Stat Nerd Alert. Stat Man brings formulas to the art of golf.
Dr. L.J. Riccio, PhD, did an analysis of "average golfers."
Although much is known about the statistical profile of professional golfers, little has been published on the play of other golfers. Riccio's 1990 paper used data from over 100 golfers ranging in ability from Jack Nicklaus to a 35 handicapper.
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Forever, professionals have said "the two most important clubs in your bag is the driver and the putter." Now, look at the chart above and notice how it contradicts that theory. Hitting the fairway on your drives (% Fairways) and making fewer putts per pound have a "weak" relationship on score improvement. According to the chart, the relationship tied the strongest to better scoring is Greens in Regulation (GIR) and Pitch/Chip/Sand shots – basically, indicating irons and wedges are more important. So, does this contradict the original statement about the importance of your driver and putter?
Yes, but not really. You can hit a good drive, but not have the ball at rest in the fairway. Assuming the ball is not out of bounds, you may still have a shot to the green. Hit a good iron shot, and it overrides the missed fairway (a.k.a "recovery"). That is why "GIR" has a stronger relationship to scoring than "% of fairways" hit in regulation. That being said, you still have to hit a fairly solid drive that is playable and without penalty. If you are out of bounds, in the water, or haven't made it to the ladies' tees yet, then scoring well is going to be difficult.
Putting statistics can be misleading. Putts per round may be more of an indication of the "proximity of the ball to the pin on approach shots" than it is "how well you are actually putting." Example: If you hit the green, but are 20 feet away, you have a 10% chance of making the putt for birdie, but have a 80% chance of making par. If you miss the green, you can chip the ball to 6 feet, having a much better chance to make the putt at 50%, but that is only a 50% chance of making the par (a.k.a "recovery.") Therefore, Greens in Regulation stats have a "strong" relationship to better scoring, compared to Putts per Round having a "weak" relationship. That being said, "3 putts" are scorecard killers, so you have to learn how to putt the ball on the correct line at the correct pace to score well.
Where are you now? Where do you want to go?
If you shoot 89, and your goal is to break 80, you will need to hit 5 more GIR per round, and have 6 less pitch/chips/sand shots per round. Not easy, but very attainable if you are focused on making it happen. When it comes down to it, it is ALL IMPORTANT!
What is the one thing you can do to move up this chart?
You need to know how to square the club face. If you don't know how to square the club face of your driver, irons, or putter, then you need a lesson*, not a tip.
*Lessons are available by Wade Walker, PGA, for $50 per half hour, or $35 youth. Mike Stewart, PGA, is also available.