slam into some innocent part of the course, leaving those behind him to have to putt through the putter divot he just left in the green after another missed 3 footer. The worst part is sharing a cart with this guy. Having to listen to every four letter word he knows as you drive towards the woods that have claimed his latest tee shot. Let’s just hope he is not a…

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3 Footers… NYMHM 5/25

Here’s the news you may have missed over the weekend…

1) Golf is hard…

After dominating the WGC Match Play and Quail Hollow, the number one player in the world couldn’t manage to make the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. That tells you something about how difficult this stupid game is. It also makes Tiger’s streak of 142 consecutive cuts made that much more impressive. Its a ridiculous feat. A single bad day can result in a missed cut. Tiger was the ultimate grinder. Rory could use a bit of rest leading up to the U.S. Open. He shouldn’t take long to rebound.

2) Late bloomer

Better late than never. I have to imagine that Colin Montgomerie can’t help but chuckle at his success as of late. This is a guy who finished second in majors on 5 different occasions while on the regular tour. Always a bridesmaid, never the bride… Something changed when he joined the Champions Tour. He has now won his 3rd major in 10 tries on the senior tour by successfully defending his Senior PGA Championship. Good for him. Gotta give hope to everyone still holding out on a golf dream.

3) Aces Wild

The Mechanic strikes again! Miguel Angel Jimenez made his 3rd hole-in-one of the season this past weekend. You read that correctly. The most interesting man in the world has knocked a little white ball into a 4.25 inch wide hole from over 100 yards away three times this season! From the looks of it he added some Champagne to the 288 bottles of beer he won in Spain. Golf is hard (see news #1). The Mechanic is making it look easy. On top of that, the 51 year old turned in a runner up finish. He continues to defy the aging process.

Spieth was so close… I bet the triple bogey he made on Friday crossed his mind a few times last night.

Ball Striking vs. Putting

In case you missed it, Rory McIlroy had a career day last Saturday at Quail Hollow. He did it not only with his ball striking, but with a great putting day for a guy that is typically an average putter at best.

Incredible.

As Rory begins to show his dominance, the debate has begun on who would be more dominant in their prime… TIger (a la 2000) or Rory today. The two did it differently. Rory is a tremendous driver of the golf ball. Not only is he long, but he is exceptionally accurate when he is on. While Tiger was certainly long relative to the field, I don’t remember him ever being the straightest driver of the golf ball. However, Tiger was much more consistent with the flatstick than Rory is. Both are great iron players.

So which is more important? Ball striking? Or putting? The simple answer is both. You need to do both well to do what Rory did last weekend, which is shoot 61 with 11 birdies and no bogies. You need to strike the ball well to put yourself in position for birdies and similarly if you don’t finish off with a great putt, the iron shot is useless. Rory gained 4.84 strokes on the field with the putter and 5.32 strokes on the field from Tee to Green for a total of 10.16 strokes gained on the field last Saturday. Almost a 50/50 split for the strokes he gained between ball striking and putting. You can see these stats here.

This discussion led me into a debate with a buddy about which is more important, ball striking or putting? In Rory’s case, it’s ball striking. Rory is a streaky putter at best and he relies on his ball striking to separate him from the field. Rory is currently ranked 69th in strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour with the bump he received from finishing 21st in strokes gained putting at Quail Hollow. Last week was better than his usual outing, but it is largely skewed because of his performance Saturday. The other days amounted to -1.624 strokes gained. More in line with his typical performance. On the other hand, he was #1 in strokes gained tee to green, gaining an average of 4.2 strokes per day from tee to green. He won the tournament by 7 strokes.

My argument to my buddy is that if I would have putted for Rory on Saturday, he would have still won the tournament. Now I realize that I am making this argument following a horrendous putting display by yours truly on Sunday, so I’ll substitute myself with a typical scratch player using numbers provided by Mark Broadie in Every Shot Counts. It’s about to get nerdy…

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3 Footers… NYMHM 5/18

News you may have missed… I would have normally posted this on Monday, but was stymied by a migraine… On to the news!

1) Rors!

Rory had one of those weekends that makes you think maybe he is closer to Tiger than he is to Phil. He dominated the field with crazy good ball striking. Again. Saturday’s round was incredible. Here are some numbers from Saturday:

Ave. Drive – 321 yards
Number of birdies – 11
Number of bogies – 0
Longest putt made – 14 feet
Number of putts made outside 10 ft – 2

To make 11 birdies you have to putt well (thanks Dave Stockton), but more importantly you have to be flagging it. Rory has generally been an average putter on tour, including this season. Impressive that he can overcome an average putter to dominate fields. In Tiger’s prime, he was also typically in the top 10 in putting every year. He finished top 25 in strokes gained putting this week, but imagine if he was a good putter… Scary thought. For more interesting stats, here is a summary of the week. Rory finished 21st in strokes gained putting.

You miss 100% of the putts that don’t get to the hole. With a chance to reach golf’s favorite milestone, Roland Thatcher left the putt for a 59 short and in the jaws. Now its hard to hate on the guy. He hit a decent putt… but it never had a chance. I’m not sure which will bother him more as he goes to sleep at night, the missed putt on 18 or the fact that he didn’t make birdie on the par 5 16th. He said he was in the zone and was never concerned with the number. I wish I could find whatever zone he was in. Thinking about score is my kryptonite. Well played Thatcher.

The NCAA Men’s Golf Championship is coming shortly and my Red Raiders have advanced. Kudos to them!

How a 2 Hcap shoots 86…

Everybody hates the shot by shot guy after the round, but we all do it. We’ve got stories, we find our game fascinating. One of the best parts about golf is sympathizing with or ridiculing our buddies…

I’ll try to avoid going through the round shot by shot (though I could). Instead I’m going to dive into the highpoints / lowpoints of the round and what I can take away from it. Lots of amateurs struggle with focusing on the wrong things or practicing the wrong things. If you hit a driver well, you tend to want to smash drivers all day. I’m looking for where I need to improve and sometimes that may not be swinging a club. Sometimes its lack of confidence or decision making. Some days its all of the above. This was one of those days.

I played in a tournament on Sunday at Waterchase Golf Club in Ft. Worth. Steady rainfall all week, combined with 3″ overnight led to a saturated golf course. Even with relatively good drainage, most of the golf course was like playing out of soup. We played lift clean and re-place throughout. The bunkers were not recoverable, so we played them as Ground Under Repair… More on that later.

It wasn’t pretty. If you want to know how a 2 handicap can shoot 86… you can retrace every regrettable step on GameGolf.

The Damage…

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Golf Analytics – Using Game Golf

Analytics have been taking over the sports world over the past couple decades. Statisticians have been employed by most major sports franchises to crunch numbers and calculate stats such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball, point differentials when a player is on/off the court in basketball, and when it makes sense to go for it / kick a field goal / or punt in football.

Golf is no different. Thanks to the addition of Shotlink data to the PGA Tour, every shot hit in a tour event is tracked in a detailed manner. Shotlink answers all of the following questions:
What lie was the ball hit from (Fairway, Rough, Tee, Sand, Putting Green, Recovery)?  What kind of lie did the shot end up in?
How far was the shot from the hole? How far did the shot go? How far off target was the shot?

My Strokes Gained vs. an average PGA Tour field, split by tournaments and regular rounds.

My Strokes Gained vs. an average PGA Tour field, split by tournaments and regular rounds.

 

All of this data can be aggregated and used to study golf decisions and golf shots from a new perspective. The trending statistics being used on PGA Tour broadcasts are Strokes Gained. If you aren’t familiar with Strokes Gained, you can check out my primer here. The basic gist of Strokes Gained is quantifying the quality of a shot vs. a reference. In this case, the reference is how close the PGA Tour averages from a similar distance / lie. If you want an in depth explanation of Strokes Gained, I highly suggest reading Mark Broadie’s book Every Shot Counts.

If you aren’t into numbers or stats, then ignore the words and look at the pretty plots. Otherwise, its about to get nerdy…

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Lipouts… Why are rules so complicated?

The lipouts series is basically going to be golf whining. So read at your own risk. These in general are issues that I see in the sport of golf that I wish I could change.

The Rules of Golf - Over 200 pages of comprehensive decisions

The Rules of Golf – Over 200 pages of comprehensive decisions

Rules were made to be broken… Otherwise they’d be a lot easier to remember…

If you’ve ever tried to sit down and introduce someone to a new sport, then you know that explaining the rules of any sport can be frustrating. It becomes instantly clear just how complicated rules are.

Take football for example… Just this last year there were several rules issues that could make your head spin. Once you get past the current ‘Deflate-gate’ snafu, the first one that comes to mind is the Dez Bryant catch… I mean non-catch against the Packers in last year’s playoffs.

1- Wait, why wasn’t that a catch?

2- Because he didn’t make a football move.

1- What’s considered a football move?

2- Well he has to do a move that is common to the game. Has to establish himself as a runner and maintain possession to the ground.

1- Well didn’t he take 3 steps?

2- Yep.

1- Didn’t he switch arms and reach for the goal line? Is that a football move?

2- Could be.

1- Looked like a runner to me… I thought the ground couldn’t cause a fumble?

2- Well, the ground can’t cause a fumble, but you have to be established as a runner first. He wasn’t established as a runner, so its not a fumble, its incomplete…

1- But the ref thought it was a football move in real time. It seems he was a runner? And then on review he is determined not to be a runner? I’m confused…
Okay… So I’m still a bitter Cowboys fan seeing things through my blue and silver glasses.

But it is confusing! Complicated verbiage and over-analysis often lead to too many rules or rules that are difficult to interpret. The same is certainly true in golf. One of the biggest obstacles to new golfers learning the game is trying to learn a rule book so complicated that professional players and their caddies can’t even do it. If they need rules officials to help them interpret where they are allowed to drop, the average amateur has no chance.
The rues of golf are divided into 34 Rules/Decisions. Each decision can have multiple parts describing procedures to take relief, where to take a drop, when a match is conceded, etc. etc. There are rules attempting to cover every situation you can imagine. Ball in a gopher hole, live ant beds, interference from an outside agency (such as a bird), hitting your ball by accident on a practice swing, or nailing your playing partner are all covered in the book. Admittedly a lot of things can happen in a round of golf and just when you think you’ve seen it all, the game surprises you.

However, I’m not sure what is gained for the sport by having a rule book so complicated. Let’s take hitting it in the water for example. Ever tried to explain to a new player why the water outlined in red is different from the water outlined in yellow? Water is water. Isn’t it the same obstacle? Yet we seemingly treat it different because of the color of paint that was available?

The goal is to distinguish between a lateral hazard (a hazard that runs in parallel to a hole) and a hazard that was intended to be carried by the golfer. In reality, it seems this is used simply to make certain situations more penal for the player, such as the island green at Sawgrass. The green is effectively surrounded by a ‘yellow’ water hazard. What this means is that even if your ball were to hit the green and bounce into the water, you have no option to drop it by the green. You may either re-tee, or try again from the drop area (effectively the forward tee), which still involves roughly a 60 yard carry over water. Such an intimidating shot with no relief from the rule book can be frustrating. Frustrating to the tune of a player scoring a 25 on the hole in the Am Tour Senior National Championship in 2012. Not very forgiving for a high handicap player. The game should never be that hard.

If the hazard were instead marked with ‘red’, the golfer would have the option to drop a ball two club lengths from where it last crossed into the water. This would mean that they could take a drop on the green no closer to the hole than where it crossed the hazard line. A much more beneficial option than having to face the same intimidating shot over water again.

I see golfers struggle all the time with trying to remember what their options are once they get in tournament situations. Which usually results in them taking the option that they know is available and potentially not giving themselves the most advantageous drop or mishandling the rule completely.

Another tough one for amateurs is grounding your club. This is another situation where the intentions of the rule aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. In golf, you are not allowed to place the sole of the club on the ground when when your ball is in a hazard such as a bunker or inside the painted line of a water hazard. Essentially this rule protect from the golfer trying to improve their lie using their club.

Imagine a situation where a ball has become semi-plugged in a sand trap. Maybe half the ball is above the level of the sand. I can imagine a situation where a player could potentially use the act of grounding their club to move some sand away from the back of the ball and thus improve their lie. However, there is already a rule that says you can’t improve your lie. So why does the club need to hover in a bunker?

For instance, in the fairway or the rough, it is illegal to mash down the grass behind your ball in hopes to get the ball ‘teed up’. Couldn’t that same rule apply in the bunker without the need for hovering clubs? I guess the fear is that some players would abuse it and it would become a blurry line as to whether a player was grounding their club or trying to improve their lie.

I’m okay with that blurry line. There are a lot of things in golf that are blurry. It is a game of integrity. On the amateur level, there is no way to watch every player hit every shot. If my playing competitor is off in the woods teeing his ball up to give him a shot out of the trees, there is no way I can police that and maintain a decent pace of play. I have to trust that he is playing within the rules. And he has to trust me to do the same. If he isn’t, then I hope the golfing gods and karma catch up with the cheater. I don’t need additional rules to police these situations.

In the end these rules just lead to unnecessary violations. Remember during the PGA Championship a few years ago when Carl Pettersson was penalized for touching a leaf while in a hazard? Let me refresh your memory. On his back swing, Pettersson’s club brushed the grass enough to cause a leaf to flutter into the air. This was deemed as grounding his club and a good par turned into a double bogey. Brushing the grass in no way improved his lie or impacted the shot. It was a stupid example of an unnecessary rule.

There are plenty of unnecessary rules in golf. It can be overwhelming to remember them all.
When do I get one clublength vs. two clublengths for relief?
When is sand a loose impediment (it is when you are on the green, it is not when the sand is on the green and you are not) as Rory found out the hard way.
I took a practice swing and knocked a leaf off that tree, is that a penalty? Did I improve my lie?

I went to tap my 2 footer in and I think the wind moved it, is that a penalty?

For new players there is already too much to try learn in terms of etiquette. When is it their turn? Not stepping in another player’s line. How to mark their ball properly. Where to stand when another player is hitting. Etc. Etc.

Can we at least simplify the rule book?

Follow me on Twitter (@golfaddictsrx) and Facebook (golfaddictsrx).

3 Footers… News you may have missed

1) Most Overrated

Rickie continues his knack of showing up in the toughest golf tournaments. Great playing by Fowler down the stretch and a great response to being voted the most overrated player on tour by his peers. The guy destroyed the 17th hole on Sunday. As intimidating as the hole can be, Fowler had to play the hole 3 times. Once in regulation and twice in the aggregate playoff. The guy didn’t hit a shot outside 10 feet and made the putt each time. Clutch. To make it to the playoff he went -6 over his last 6 holes, including an eagle-birdie-birdie finish on a very difficult stretch.
But winning a tournament certainly takes a significant amount of luck to win. In regulation on 16, Fowler pushed his approach shot into the 16 green. The ball only cleared the water by a foot or so, then takes the nice bounce right to give him inside 3 feet for eagle. To make things even better, on 18 his ball settled just inside where Fathauer was. It was a putt that almost everybody was missing on the right hand side (including Sergio in regulation and Kisner in regulation) and Fowler got a free preview. After watching Fathauer’s putt break more than expected, Rickie rolled in the 17 foot putt that eventually got him into a playoff. See some of his stats here.
Garcia didn’t fold this time, but he still came up short at the players. Despite the clutch birdie on 17, Garcia couldn’t quite get it done when he needed to again. He makes himself an easy target, but he certainly doesn’t deserve the flak he takes from American fans. If he can keep putting himself in good situations, eventually he’ll win a big one. His ball striking is just too good, even if his putter is a little balky.
Tiger struggled throughout the week. Some good and some bad. His game seemed almost bipolar. Striped drives, followed by hooked 3 woods into the trees. The last two days his short game was pitiful. He tried a few flop shots on #9 on Saturday that had me baffled. Overall, there were bright spots for as little golf as he played and TPC Sawgrass is about as penal as they come when your game is a little off. Good just to see him finish a tournament and I hate that I have to say that. His irons were the biggest concern as what is typically a strong suit for him was not very sharp. I still think he wins a major this year. Gimme St. Andrews.

Battling nerves – The Island Green

Athletes get nervous in every sport. When the moment gets big, your palms start to sweat, your heart races, and everything tends to get a little bit quicker. Its a constant battle to stay in the moment, to control your breathing, and to control your thoughts. In most sports the athlete at least has the advantage of things moving quickly. This allows the athlete to be more reactionary, somewhat minimizing the nerves. However, even in this case nerves can be a real issue. Your brain starts to think about things that otherwise would never enter your mind. It’s easy to lose focus of the target and to begin seeing obstacles. Losing that clarity. This can happen in any sport, but golf is somewhat unique.

It is unique in the amount of time your mind has to contemplate your situation. Often it seems like there is nothing but time. There is nothing worse than having a crucial 3 foot putt and having to wait and watch while your playing partners finish their shots in order for you to finish. Minutes pass as you stare at a seemingly simple 3 footer. Trying to find break that isn’t there or thinking about how much you need this putt. Each second getting more anxious…

Finally it is your turn. The stage is clear. It is amazing the things that enter your mind. On any given Saturday it would never cross your mind that you could miss it. You’d step up confidently and brush it in. Without a thought. But this is different. It is a tournament or a big bet. You NEED this putt. So your mind begins to do funny things. It starts thinking things like “don’t pull it”, “don’t hit it too hard”, or even worse “you are going to miss this putt”. So you take a second to gather yourself. Remember that you’ve made thousands of these. Refocus on your target and put a smooth stroke on it. But those demons are real and conquering them is difficult.

Nerves can bring out negativity if you let it. And there isn’t a better nerve-inducing hole than the 17th hole on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Its such an intimidating hole that it is hard not to begin thinking about it before you even get there. I know I did. The only time I have ever played the hole was in the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship in 2012. I did not get to play a practice round before the tournament. Therefore, the first time I got to see the hole was in the first round of a 4 day tournament.

I had not played particularly well up to that point in the day. My ball striking was off and I was struggling around the difficult Stadium Course. I was +9 going into 16 (the par 5 before the island green). I just missed the green left and chipped up to about 5 feet. But I wasn’t focused on the 5 footer. My mind was already contemplating the tee shot I was about to have to hit.

ContemplatingNerves

Contemplating the tee shot to come…

Nerves will do that to you. Distract you from the task at hand. Luckily I was able to re-focus and pour in the 5 foot putt. It is a short walk from 16 green to 17 tee, but it feels like an eternity when you are not striking the ball as well as you’d like. To add to the nerves, I had just earned the honor on the tee. Having the honor can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, you don’t have to watch anyone else hit. Watching a competitor find a watery grave is not exactly an image you want to deal with before you step up to hit your shot… On the other hand, there was a significant amount of wind and seeing someone else’s shot could help with confidence in club selection.

The island green is larger in person than it appears on TV. If it weren’t surrounded by water it would be an extremely easy green to hit. But that is a lot of water. Its distracting. On the day I played it, the pin was in the middle of the green, which is a good place to aim regardless of pin location. The hole was playing between 135-140 yards with about a 12mph head wind. Not too far off from how the pros played it this weekend. On that day, I chose an 8 iron. Just an easy 8 iron. My heart was racing, my mind was racing. It was difficult to block out the fact that I had struck my irons poorly all day up until that point.

I did several things to calm my nerves. First I took some deep breaths. Second, I went to my bag and grabbed a brand new Pro V1x and put my mark on it. Most high handicappers are going to go grab a junk ball for such an intimidating shot. Basically planting the seed in their mind that they could, or even worse, will lose a golf ball. I did the opposite. I wanted a brand new ball. Not because I planned on losing it, but I told myself ‘when you make a hole in one, you’re going to want it to be a new ball.’ I was planting a good seed in my head. I was going pin seeking. Trying to eliminate the water from my thoughts.

Now that worked temporarily. Right up until I got over the ball. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. I took one last look at the pin and then everything basically went black. I don’t remember the swing. That tends to happen to me in my most nervous situations. I don’t know if it is a defense mechanism, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The swing went into autopilot until BOOM! Contact.

IslandGreen

Teeing off on famous island green. No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass.

It felt flush and it was. I looked up in time to see my ball tracking at the pin on a good trajectory. But I still wasn’t breathing until the ball came to rest about 8 feet from the hole. I had conquered the nerves and come up with one of my best swings when I needed it. I wish I could summon that kind of focus on every shot, but it would probably be mentally exhausting to experience that kind of stress. I imagine its what the best players are able to do.

My mindset shifted to salivating over a chance to birdie the famous hole in my first attempt. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end that way. My putt hit the hole and horseshoed back at me as if to laugh and say ‘good tee shot, but you’re not getting off that easily.’ I was happy to tap in the par and head to 18, where I made a great up and down for par. So I finished the dreaded 16-17-18 at even par to shoot a +9 (81). Not bad for having my C-game most of the day.

The hole obviously plays much more difficult than its yardage. At ~140 yards, the average tour pro should score around 2.97 according to Shotlink data from Broadie’s book Every Shot Counts. However, it plays harder than that most days. For the Championship flight (Handicap < 4) at the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship that year, the hole played to an average of 3.82. Almost a full 0.5 strokes more difficult than the next hardest par 3. And it was 20 yards shorter than any of the others!

The pros dominated the hole yesterday, but over the week there were a bunch of balls that found watery graves. This included Ian Poulter and Justin Thomas on Sunday. In 2013, we saw Sergio hit a couple in the water while trying to chase down the eventual champion Tiger Woods. Its the type of hole that can make good players hit uncharacteristic shots.

What is your go-to move when the nerves kick in?