How To Win

by Mark Sweeney, AimPoint Founder

Golf is an incredible challenge because to win at the pro level it requires a unique blend of phyiscal strength and delicate touch.  It’s also a multi-dimensional game where the player has to excel at a variety of skills including long game, accuracy, shot shaping, disaster recovery, wedge play,  green-reading, speed control, putting mechanics, endurance, strategy, and mental toughness, to name a few.

With all those performance measures to manage, how do we best predict a player’s score, where should a player focus?  Hitting more fairways? Driving Distance? Putting?  Well, there actually is a highly accurate predictvie model that can shape your practice and performance measurements and help you to understand where to spend your practice time most efficienctly.

In 2008 I ran a regression analysis of PGA TOUR scoring using about 16,000 rounds of data to try to get a handle on how important each performance factor was in predicting a player’s score.  The results were logical but not necessarily in line with conventional wisdom.  The model said GIR was most the best predictor of score, with putting a close 2nd and scrambling 3rd.  Seems logical, hit the green and make the putt and you’ve made birdie.  Miss the green and get up and down and you’ve saved par.  Do that all day and you’ll shoot under par every time.

What was suprising is the extremely low correleation between hitting fairways and score.  In other words, driving accuracy is actually a very poor predictor of score.  Many players believe that hitting more fairways necessarily means hitting more greens, but for pro’s, the data doesn’t support that conclusion.  In 2012 the two most accurate players off the tee lost their cards, and over the last 10 years the driving accuracy leader on PGA TOUR has been more likely than not to lose their card.  Let’s look at the 2012 winners on PGA TOUR and see how they ranked on average in the tournament they won:

Measure Rank
Driving Distance 33
Driving Accuracy 25
GIR 17
Putting 13
Scrambling 13

Rankings from the 2012 PGA TOUR season support the model but indicate a slight preference for putting and scambling over GIR.  When players won they separated themselves from the field the most in short game.  Driving comes in last again, albeit above average.

How about on the LPGA?  The stats are not as complete as on the PGA TOUR, but we see the same trend again. The Top 5 players in the world in 2012 differentiated themselves most in GIR and Putts Per GIR, which can otherwise be thought of as Birdie Conversion Rate (unfortunately we dont have Scrambling stats on the LPGA).  These Top 5 players won almost half of all LPGA tournaments in 2012:

Top 5 World Ranking LPGA Avg
Driving Accuracy 72% 70%
GIR 72% 66%
Putts/GIR 1.765 1.844
Birdie Conversion 24% 16%

Let’s take a closer look at two individual players over the last 4 years, Yani Tseng and Stacy Lewis, ranked 1st and 3rd in the world currently, and see how their money won related to these factors:

Yani Tseng Driving Accuracy GIR Birdie Conversion Money
2012 59% 69% 23%  $ 1,430,159
2011 69% 74% 23%  $ 2,921,713
2010 63% 69% 22%  $ 1,573,529
2009 65% 72% 19%  $ 1,293,755
         
Stacy Lewis Driving Accuracy GIR Birdie Conversion Money
2012 75% 75% 25%  $ 1,872,409
2011 71% 71% 22%  $ 1,356,211
2010 71% 70% 21%  $    566,400
2009 70% 69% 16%  $    298,422

In both cases there seems to be a small correlation between driving accruacy and GIR, but there is a huge correlation between GIR and Birdie Conversion, and Money won.  This is particulary obvious if you compare Lewis’s 2009 season with her 2011 season (Lewis begain using AimPoint in 2010).

So the winning model for pro golf is that you must expect to perform at these levels:

Driving Accuracy 65%
GIR 75%
Putts/GIR 1.700
Scrambling 75%

That transalates into 9 fairways, 14 greens in regulation, 30% birdie conversion rate, and getting up and down 3 out of 4 attempts.  On your scorecard it will translate into a minimum of 4 birdies and no more than 1 bogey per round.  The least intimidating way to think about this is that you must birdie two of the par 5 holes, then find 2 other birdies on the course without giving back more than 1 bogey.  On the PGA TOUR the birdie conversion will typically be slightly higher so you’ll need 5 birdies per round instead of 4.

If you’re an amateur, you can get a good prediction of what your handicap should be by checking out our Score Prediction Model online. This will help tell you where to focus your practice energies. If you dont know your own stats, then I highly suggest using an online stats tool like eGolfPlan.com or ShotsToHole.com.

It’s hard to know how to improve performance if you dont know what your performance levels are.  So if you’re serious about getting better, start tracking your stats and make a plan which focuses on hitting greens, putting, and scrambling.

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