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... 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 green-side performance. In 2013, McDowell was ranked #1 on the tour in saves at 72.6%.

That is 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 green-side 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 three less bogeys. It would also have given him 12 more birdie opportunities, of which he could be expected to make two to three of them.

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

Digging deeper, let's take a look into McDowell's bag to see how his tool kit was configured that week. He had his set-match PW, plus a 52° and 58° degree wedges. So, if we assume he hits 9-iron 150+ yards 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 one out of three greens from inside 150 yards, which cost him 54 birdie opportunities and put 15 bogeys on the card.

Does that make any sense at all for a tour professional?
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[ comments ]
GolfSmith7 says:
If you haven't read the book "Every shot counts" by Michael Broadie it goes into what you discussed here. I would love to increase my G.I.R average to at least 55% which is 10 out of 18. As of this moment I average about 7.6 G.I.R so I have a way to go to average 10. My ultimate goal is to average 13 out of 18 or 72% but I have to take it one step at a time.
Duke of Hazards says:
More numbers: Although Harbour Town is roughly 5% shorter in length than the average PGA Tour setup, the greens are tiny - 44% smaller than average.

Harbour Town is a pretty unique golf course and not a good pick to make generalizations. It's got tight (in some cases, extremely tight) fairways and alleyways to hit the ball. The greens are small and pretty straightforward. The course pretty much eliminates the bomber's advantage so most winners are average to short hitters. You get the Boo Weekley's who can dissect the course with shotmaking and then can hole putts even though they suck at putting and you get the Brandt Snedekers who don't hit a ton of greens but can aggressively drop birdies easily on the ones they do hit. Then you get the tweeners like Graeme that probably hit it very close to the green and chip close or in.
Duke of Hazards says:
Your article implies that due to course length, players are hitting shorter clubs into the greens, but the average approach length to green is near average as course layout and the restricted fairway width dictate less club off the tee much of the time.
slimpks1850 says:
When is a pro going to use SCOR wedges?
jfurr says:
I once went through past winners In The Bags and wrote down their wedge configs. Most of them were not carrying even gaps. Often it would be something like 47 to 54 to 60. Maybe because they have the skills and the feel
jasonfish11 says:
Do you sell left handed scor wedges for my son (pictured)? Lol
Ward says:
any pro golfer could hit more GIR if they aimed for the center of the green.... they don't do that though as they're trying to set themselves up for birdies and not just pars

GIR doesn't mean much if you're 40 feet from the hole
DougE says:
You can twist the specs to say what you want. My guess is that Graeme can be more accurate than 90% of us with a set-matched PW alone. Seve certainly could. It's not how many wedges and short irons you carry, it's how much touch you have with the ones you do carry.

For example, I play a 9i, PW, 52, 56, and 60 for my short game. I hit my 52 between 95 and 105 yards with a normal full swing. But, I can just as easily hit my PW (or 9i for that matter) the same distance if I need to. I pitch a PW 65-70 yards from the fairway with a 9-3 swing with little wrist set, or I can hit a full swing 60* from the same spot to that distance. The results, when hit correctly, are pretty much the same. I spend many hours practicing with these 5 clubs to all distances from 125 and in. THAT is what makes the difference. IMO it's not having more clubs to fill gaps that aren't really there. You just need to practice a bit to know how to fill them. It's really that simple. Sorry. Continued....
DougE says:
I miss many greens due to my lack of distance. (I'm not as young as I used to be!) There are too many greens I have to hit mid-long irons and hybrids into. I would guess the majority of amateurs over a 6 or 7 index are missing greens because of distance or dispersion. Not because they needed an in between club from 125 yards. Anyone who plays professionally or even avid club golfers, knows how to take a little off or add a little to a shot, particularly as the clubs get shorter.

The only gap that I need to fill is the one between the pin and me when I'm farther out than I can accurately hit my longest club. It seems lately, in the early season cold and wind, that has been happening way too often.
joe jones says:
My gaps are the six inches between my ears.
jrbizzle says:
I have a really hard time thinking a guy who is arguably one of the best 20 golfers in the world doesn't know what's best for his bag or practice time. Sorry, just speaking my mind.
jasonfish11 says:
I'm pretty sure GMAC can do better from inside 150 yards with a 5i than 95% of us could do with a bag full of wedges.
bkuehn1952 says:
"I would guess the majority of amateurs over a 6 or 7 index are missing greens because of distance or dispersion. Not because they needed an in between club from 125 yards." DougE

Exactly! You stated the issue perfectly as it relates to my game.
legitimatebeef says:
Tough crowd in here.
Tim Horan says:
18 months ago I bought a laser range finder, after vowing that I would never buy one. If the numbers match a club then, without making adjustments for wind or geographical conditions most times that is what I will take. It has removed the guess work over distances but as DougE has said it has created a perception of gaps that perhaps does not exist. I am quite able to hit my PW 60yds to a pin or 130yds to a pin. But say my range finder tells me the distance is 105yds I look first at my 52 degree gap wedge before making any adjustments for wind, overhanging trees, bunkers to fly etc. If I have nothing to fly I may take a PW or even a 9 iron and punch one in low to check up on second bounce. There can be no substitute for shot making regardless of how many clubs you have in the bag and what gaps they seek to fill.
Mr_X says:
I am not a good golfer. Since I am a 20 handicap right now, I cannot say what is right or wrong for Graeme McDowell. (I have trouble looking at my own stats. Why would I analyze someone else's numbers?) But, I do know that golf is very similar to 8 ball. The most important thing about your next shot, in billiards and golf, is what kind of leave are you giving yourself? You need to be in good position AND your next shot has to line up. I think positioning is more important to a good golf game than your shot making skills with your short irons or the distance control you have with them. Terry you have said it before, being 170 yards out in the fairway is always better than 150 out in the third cut. You say that Graeme is constantly hitting those awkward "in-betweeners". Well, maybe what he needs is another fairway wood or hybrid instead of another wedge to shorten his tee shots for tighter courses that leave him in those awkward distances.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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