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Why amateurs are better off hitting driver where possible

Golf Tips

15th Club are the oracle when it comes to golf stats. So we asked them how us mere club players can use them to help our game

Everybody on tour wants an edge which is why the 15th Club have been part of the backroom team at the last two Ryder Cups as well as helping a number of tour pros.

The 15th Club is made up of passionate golfers, data scientists and software engineers, and between them they are able to tell us all manner of ways how we can improve.

But it’s not just the boys and girls in the professional game who can take advantage of their skills, we all can.

So, in the first of a new series with 15th Club, we asked them what we all should be doing to help us make a few strides forward in this year’s medals…

We all watch a lot of golf on TV with clips of players holing putts from all over the green but this obviously isn’t a true reflection of how well the game is played. What evidence have you got that we might take heart from as club golfers?

Pros only find about 60% of fairways off the tee – less when hitting driver. Pros only get up and down from the sand 50% of the time. Pros average 15 feet from 100 yards in the fairway. Pros only hit it on the green half the time from 150 yards in the rough. Pros only make 20% of putts from 20 feet. Pros score over par on par 3 and par 4 holes.

Despite what you see on the TV these superstar players are still mortal, this is always worth remembering for our own games.

How detailed should we go on keeping stats?

There are endless options. One of our staff tracks his stats for every shot for every round he plays and calculates his handicap for each area of his game. That’s too much for most but we suggest focusing on simple counting stats for now.

  1. How often did I hit a terrible shot, the kind that costs you a ball or forces you to hack out sideways or replay a shot?
  2. How often was I in play off the tee? This is any drive where you could hit a normal shot towards the green –fairway, rough, fairway bunker, as long as you could play a normal shot. The penalty for finding the rough vs. fairway is much less for us amateurs than professionals.
  3. How often was I on the green in regulation or close enough to chip or putt it from the fairway or rough? Even good amateurs only get it up and down from the sand 25% of the time so greenside bunkers are killers.
  4. How often am I holing putts from 3-10 feet? Amateurs always have putts from this range to clean up pars or bogeys.

Dustin Johnson

How should we be breaking our putting stats down rather than the total number of putts, some of which will be from off the green?

Counting putts, especially given amateurs putt more often from around the green than the pros, is not very informative. Instead, get a little more granular:

  1. Count the number of three-putts from anywhere on the green or fringe. Even on starting putts outside 50 feet a three-putt is losing strokes for a sub-20 handicapper.
  2. Record your make percentage inside 10 feet without counting putts inside three feet. Good players should be making about 50% of their putts from six feet and about 25% from 10 feet.

Pros have Strokes Gained and so on to see how they measure up against their peers. What can we do as club golfers to work out what a stat actually means?

Strokes Gained stats are presented as very complicated advanced stats, but they’re actually straightforward. Compared to golfers like you, is a shot you hit from a given location better or worse than the typical shot?

For example, if you’re a 10 handicap with a 125-yard shot from the fairway, the typical shot will be to about 35 feet. Anything inside 35 feet gains strokes, anything outside 35 feet loses strokes.

From the greenside sand at 20 yards, an average shot will be to about 18 feet. Anything inside 18 feet gains strokes, anything outside 18 feet loses strokes.

Tommy Fleetwood

Should we be playing a hole according to our strengths – for example good with an 8-iron rather than a gap wedge – rather than just always hitting driver?

This is a losing strategy in the professional game. In the amateur game, most players will be better off hitting driver on all possible holes.

The rewards to extra distance diminish once you have a short wedge in hand but always choose a wedge over your 8-iron.

Given lots of us play large chunks of our golf on the same course, what stats are good ones to keep after a round?

We suggest adopting some of the principles around Strokes Gained methodology to the stats you track.

First, poor shots kill your performance and can ruin a day of good shots. These shots – lost balls off the tee, drives into the trees which require a chip out, approaches in the water, bunker shots left in the bunker – cost a stroke or more each.

Single-digit handicaps should aim to keep this number below two per round and those from 10-20 should aim for under four per round.

Next, measure how many times you have a birdie putt inside 20 (10-20 handicap) or 25 feet (single-figure handicap). Good players will get down in two shots on average from here and par is always a good score.

These measures will show how often you’re torpedoing your score on a hole and how often you’re placing yourself in great position to score.

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Source: National Club Golf