ImprovementBefore we start, let’s try a quick mental exercise: You are playing a par-4 hole under benign conditions, and your drive has left you 130 yards to a pin cut just four paces on the front of the green with no hazards to clear. What is your approach? Do you pick your 130-yard club and go right for the pin, knowing if you may stiff it, but if you mishit it you may be 10-15 feet short of the green and have to chip to recover, or do you take your 140-yard club and hit for the center of the green, knowing you may have a downhill 30 foot putt but probably won’t be close to the flag for a realistic birdie chance? Hold that answer for later.

In my ongoing effort to improve, I just completed a full game analysis which included a statistical review of over 200 rounds played since 2010 and a subjective self-evaluation. Combining the two, I think I’ve landed on a reasonable strategy to take a couple strokes off my game in 2016.

The subjective component was derived from assessing my strengths and weaknesses as a player, and being as honest as possible. If you try it, this will vary by your skill level.  I realize I do not have the game of a scratch player, so I rated the various components of my game in relation to what an average 5-handicap might look like. If I could calculate strokes gained or lost for various categories, that would be great but you can’t so what I came up with was letter grades. My rank against the class: Driving: B, Irons: C-minus, Putting: B, Short Game: D, Mental game: A-minus.

Next the objective component was using data for scoring average, GIR, and putts per round. It’s well known that the most highly regarded statistic on the PGA Tour as an indicator of good play is GIR but we amateurs are not playing the PGA Tour so how relevant is GIR? Let’s see. I divided up my rounds into good ball striking days (10 or more GIR), poor ball striking days (less than 10 GIR), and good putting days (30 or less putts). What I found was there was a much higher correlation to good scoring from good ball striking than good putting. The data:

Category Average GIR Average Putts Average Score
Good ball striking rounds 11.21 32.97 76.46
Poor ball striking rounds 6.78 31.62 81.34
Good putting rounds 7.27 28.97 78.32

The difference in good ball striking rounds and poor ball striking rounds is clear.  Essentially, with each additional green hit, I lowered my score by one shot.  However, notice that during the good ball striking rounds, I averaged four more putts per round than during good putting rounds.  This is because the more greens you hit, the farther you are from the hole and you will naturally take more putts, but my stroke average was nearly two shots lower per round than the good putting rounds! What does this mean? Back to our initial example: I would probably benefit from hitting the 140-yard club and playing more conservatively on my approach shots to allow me to HIT MORE GREENS. It also speaks volumes that my short game is very poor 😦 and needs to improve to get me closer to the hole when I do miss.

Conclusion: I’m convinced, the main part of this plan is better course management.  During rounds, I need to discipline myself to aim for the fat part of the greens and assume that there’s nothing wrong with settling for two-putt pars. The occasional birdie is fine but I can’t force it.  I also need to focus most if not all of my practice time to improving short game and putting.  In essence, don’t be a hero, just lower my stroke average using the law of averages and common sense. Given the data, what do you think of this approach? Silly? Too conservative? About right? Please let me know!