Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Golf stats revolution : the gained strokes concept !

I’ve just finished a fascinating golf book on golf statistics called “Every Shot Counts: Using analytics to improve your golf performance”.


Don't stop here and continue reading as these kind of statistics are not boring at all !
This book might be a revolution helping golf players to really estimate their golf skills and improve their performance!
I will share with you the calculations I made hole by hole compared to a PGA Pro and therefore try to understand which part of the game we could improve! 
The concept of "stroked gained" in golf has been introduced by Mark Broadie, professor at the Columbia Business School of New-York, who first calculated the average putting strokes gained  by a player compared to the average field of players in a PGA tournament, this indicator helping to illustrate whether a golfer was beating the field at putting or not... 
Example of putting strokes gained: a stroke gained indicator of +1.2 would simply mean that the player putted 1.2 strokes less than the average field of players on 18 holes while an indicator of -2.0 would mean that the player putted 2 strokes more than the average PGA Tour field on 18 holes. This indicator therefore reflects the putting performance of one player compared to the field.   

The stroke gained was recently adopted as a new stat by the PGA Tour which represents a big achievement for his creator and praobably a big step forward in term of golf stats for the whole golfing community!
Measuring the putting performance is important but however not sufficient to explain the global performance of a golfer. This explains why the author also developed the concept of strokes gained for shots outside the green: gained strokes for driving as well as gained strokes for the short and long game. 
Based on a simple table to fill on every hole played, I recently managed to implement the calculation of the exact gained/lost strokes for every shot.
Table to fill on each hole:

Results reported after the golf round on an xls sheet including Pro average and the calculations

Column1: represents the position of the ball from the pin/flag measured in yards (measured with a laser range finder or marks indicated on the fairways) and feet for putts on the green.

Column2: club played.

The position of the ball indicated in column3 (tee, fairway, rough, sand, recovery shot or green) will have an influence on the average strokes of the PGA player (column4 of the table), the average of shots to putt the ball in the hole being be more important as the ball stands in the rough, in the sand or for a recovery shot (from the woods for example) than on the fairway.

The average strokes PGA reflected in column4 represents the data collected by the author of the book and will help to calculate the strokes a player would gain/lose against the pro.

The strokes gained (positive number) indicator or lost (negative number) compares the one stroke I need to move the ball forward to the average strokes needed by a PGA player to move the ball from the same position.

On the first hole, a drive from 498 yards would result in an average score of 4.41 strokes for a PGA professional while the next position from 260 yards would result in a score of 3.58. The difference of 0.83 strokes between these two numbers (see column6, 4.41-3.58=0.83) is then compared to the 1 stroke I need to move the ball to the same position.

I therefore only lost 0.17 strokes (0.83-1=-0.17) for that good drive on the fairway compared to a golf pro  (column8).

The lost stroke of -0.17 is however minor  and is a good result compared to the missed shot only moving the ball from 165 to 106 yards as the latter would result in 1 full stroke lost (-1.01, hole 1, column8 )! 

These two examples solidly illustrate that a good/bad shot can now be mathematically measured !

Here below the conclusion of the entire round:

Based on the table above, the putting only represents 18% of the total lost strokes while the long game (drive + shots >165 yards) represents almost half of all lost strokes (47%). Working on the long game seems to be worth it as 10.2 stroked separates me from the pro on that part of the game ;-).

This table also indicates an excellent putting on the back nine as only 0.5 shot was lost compared to a pro which is a level pro putting !







Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hitting balls on Times Square !

I was really excited last morning reading online that a practice range would be built in the middle of Times Square a few hours later for the “Speed Pocket World Challenge” featuring a competition between golf players from New-York, Toronto, London and San Francisco.

Only located a few blocks from my office, I obviously joined the event a few hours later during the lunch break trying to hit some wild balls on this crazy place as golfing on Times Square must be awesome…

Above my head one gigantic and very coloured Times Square screen showing the golf brand name featuring the event.    
Golf players are lining up while some of us are putting balls on the practice area before entering the practice “cage” to beat some balls and enjoy the moment. The sun finally showed up magnificently despite his terrible absence during the coldest and snowiest winter of the century!

The purpose of the world challenge was to test the gain of distance using the new set of Taylor Made (TM) irons called the Speed Pocket model which is characterised by “a 2 millimeter-wide slot in the sole of the clubs from 3- to 7-iron designed to flex and rebound at impact to promote faster ball speed, higher launch angles and stronger ball flight”.

After a few minutes warming-up, we were offered the opportunity to compare three balls hit with the previous model of TM irons with three balls hit with the new model. The winner of the challenge would be the player with the greatest distance improvement. Let’s do this!
I passed in front of Hank Haney, the previous golf teacher of Tiger Woods, who was obviously more busy fixing the swing of the cute blond lady than busy looking at my astonishing golf swing… too bad for me as the only lady in the cage was improving a lot thanks to Hank precious advices…

The challenge for distance gained was eventually won by NY (how else could it be?) winning the event with the craziest distance ever seen on this planet………………….tada……………..65 yards!

Yes, 65! Well I am not sure whether these winners messed it up starting to hit balls with a putter and then tried the new TM irons that launch golf missiles in outer space but the difference was huge. Well done, guys, let’s buy this now! 
Dressed up in suit, I personally gained 22 yards which I thought was pretty conservative and aligned with the marketing announcements of the brand…however too conservative to win the world title…

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Golfing in the USA

They are 26 million golf players in the US which is approximately 8% of the population!
Despite the recent slight decrease in the number of golf players, this ratio is still much higher than the average percentage of golf players in Europe. 

A clear distinction exists between private golf courses where you need to be invited to play, and public golf courses open to anybody. Yep, anybody who has a golf set! Public golf courses are indeed open to any players, advanced or beginner and you don't even need a golf handicap/index to play. This is very different from Europe as the requested average golf index is +36 over par. 
Some private golf couses membership fees are really crazy expensive...I was really curious to know what was the approximate price to join Plainfield, the Barclay's venue (see previous posts of the blog) so I asked...$100,000 entry fee plus the annual playing fee...and on top of that a fix amount of $25,000 to be spent at the restaurant of the club-house... so you arrive at the restaurant, order, spend a great time with your family and say good bye to the waiter, "you'll deduct this from my account, Sir, thank you..."

Golf is sometimes a bit funky on public courses as it is not rare to see golfers driving golf carts while drinking beer...golf is for everyone here, it's a relaxing hobby which is less competitive than in Europe where you can have two competitions in the same week-end ! I have tried to find local competitions on local public courses and I can tell you it's really complicated...    
Because of this lack of competitions on public courses, every golf player has to upload his score on a system after each round played. This process is of course only for those who wants to maintain an official golf index which is not always the common practice in the US !
As the public courses are open to everyone, the pace of play is sometimes slow, very slow... long discussions and slow play brings up the time spent on a golf course to the maximum (un)acceptable level... sometimes 5 and an half hours or 6 hours spent out there... insane ! I had to leave the golf course once after three hours spent for barely 9 holes... this was nerve racking!

(Copyrights: USGA website)

Pace of play became such a big issue that the US Golf Association released a national campaign called While we are youngto speed up the pace of play including a few key recommendations to pledge:

a) "Give it forward tee a try" 
...don't consider yourself as a Superhero...that's right we see too many average players playing from the back tees...

b) "Embrace opportunities to play 9 holes".
...Yes, but where ?

c) Play "ready golf".
...honestly, I would really love to !
The day these rules will be implemented, the golf in the US will grow again !
I love the typical US lunch at the turn (between hold 9 and 10) including a juicy burger and a bottle of cool water (no beer while playing for me, thanks!) that you eat while playing. Let's push on the button and order, now !  

OK, you have to be very dedicated to play golf on pubIic courses here and find solutions to play this great game but trust me it's still possible !



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back on track to marshal on the PGA Tour !

After a few years wandering around (I did not stop golf and won't...ever !), I am now back in the world of golf blogs to continue the journey on another continent as I recently moved to NY bringing my golf bag with me.
I was only in NYC for one week when I volunteered as Marshal at the Barclays play-off golf tournament including the top 125 players on the PGA Tour...wow...I could never imagine this happening...my dream comes true ! 


...first registering from outside of the US as I was still a resident of Europe at the time of the request. I had no address or telephone number on the US soil at that time and this could have made the registration difficult... However, I grabbed my phone and called the Volunteer's Director who directly announced me that I was becoming the longest traveling Marshal with a new record of 3,600 miles (5,800 km) traveled...ha, ha! This is a really great start in the world of US golf.

You must be a little nuts to travel from Manhattan to the Plainfield Golf Club in New-Jersey by public transportation as it took me 2 hours to hit the Barclays's venue...I had the pleasure to take the subway, the train and a shuttle, so long ! 

Map Plainfield

All I can say is that the commute worth it! I truly felt like a kid in a huge open-air toys store, every golf brands were present, merchandise tents perfectly settled, big leader board screens reflected the score and the pictures of the players, everything was so perfectly organized, it was impressive.

I am back at home on Wednesday night after this long day of competition. To summarize, the best moment came after I was standing in the middle of (...nowhere) the hole number 12 (see the location indicated by a yellow star on the map), a very long hole, for one hour managing the crossing of the fairway by the spectators...it was honestly a pretty sleepy place to stay... 

However, my time came afterward when the captain asked me to "go on the tee box".

Wow...great PGA tee box, this is even better than my first impression as I entered the door of this event. A lot of spectators were packed next to the tee box to watch the big bombs launched by the best players on Tour.  

The captain explained to me the duties: wait for the first group to clear the fairway before asking the following to tee off...indicating to the other marshals on the sides of the fairway whether the ball was going straight, left or right...I am feeling a bit nervous now as I can not  see any ball landing way forward (these guys are really long hitters...) as I forgot my eye- glasses at home! ;-)

...five minutes after the short explanation came Ernie Els, two times major champion, on the tee...he is standing only a few yards from me ready to hit his driver... 5 minutes later came Adams Scott and Jason Day...I must be dreaming, I have been here for only one hour and I am now managing the traffic jam on the tee box...

I am very nervous now as I have to guess where the ball is landing for several shots...ha, ha !   

Today was the pro-am and one of my favourite player, G-MAC, US Open winner, also signed my cap. WHAT A FIRST DAY!


One another magical moment came while I was giving the go for the Scott-Day-Na pairing (great choice!) as I saw a few minutes later a ball rolling toward me touching my foot...well...nobody saw that...except the captain as a golf ball was stuck next to my feet..."what's up" he asked...heuhhh...I explained to him that one of the caddie slid and dropped a golf ball out of the golf bag... "it's yours" said the captain. It was Kevin Na's ball, I have been high for two days now and won't forget these great moments. 

Plainfield Country Club
(Copyright: Plainfield Country Club website)

It was a wonderful experience and I am looking forward to volunteer this time for a Major tournament: the PGA Championship in Baltrusol, NJ in 2016!