We are starting a new feature where a volunteer steps forward every so often and allows a statistical deep dive into their most recent rounds. All we expect in return is that they diligently work on the areas that we identify as their biggest problems.
The purpose is to show how we can use GAME GOLF (GG) and the principles in Section 2 of Lowest Score Wins (LSW), “Building Your PracticePlan,” to move our games forward. We will:
- delve into the data provided from the GG rounds,
- use LSW as a framework to discuss areas of the player’s game that need improvement, and
- suggest very specific ways to go about lowering their scores.
One issue we foresee is: based on past experience and knowledge, it is extremely likely that we will all be the same: fix our full swings!
Over the past year, we’ve done some less formal deep dive statistical analyses with several members, and you may have seen some portions of those analyses in various threads. Each time, the answer has been: the full swing is the area to improve (both drives and approach shots). Literally every time.
So if this is the expectation, why do this at all? What is there to gain, if the answer is always the same? Our thoughts are that we can:
- demonstrate a way that we can focus our game improvement by extending the analysis from GG and applying LSW,
- find out the magnitude of our biggest problem and get a baseline for later comparison,
- get to know each other better. Mostly we know each other from our online personas, so this exercise will hopefully enhance our golf knowledge of each other, since this is a golf forum.
- have fun, dammit. People should feel free to debate this approach and the conclusions, as we can all learn from each other.
If you’re interested in taking part in this in the future, shoot a PM to @RandallT. The preference will be to have players who use GG diligently and who have purchased LSW. The intent is to document where a player stands now (hence, the need for solid data from GG), analyze their game against LSW to make some recommendations, and then follow up at a later date (hence, the need for the participant to be familiar with LSW). The pressure is on to improve, so that’s the only form of payment we expect!
So let’s get on with it. Our first brave volunteer is @Fairway_CY, who blogs his rounds in detail here at The Sand Trap. We’ll call him “CY” for the rest of this article.
CY is in his late 30s, and has been playing since he was 14. Up until his mid-teens, he was an all-star baseball player, but after getting a taste for golf, the high school baseball team would have to take a back seat to his golf passion. After dabbling in college golf, CY realized that required an entirely different level of talent, and he’d readjust expectations for the rest of his golf career.
With a family/kids on the horizon, golf remained a serious hobby, and CY managed to avoid the trap that many of us fall into where we put our clubs in the closet, only to gather dust. Over the years, CY has competed in many different tournaments and organized competitions, the latest being the GolfWeek Amateur Tour in Charlotte, NC.
CY is a great candidate for this analysis, because although he has never taken a lesson, he is incredibly diligent about documenting his rounds. If there’s something we need to know, CY likely has it somewhere in his system of stats tools, or has blogged the information somewhere!
He has agreed to take a hard look at any recommendations that come out of this, and dedicate effort to improve the areas that might demonstrate the most need.
CY’s Initial Thoughts: Strengths/Weaknesses
Since CY already does detailed statistical tracking (in addition to GG), he has a very good idea that it is off the tee where he suffers most. For the 27 rounds he has played this year, he pointed out to us that he has amassed 126 penalties, possibly near 200 strokes (that could be 7 strokes per round right there!). So as we begin, our expectation is to find weakness off the tee, but the journey should be interesting nonetheless.
For strengths, CY thinks that is simply his even keel attitude on the course. We can see that in his vLog here. Since we cannot statistically analyze that attitude, CY thought he’d have to go with his pitch shots inside around 80 yards. We will take a look to see if we can find any support for that in his GG numbers, or what we extract from GG data.
The key in this analysis is simply to look at the proximity to the hole- before and after every shot. That’s basically it.
This is particularly important for putting, but also for determining the quality of short game and approach play. It’s a bit of effort to log every shot, but once we do that, we can assess how well we advance the ball from each position- plus we can analyze against strokes gained baselines that can be found freely available. (such as here). Over the past year, several forum members have helped to validate an analysis tool where we transcribe every shot from the GG rounds, allowing us to enhance the reports we get from GG. The trick is in how to interpret the numbers, of course.
So let’s put the standard GG statistics reports to work, along with any more detailed reports we can tease out of the GG shot recording. These extra reports will be generated primarily from how we advance the ball and how we score from various ranges. This will be important when we bring in LSW, as the benchmarks in the book include a target proximity for shots from various ranges. For example, for shots around the green (<20yds), the performance ceiling is to get the ball to an average of 6ft from the pin. Our tool can analyze exactly how well we perform against that benchmark, but GG itself does not have this direct report (yet).
CY’s most recent rounds were analyzed in this fashion, so let’s take a closer look at each area (Driving, Approaches, Short Game, Putting) to see what they reveal. First, let’s review his overall picture.
CY’s GG profile statistics above match the 8 representative rounds that we selected for CY to export to our tool. The only thing to add is that his nGIR rate is 58%, which is not a statistic provided by GG yet.
So let’s start there. These are what most of us consider the traditional stats. Initial thoughts:
- 39% FIR- seems about right for a 20 handicap, but driving is clearly an area to look into, based on what CY has told us. How bad are the misses- are they OB/penalties, or just barely in the rough? Hard to tell how significant this 39% number is to CY’s score.
- 23% GIR- an area that could be improved- indicating driving and approach areas need to be looked at.
- 58% nGIR- that’s somewhere about 10.5 out of 18 holes- again indicating we need to look at driving and approach areas. CY is leaving 7.5 holes out there where he is a substantial distance from the hole in regulation.
- 13% scrambling. GG uses 50yds as its threshold so we will see how that stacks up. As a number, it seems a tad low and worth investigating.
- Putting is under 2.0 putts per hole, so that might be statistically where CY is best.
We also have this information in our reports.
Since CY plays the par threes in under bogey golf, and struggles most on the par fours (then the par fives). This indicates a problem with the driver, as par threes do not require a driver. This is just a hunch at this point, but worth keeping in mind.
Thus far, based on the anecdote about tee shot penalties and the overall numbers above, our prime suspects include driving and iron play (full swing). But there is nothing conclusive about one over the other, nor exactly how short game and putting measure up in relation to the full swing. At this point, we are just guessing at how severe the problem is for each area.
As we will see, there is more that will come to light as we dive deeper.
So let’s keep going. Next up: an overall look at strokes gained reports.
Hailed by many as the holy grail of golf statistics, we have learned to be careful to take the numerical analyses against different baselines with a grain of salt, so we will also temper the results we get here with a bit of perspective. “Strokes gained” is far from an exact science. GG provides this strokes gained analysis, derived from their data on scratch players:
From our extracted information, we can derive this analysis against PGA benchmarks:
Of note is that GG uses 100yds as its threshold for “Short Game,” but our analysis uses 60yds. GG is using their own baseline data for scratch players, while our tool uses PGA benchmark data.
Quite a difference in the graphs! In nearly every instance of comparison of PGA vs. GG Scratch strokes gained, we have seen the GG distribution shifted more “to the right” in these charts. In other words, for the same player, GG identifies more of a need to focus on short game and putting than our analysis. This has been very consistent for most analyses of players at The SandTrap.
GG shows that CY can gain 24.6 strokes: full swing 12.1, inside 100yd 12.5 strokes.
But when comparing against PGA data, CY can gain 27.1 strokes, full swings 18.3, inside 60yds 8.8 strokes.
So the plot thickens! From CY’s gut feel above, his tee shots resulted in many penalty shots, so we tend to weigh the GG strokes gained chart a little less. In reviewing his rounds, we routinely saw at least 3 strokes lost due to OB drives, so it’s likely CY is losing more than the 4.8 strokes than GG is reporting. Since the GG module is not transparent to us regarding its strokes gained calculation, and we know how many penalties CY receives off the tee, we tend to have more faith in the strokes gained numbers from our own analysis, as that calculation is relatively straightforward.
The surprising number is the 11.0 strokes lost per round with approaches. Whether it’s 9, 10, 11, or 12 is not critical- but the fact that this number popped up as an anomaly has made approach play worth our while to investigate further. By looking at proximity and scores from approach range, we can do a check on the magnitude of that number.
At this point, the weight of the evidence indicates the full swing needs the most work. Surprisingly, the edge appears to belong to CY’s iron play- not what we had expected.
Let’s continue on into each area, starting with driving.
In the “Insights” area, GG provides us with this report on CY’s driving:
GG also provides this in the club data:
CY has hit 49% of fairways with his driver for the past 10 rounds, with an “expected” distance near 230 yds. (Note: in an earlier chart, CY only hit 39% of fairways, which was from all of his rounds with all of his clubs off the tee).
This is good information, but percentages do not quite tell us tangible information about how these results are affecting his score. How often is he OB? Is he so far off the fairway that he is chipping out sideways, or are the missed fairways still playable? How will hitting one more fairway likely affect his score? Let’s turn to what the our reports can tell us from the same GG data.
This chart below analyzes the impact of all of his drives over 8 representative rounds we selected:
We already saw that CY lost 7.3 strokes per round due to his 14 opportunities per round with drives on par 4s and 5s, and here we can see the impact of his missing the fairway.
For the 5.6 times per round that CY hits the fairway, he scores +5.4 on those holes. For the 8.4 times per round that CY misses the fairway, he scores nearly +15 on those holes. That’s almost double-bogey golf.
If CY can hit the fairway, he basically gains a stroke compared to when he misses the fairway.
It is reasonable for CY to save 3 strokes per round, simply by modestly improving his drives. If he can hit one or two more fairways per round and hit just one or two fewer shots OB off the tee per round than he currently does, this is within reach.
In the “Insights” area, GG provides this scatter plot:
This indicates CY hits the ball short more than he does long. Quite significantly more shots shorter than long. But how does this impact CY’s scoring?
Extracting the shots from GG, we can generate this view of things to see the impact on scoring of hitting greens:
This highlights the importance of CY hitting the green or getting near the green. For the 10.5 holes per round that CY is on or near the green, he scores about +7 for those holes (better than bogey golf). But for the 7.5 holes per round where he is not near the green in regulation, CY scores over +16 (worse than double-bogey golf). The poor ball-striking holes are hurting CY.
Here are some charts regarding his ability to get the ball close and to score from various ranges. A wealth of information, but we will highlight a couple things that stand out.
From this, we see conclusive evidence that CY is not hitting it close enough with his approaches. For example, CY is getting 9 opportunities per round in the 120-170yd range, and he is basically averaging a score of 4.0 from that range. CY is getting the ball near the green only 2/3 of the time (hitting the green half of those). His average proximity from 120-170yds is over 70ft. In those 9 opportunities from 120-170yds, he is losing 3.4 strokes.
LSW documents ceilings on performance for how often a player could hit the green from 60-220yds, and CY would need to improve substantially to reach those ceilings. This leads us to believe that moderate effort in these approach shots should pay big dividends.
From 60-120yds in the fairway, CY hit the green 13 times in 29 opportunities, with a proximity average of 60ft. Remember the perceived strength at the top of the article? CY felt his strength was pitches from inside 80yds. This data indicates that short irons are actually an area where CY could stand to gain some significant strokes. CY may feel that he excels from here, but his strength actually lies more in the next section below (chips <20yds).
To summarize this approach play, CY loses about 9 strokes per round from 60yds-220yds (plus more when you consider the long shots, not shown above, from outside 220yds). And he is getting at least one opportunity to hit a shot from this range every hole. To lose 9 strokes in 18 opportunities is a problem. CY needs to hit more greens, or simply advance it much closer and more safely on his approaches.
With moderate effort in his full swing mechanics and perhaps better strategy, CY may be able to make up 5 strokes from the 11 he is losing from the fairways. This includes limiting the number of fairway penalty shots that we see from a careful review of his rounds. We think CY is taking on too much risk in his approaches, and if he can both improve his Shot Zone size and more effectively use the concept of Shot Zones from LSW, 5 shots is a reasonable improvement in a fairly short period of time.
GG shows us this scatter plot from inside 100yds:
Again, we see that his trend is to hit short more than long. We can extract proximity data from GG, and we reveal this information:
CY’s loses strokes fairly equally between short chips (<20yds), longer pitches (20-60yds), and bunker play. Longer bunker shots are not shown, but they were not significant.
On a positive note, CY’s proximity on the short chips from the fairway is 6ft, which matches the ceiling in LSW. All of this only accounts for just over 4 strokes per round lost to how PGA pros would play the same 16 shots. On too many holes, he had multiple short game opportunities, breaking the cardinal rule that the main goal of a short game shot is to not leave yourself another short game shot.
All in all, CY’s play is likely pretty decent for a 20 handicapper. We think he could shave 1 stroke in short game, but this should not be a primary area of effort at this point.
GG indicates that CY has 1.9 putts per round (33.9 per round). GG says CY loses over 6 strokes to scratch players. When we extract the same puts and compare against PGA data, we see CY losing just under 5 putts per round. Take your pick.
Here is more data after extracting the putting data from GG:
CY’s average proximity is about 17ft, but his initial putt lengths are mostly inside 15ft. He hits a decent number of those putts, but he three-putts 1 of every 20 attempts.
CY loses about 3 strokes putting to PGA pros in the 3-15ft range with about 15 opportunities per round. While he three putts regularly from long range, the relatively few opportunities prevents that skill from adding up as much as the missed putts in the “Green Zone” (LSW definition) of 3-15ft. Plus, the fact that he is poor from 3-15ft will result in more three-putts from long range, because he fails to hit the comeback putt.
We think CY could shave 1 stroke in putting with some effort, but this should not be a primary area of effort at this point.
Putting it All Together
GG says the driving is the area where CY is doing relatively the best according to their strokes gained. But their recommendations are this:
We recommend re-ordering their list, and we expect to check in with CY next when he is shooting 10 strokes fewer per round (reducing from 98 to 88):
- Full Swing- Approach shots. Anytime you are 120-170yds, think of it as a short par 3, and track how well you do from that range (whether you arrived there after 7 strokes, or if it’s your tee shot). If you can bring that down to a 3.5 average from the current 4.0 average, you will save 4.5 strokes, since you average 9 opportunities per round from that 120-170yd range. This is the lowest hanging fruit, and with moderate work, it is reasonable to save a total of 5 strokes for all approaches at all ranges if you focus on advancing the ball with better full swing mechanics and better strategy using shot zones.
- Full Swing- Drives on Par 4/5s. Every time you hit the fairway, you are effectively saving a shot (on average). You averaged 5.6 fairways over the 8 rounds we analyzed, and you played bogey golf from there. When you missed the fairway, you averaged roughly double-bogey golf. Hit the fairway once more per round and you can effectively save a stroke. Reducing your OB can save you about 2 strokes. By better ball striking off the tee and a better use of shot zone strategy, it is reasonable to shave another 3 strokes.
- Short Game and Putting– in the 20-60yd range, you average over 3.0 strokes to hole out. That should be under 3.0, as you should be able to get the ball on the green and mostly two-putt. You should get up and down more than 20% (see LSW targets). In this range, you may be able to shave a stroke. In the LSW-defined “green zone” of putting, you can likely shave a stroke or two with moderately better play and some effective practice. Combined, it’s therefore reasonable to shave 2 strokes on and around the greens with only moderate improvement. But this is not your priority.
Note: this is a mid-range improvement plan, and this is not about shaving a few strokes quickly (where many people advocate cleaning up short game as a quick hit). We are discussing the vast number of strokes that are eligible for substantial improvement in CY’s game.
Of the 38 opportunities for full swing shots, CY loses about 18 strokes. Of the 40 consequential opportunities (outside 2 feet) for short game/putts we analyzed, he loses only about 9 strokes. Therefore, in fewer consequential opportunities for the full swing, CY is leaking in the neighborhood of 2/3 of the damage to his score. That should be the focus.
After reviewing Section 2 of LSW, “Building Your PracticePlan,” the following list is a place to start:
- Find an instructor to get some guidance on your weakest areas of your full swing mechanics.
- Practice according to LSW on the keys that an instructor finds.
- Read about and implement “shot zones” from LSW. To reduce the number of penalties, you must understand fully the risk you are taking on with each shot.
- Use the face-powdering ideas found in LSW to ensure you are making solid contact.
- Use the technique described in LSW to improve starting lines . Track 10 shots each time you go to the range to see if you improve hitting your start lines.
- For your iron play, read and implement the “Control Your Low Point” section of LSW. This could be why most of your iron shots are short, as reflected by GG.
Review of CY Prediction
As a final feature, we intend to compare each player to see if they were mostly on target in their own self-assessment. This can be a lesson for all of us, as we may notice a pattern across multiple players. Is our gut feel supported by data?
If you recall, CY guessed he was losing the most strokes with his tee shots. He was reluctant to guess his strength, but he guessed it was his ability to knock it close from inside 80yds.
After digesting the data, the deep dive indicates that CY is leaking the most strokes with iron play- not enough consistency in solid contact, resulting in poor proximity results (and occasional penalties). About 11 strokes per round to the professionals from full swing shots beyond 60yds (not including tee shots. Tee shots need work, as well, but only about 7 strokes per round.
As for strengths, CY’s guess of 80yd pitches could still use work, but his best area was shown to be the short chips inside 20yds from the fairway. In 25 attempts over 8 rounds, CY got up and down 60% of the time, with an average proximity of 6ft. From the rough, it was a little different story, but CY’s chipping from good lies seems to be in decent shape.