By Murphy Powell
My goal here is to figure out what part of a PGA Tour pro’s game most often translates into success. The adage is, “Drive for show, putt for dough,” but I question how true that is. I’ll typically listen to people who have played the game for way, way longer than I have, but I would like to find out for myself whether that’s true.
The plan is to take the top 10 players in seven statistics: average driving distance, driving accuracy percentage, total driving, average proximity to the hole, greens in regulation percentage, total putting and strokes gained putting. Once I have those players, I’ll find their all-around ranking according to PGATour.com and their weighted scoring average on the Tour. The players and rankings will be from last year, 2013, so we have an entire season to look at.
Here are a few points to be aware of while you read:
- The point of professional rounds of golf seems to be have a strong all-around game and to score well, which is why I’ll be using all-around ranking and weighted scoring average to judge the findings.
- Keep in mind that I’m looking at PGA players. It might work for weekend players like me, but there’s a chance it won’t. Those pros are on different levels than you – I’m guessing – and I are.
- Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Just because Bubba Watson is one of the longest drivers on the Tour and one of the best players doesn’t necessarily mean he’s one of the best because he’s one of the longest drivers.
- There are 180 qualified players for everything, so if a player is in the top 30 of something, that’s not bad.
Just so we’re all on the same page, I haven’t looked at these stats yet, so I’m not exactly sure what I’ll find. Really, we might not find anything substantial.
Alright. Let’s do this.
|Player name||Total Drives||All-Around Ranking||Scoring|
So driving distance isn’t always a great indicator of performance on the rest of the course. Only four of the ten players here ranked in the top 20% of scoring last year, and the same goes for all-around ranking. While one of them (Bubba Watson) won The Masters, Luke List and Eric Meierdierks are second- and third-to-last in scoring, which, I mean, wow. That’s pretty terrible considering where they end up after the first shot. Something to note here is that the difference between Luke List (No. 1 in distance) and the last spot is about 35 yards, or about two clubs. So there’s certainly a difference, but it isn’t, you know, 100 yards or anything.
I wouldn’t really say this supports my guess earlier that driving accuracy would correlate a little more frequently with success. Stricker and Stenson rank better in all-around ranking and scoring than anyone in the driving distance category. Add in Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk and we have four guys who score in the top 11 percent, which is a little better than the last category. However, Furyk and Striker will come up again, so their game certainly has to do with their driving accuracies, but they’re strong in other places as well. So far, driving accuracy seems more important than distance.
|Player||Total||Distance Rank||Accuracy Rank||All-Around Ranking||Scoring|
I guess the main takeaway here is that driving is important, which isn’t a surprise. Players don’t have to necessarily be the longest or most accurate hitters off the tee, but it helps. It’s not difficult to understand how total driving is tallied up; a player’s rank in driving distance plus his/her rank in driving accuracy. What we should remember here is that you have to be some kind of combination of accurate and length, not always the best at one or the other.
Average Proximity to the Hole
|Jim Furyk||31′ 3″||32||16|
|Jeff Maggert||32′ 2″||112||121|
|Justin Rose||32′ 2″||6||3|
|Camilo Villegas||32′ 7″||19||52|
|Chez Reavie||32′ 8″||62||53|
|Chris Kirk||32′ 10″||16||27|
|Rory Sabbatini||32′ 11″||21||44|
|Jordan Spieth||32′ 11″||3||9|
|Ken Duke||33′ 0″||134||97|
|Vijay Singh||33′ 0″||143||90|
There is a lot of variance on this list for both scoring and all-around ranking, so this probably isn’t a very good indicator of performance. And actually, the difference between Furyk and the last guy on this list (Aaron Baddeley) is 8 feet. Those 8 feet might be a big deal on some holes, but I don’t think this is a great stat to judge a player by. Obviously being good at getting close to the hole is better than not being good at it, but it doesn’t tell a lot.
|Brendon de Jonge||68.84||15||26|
I thought this would tell a little more, actually, and it says a lot for the guys who are in the top 10 in either all-around ranking or scoring. Giving yourself a lot of birdie putts seems like it would translate into better scoring, at least. If we look a little farther down this list to the top 25, we’ll find some great players like Furyk, Zach Johnson, Tiger Woods and Rory Sabbatini, who stood in good position last year in scoring and all-around ranking. But right next to those guys we see D.J. Trahan and Jim Herman, who we’ve already seen in the last section, and those two didn’t have excellent standings by any means.
The formula for total putting is a little more complex, and you can find the definition of it at the bottom of the page by clicking that link. Really though, it’s probably what you think it is. Like total driving, total putting takes a player’s rank in all different putting categories, including three-putt avoidance. So we can certainly say that Greg Chalmers is an excellent putter, and it’s likely played a huge role in getting him on the Tour. But putting doesn’t work for the first 450 yards of a 475-yard par four, right? A player’s game has to be well-rounded to be successful in the PGA. Based on the top 10s, I’d say total putting is less telling of a good player than driver distance. That’s not to say that putting isn’t important, or even less important, but that total putting just doesn’t tell much.
Strokes Gained Putting
Four players in the top 20 for each category. That’s becoming pretty typical for these statistics. Strokes gained is probably clearer when we think of a tournament format. So over the standard four days of a tournament, Greg Chalmers is about three shots better than average, just based on his putting. So that’s pretty beneficial for Tour players over a weekend, but it isn’t telling much about their success. For what it’s worth, Eric Meierdierks ranked 180th in strokes gained last year, losing about a shot per round because of his putting. Remember he was ninth in driving distance. And that doesn’t make putting more important than driving (I think), it’s just what it is.
So what did we find here? Well… maybe nothing. I guess the main takeaway from this whole deal is that players should be well-rounded if they want to be successful. I mean, sure, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods hit it farther than anyone else in their primes, but Nicklaus was a great ball striker and maybe the greatest putter ever, and Woods was no slouch in those categories either.
Total driving was probably a little more telling than any other single stat listed here, which makes sense. If you hit drives in the woods, it takes – essentially – an extra shot to get out, and if you hit it too short, then you’re taking more long irons to get to the green.
Put simply, if you want to be good at golf, be well-rounded. Being an excellent driver but a bad putter, or ball striker, probably won’t do much for you.
Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphyPowell.