What’s In The Numbers

Golf has become as statistics-crazy as baseball, it seems. OK, well not even close, but we are learning a lot more about PGA Tour professionals’ games since ShotLink came out and can measure just about anything that they do on the course. A lot of the focus initially was on “Strokes Gained – Putting”, where the early indications were that those who were putting the best were the ones at the top of the leaderboard each week. And that is still somewhat the case.

But the experts that are studying these statistics for “the secret” are beginning to determine that the overall “ballstriking” efficiency is showing up as possibly a more accurate indicator of how well a golfer will do each week. In this context, what I mean by “ballstriking” is the golfer’s ability to hit fairways and greens . . . but mostly greens.

So, as I think about this stuff more than the average guy, I was struck by an article yesterday tracking Graeme McDowell’s proficiency in a couple of areas. The article was focused on the relationship between McDowell’s recent performance to his improvement in the “up & down” percentage. It seems that he has elevated his greenside performance. In 2013, McDowell was ranked #1 on the tour in saves at 72.6%.

That’s impressive, but think about this for a minute.

He was #7 in GIR (greens in regulation) at last year’s RBC Heritage at Harbor Town with 66.67%, exactly 2 out of 3. So he missed 27 of the 72 greens . . . this on a course that is notably short so the players hit lots of approaches with very short irons and wedges. Of those 27 greens he missed, he would make bogey on 7-8 of them with his greenside save percentage. And of course, those accounted for 27 missed birdie opportunities, right?

So, what if Graeme McDowell would work harder and rebuild his “tool box” in order to improve his short iron and full-swing wedge play to improve his GIR % to 15 greens a round? That would have given him 12 less “save opportunities”, resulting in 3 less bogies. It would also have given him 12 more birdie opportunities, of which he could be expected to make 2-3 of them.

So, my point here is that he could improve his scoring in this tournament by 5-6 shots, if he was a better short range GIR performer . . . and he should be.

Digging deeper, let’s take a look into McDowells’ bag to see how his tool kit was configured that week. He had his set-match PW, plus a 52 and 58 degree ‘wedge’. So, if we assume he hits 9-iron 150+ like most of the players, he only had three clubs for all his approaches inside 150 yards, so he deals with at least 20-25 yard gaps between them, therefore he is constantly hitting those awkward “in-betweeners”.

His tour stats from all of last year indicate he missed 1 out of 3 greens from inside 150 yards, which cost him 54 birdies opportunities and put 15 bogies on the card.
Does that make any sense at all for a tour professional?