Formula for Improvement in 2016

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!

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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7 Responses to Formula for Improvement in 2016

  1. I think your take on this is just about right, but I think there is one area where we all fail, including yours truly. What are we doing that day. I think when we are having a bad day we try to get too much out of it, and when we are on, we don’t take enough chances of getting close to the pin.There is something disheartening about shooting for the middle of the green when you are about 110 yards out, but on some days that is exactly what you should do.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Vet, you are exactly right. And the big challenge is dealing with 20-20 hindsight when we make the wrong decision. If you are “feeling it” and you chunk or blade one from trying to hit a shot too full to a perfect yardage, you’re still in double bogeysville. 🙂

      Thanks!

      Brian

  2. Brian,

    Interesting, I commend you for being so diligent with your stats! I think as a general rule, most amateurs would do better if they ignored the pin and aimed at the middle of the green. I think this is a sound strategy, and focusing on hitting it the right distance as opposed to hitting (steering) it close. Keep us posted!

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, I think the strategy that you use has to meld with your personality. You must be comfortable with the approach. If I adopt the “center of the green” mentality, I’ll be looking at less 71’s and 81’s and trying to lower my overall stroke average. I’m not sure I’ll enjoy shooting away from accessible pins, but the data doesn’t lie! Will let you know how it goes after I get a reasonable sample size.

      Have you opened your season yet?

      Regards,

      Brian

      • You’re definitely right, Brian. And at the end of the day as amateurs we have to play to have fun. If firing at flags is fun, we should go for it, as long as we can live with it if it results in a double bogey. For many, simply staying out of trouble may be more fun even if it doesn’t lead to many birdies but reduces blow ups.

        Our range and a practice green is open, so I’ve been getting some practice in. We’re projecting a Masters weekend opening. Some courses in the area have pulled their tarps off already though.

        All the best

        Josh

  3. mrj803 says:

    Hi Brian,
    Great post. The fat part of the green should never be a bad idea and would do players much better. You keep some very detailed stats and that’s impressive. It must help you make some informed decisions about areas for improvement. Placing course management and decision making at the foundation of any plan to improve is an excellent idea. A very thought provoking post. I only scramble from around the greens about 40% of the time so anything that has me putting versus chipping is good in my books. Thanks, Mike

    • Brian Penn says:

      Mike, thanks for the great feedback. I sometimes have an off day when I hit a lot of greens but almost never have a good day missing a lot of greens. The data says I need to improve GIR one way or another and it’s difficult to change my swing with the lack of practice time, so the logical solution is to manage my game tee to green more effectively. Limited practice time will go towards becoming more aggressive and less defensive from around the green; especially from good lies. Should know how this works out by mid-June after I return from Myrtle Beach. That trip is always a big test for my game!

      Appreciate your two cents worth. Play well!

      Brian

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