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Golf Instruction - Do what the TOP FIVE do to keep scores low

When you take a look at the Official World Golf Rankings, the first thing that stands out is how far the top three or even the top five are ahead of the rest of the players. Why is there such a big gap? What are they doing which sets them apart from the rest of the top professional golfers who are also extremely talented? This week I have been studying the PGA Tour stats and have selected a few categories which I believe may hold the key. Take a look at the table below.

.

Vijay Singh

Tiger Woods

Ernie Els

Retief Goosen

Phil Mickelson

Official World Rank

13.80

1

12.21

2

12.01

3

8.08

4

7.48

5

Money List 2004

.

1st

.

4th

.

2nd

.

6th

.

3rd

Scoring Average

68.84

1

69.04

3

68.98

2

69.32

5

69.16

4

Par Breakers %

25.3%

1st

24.6%

2nd

23.3%

4th

22.8%

8th

23.8%

3rd

Driving Distance

300.8

13th

301.9

9th

298

19th

294.2

38th

295.4

30th

Driving Accuracy %

60.4%

149th

56.1%

182nd

55.5%

185th

62.5%

125th

62.9%

120th

Greens in Reg. %

73.0%

2nd

66.9%

47th

65.6%

83rd

68.7%

17th

69.5%

10th

Putting Average

1.757

37th

1.724

2nd

1.74

9th

1.743

10th

1.759

43rd

Sand Save %

50.9%

71st

53.5%

39th

47.9%

113th

54.6%

28th

56.4%

15th

Putts Per Round

29.24

115th

28.44

20th

28.5

24th

28.73

47th

28.95

76th

Birdie Conversion %

32.7%

10th

35.5%

1st

33.3%

2nd

32.0%

15th

32.9%

6th

Scrambling %

62.4%

18th

61.1%

41st

64.1%

7th

66.1%

1st

64.7%

3rd

Bounce Back %

27.5%

4th

25.6%

10th

27.0%

5th

22.9%

34th

25.1%

13th

Most of the categories are self-explanatory but for clarity here are definitions of some of the categories.
Par Breakers - percentage of holes which were played under par.
Driving Accuracy - percentage of drives which finished in the fairway
Greens in Regulation (GIR) - par for each hole includes two putts. Therefore, regulation is two shots less than the par for any hole.
Putting Average - the average number of putts taken per green that was reached in regulation.
Sand Save - percentage of holes where par (or better) was achieved from a bunker.
Birdie Conversion - percentage of holes where birdie (or better) was achieved on greens that were reached in regulation.
Scrambling - percentage of holes where par (or better) was achieved on greens that were NOT reached in regulation.
Bounce back - percentage of holes which were played over par that were followed directly by a hole played under par e.g. a bogey followed immediately by a birdie

Starting from the top of the categories shown above, the world rankings reflect a player's performance over a two year period and the Money List position shows how they performed this year. If you take into account that Retief Goosen also played and won in Europe, he was in the top five money winners worldwide even though his earnings rank was 6th on the PGA Tour. The next thing we see is that these five players also maintained the lowest scoring averages across the whole year and broke par on roughly one in every four holes. Why is that?

It certainly wasn't their driving. Hank Kuehne's average driving distance was 314.4 yards, almost 15 yards longer than Vijay Singh or Tiger Woods and over twenty yards further than Goosen. As for driving accuracy, Fred Funk maintained an average of 77.2% of fairways hit from the tee while the top five players only managed to keep just over half of their drives in the short stuff. What does that tell you? Driving, while it is possibly one of the most satisfying parts of the game (especially when you really catch hold of one), only represents a very small proportion of the totals shots that make up your final score. In our busy lives we only have a certain amount of time which we allocate to golf practice. If we want to use that time to help reduce our scores maybe we should leave the driver in the bag more often and concentrate on practicing other areas of the game. I think we all know that already but, despite our good intentions, when we get to the range we can't resist the temptation to pull out the driver and let a few rip and before we know it the bucket of balls is empty. Personally, I blame the club manufacturers for designing the clubhead so that it makes that magical "TING" sound which has us under its spell.

Next we have to consider "Greens in Regulation". When we look at the stats we see that all these top players hit a significantly higher percentage of greens in regulation than they did fairways but all of them still missed more than a quarter of greens regardless of the length or accuracy of their drives. This is where it gets interesting. When they didn't reach the green in regulation they still scrambled to par or better two thirds of the time including 50% of the occasions they were playing from a bunker. What lessons can we draw from this?

Obviously we can see that even the best players in the world can't reach every green in regulation but often our own choice of approach shot is dictated by a belief that we need to get on the green, no matter how unrealistic the odds may be from where we are playing. This can often result in finding ourselves with little chance of scrambling a par from where we end up. The top players rely on the strength of their short game to avoid the dropped shots which can destroy a round and this gives them the comfort of knowing that not reaching the green does not mean a dropped shot. How much time do you spend practicing bunker shots, chip shots, trouble shots and the rest of your short game? In relation to the percentage of shots this can represent in a round, I would guess that it's probably not enough.

Now we look at putting. These guys average 29 putts in an average round of 69 strokes, that's 42% of all the shots they play all year. When you consider the size of some of the greens, just getting on there in regulation is no guarantee of making a par. Taking rough averages across all five players, when they reached the green in regulation they made birdie or better on one in every three attempts and took an average of 1.75 putts per green. There are no stats available for the number of three-putt greens but looking at the above information it can't be a very large percentage. I don't think I need to say any more about the importance of putting when it comes to keeping your scores low.

One other stat I've included in the list is "bounce back" and, as you can see, they all average around 25% for picking up a shot which they dropped on the previous hole. So not only do the top players have the ability to recover from a bad drive but a lot of the time they immediately recover the ground they lost on a bad hole. Although we sometimes see an expression of frustration after something goes wrong, the top players exhibit a very important gift, the ability to let it go and put a bad shot or a bad hole where it belongs, behind them. How many times have you messed up a shot because you are still thinking about a recent disaster? Controlling your emotions is one of the hardest aspects of golf but it is certainly one which deserves your attention.

I started this article with the aim of showing what sets these top five players apart from their fellow professionals and I know that some of you reading this will do what I also have done and that is to go and look at the stats of some of your favorite players and see how they compare to Vijay, Tiger, Ernie, Retief and Phil. And I'll guarantee that you found that most of the percentages are not that much different, however, their scoring average is the main area where they come up short. Something that the stats don't show, and that I comment on based solely on my close observation of every tournament which has been played this season, is damage limitation. All the professionals make bogeys but the thing that these five players excel in is limiting the number of shots they drop. They play the percentages and rarely take on a shot which has the potential of a costly downside result. How often do you see them make double- or triple-bogey? Almost never.

I think that is the biggest lesson that all of us can learn from these elite five at the top of the game. If you know you can play a shot which gives you a good chance of par or sets you up for bogey at worst, it doesn't make any sense to take on a shot which, although it would be spectacular if you make it, could put you in even worse trouble and cost you two or more shots if it goes even slightly wrong. If you do nothing other than learn to accept that you can't reach every green in regulation and that a chip back out onto the fairway or a penalty drop from an impossible lie is not a wasted shot, the 6s, 7s and 8s will start to disappear from your card and your scores will come down. Of course, a bit more of your practice time spent on and around the putting green would probably help as well.

Now all I've got to do is practice what I preach.

 

 

Written by: Andy Smith (Editor, Golfing Weekly) -  Sun, November 14, 2004

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