Putt for dough

We’ve all heard that remark when we’ve missed a short three-footer for par or watched the pros putt for hundreds of thousands of dollars if they make that putt. Truth is, many are saying that it’s a statistical mistake to say that’s the most important aspect of the game.

Edoardo Molinari, one of golf’s biggest hitters, is one who thinks we all need to rethink that notion. He’s been gathering more numbers than our local phone book since 2003, when he was still an amateur. He would monitor where shots landed and then record their ensuing results. “It does change the way you practice,” Molinari maintains. “You can immediately tell where your strength points and weaknesses are. It’s a number. You can compare yourself between one season and another.” Look at who is winning tournaments right now: Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Stephen Gallacher, Richard Sterne and others. All hitting it over 300 yards off the tee and hitting fairways over 55 percent of the time!

In the spring of 2011, the PGA Tour introduced a new statistical category called strokes gained-putting. The brainchild of Columbia Business School professor Mark Broadie, the stat was the first of its kind to measure how golfers compared to the median. Just spouting numbers about putting average and total putts didn’t give golfers a perspective on how putting well equaled strokes gained on their competitors. Strokes gained in driving accuracy is relatively a new statistic and one that has opened many tour players’ eyes. Tiger Woods started it, but now intense strength training has become the norm. When he was younger and healthier, he knew he had a distinct advantage over the competition because of conditioning, out-driving most tour players by 15 to 20 yards. We can see a dramatic difference in Phil Mickelson’s game due to his loss of 15 to 20 yards off the tee because of his psoriatic arthritis.

Think about your own game for a minute. How many strokes do you think you gain when you’re hitting it 260 to 280 yards? Landing 10 out of 14 fairways versus four or five? Maybe you hit one or two in the water, which costs you at least two strokes. How about when you put one behind the trees or hit it out of bounds? Hit it long and straight and you’re approach shots requiring an easier to hit, loftier club like a nine or wedge! On the other hand, miss the fairway or duff it short and you typically lose at least two or three strokes, forcing you to hit a rescue club or five iron to reach in regulation. That is definitely a more difficult shot and one that won’t pencil out well statistically.

On the other hand, there’s no arguing the phrase, “fairways and greens.” Probably the most accurate one-liner that demands our respect. It’s something we all aspire to but few ever – and I mean ever – master. Including the pros! I’m one who believes if I averaged a two putt on every green it would almost always equal a win of some kind. Truth is, after reading what others have said about this subject and remembering my own past wins and losses, I’m starting to believe there’s something to longer/straighter equals lower scores. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in working on one’s short game. Especially if that’s where your weakness resides. However, I find that if I hit it long and straight with the driver or a long iron, my confidence and inflated ego pull me through the short game, as well. In the April issue of Golf Digest, Mr. Rory McIlroy agrees. “When I’m driving it well, everything is good in my world,” he said, also adding, “When my driving is sharp, I’m hitting a lot of short-iron and wedge second shots.” Get the picture?

Something to think about (as if there’s not enough to think about in this game): The main point I think Molinari and others are saying is that there is a significant understanding gained from the standard statistics, such as driving accuracy and greens in regulation. But if you really want to understand where to focus your efforts on the practice range, it would be very beneficial to understand how you compare to a similar handicapped golfer when it comes to strokes gained in driving.

Strokes gained and other pertinent data will no doubt be the next big thing in golf instruction. With the advent of launch monitors and simulators, we now know a lot about our swing. Strokes gained is changing how the pros prepare and focus their strengths over their competition and past performance. So get out your pencil and start writing down how many fairways you hit, greens in regulation and strokes gained in putting. Keep it in your “Golf Journal” so that one day, when an app presents itself or an instructor asks, you’ll be ready to take your game to the next level just like the pros!

See ya on the links!

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