Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We Interrupt This U.S. Women's Open Week with...

...a boring update on my own game. Skip this if you want, but maybe checking my patterns will help you notice and analyze yours.

With onechan finally old enough to start playing a few holes with me several times this summer already (and more when she gets back from Japan), I'm trying to make a comeback to competitive golf. I'm playing the Utica City Amateur next week and trying to qualify for the New York State Men's Mid-Amateur in late August, both for the 1st time since 2004. So it'll be the 1st time I'm playing Utica's Valley View and Colgate University's Seven Oaks in the last 6 years, 2 courses I like a whole lot. Plus I'll be playing a Western NY NYSGA eClub event at Cornell University's course in mid-August (like Colgate's, a great Robert Trent Jones track!), which I haven't played since my college (DIII) golfing days.

In about a week, I'll have played more rounds this year than the previous 5 combined. I haven't been playing regularly enough to develop any consistency in any part of my game--I'm making fairly solid contact on most swings, but there are still more terrible ones than there oughtta be; I'm either on or off with my pitches and chips; and my putting still isn't where I want it to be--but I have played just often enough to spot some trends and compare my stats this season to those from the last decade and over my adult career.

Before I go further, though, I should mention that I'm a pretty small guy--5'6" and getting back under 150 this summer or bust!--so I don't hit the ball very far. With a lot of roll and the wind behind me, my longest drive this season has been maybe 275 and I've more typically been in the 245-260 range off the tee. I used to go to a 6-iron when I needed to carry the ball 150 yards and a pitching wedge for a 100-yard carry, but with the temperature changes and getting used to playing regularly again, I'm not as sure of my distances as I need to be. It doesn't really matter right now, as the course I play regularly--the Easiest Course in the World (tECitW)--is so hard (the ground, that is) and the wind is usually so up that it's like Oakmont or British Open conditions, where you're usually picking a landing spot well short of the green and trying to bounce/run it ionto the right half of the green with some kind of punch shot. But maybe I hit my 6-iron 155 now and my wedge 110. I think.

Anyway, with that brief background on what kind of player I am--a wannabe precision player, in my taxonomy--let me walk you through some of my key performance stats.

Greens in Regulation (GIR)
Last decade, I averaged 7.67 greens in regulation per round, which raised my career average (since 1994, when I started keeping this stat) to 7.36. This season I'm already averaging 8.35 GIR; I've already had several rounds with my GIR in the double digits. Turn those into percentages and compare them to the LPGA stats page for GIR rate, and you'll see why they're pros and I'm a barely-mediocre amateur, but that's still a big improvement for me and one I intend to focus on this season. That's partly because I can't count on my short game to save me yet when I miss greens, but mostly because I'm putting so well this season.

Putts per Green in Regulation (PPGIR)
Last decade, I averaged 1.936 putts per green in regulation, which actually brought my career average (since 1994, when I started keeping this stat) down to 1.946 PPGIR. Translation: I've been 1-putting barely more often than I've been 3-putting when I've hit greens in regulation in my last 13 seasons. Well, I'm happy to report that my PPGIR rate has already gone down to around 1.83 already this season. That's by far the lowest rate of my career, although in my 3 rounds last season I averaged 1.86 PPGIR and in my 9.5 in 1994 I averaged around 1.89. Looking back, I'm amazed at how bad this stat is, particularly because I consider myself to be a very good putter. My goal this season is to get my PPGIR rate down where the good LPGA touring pros are--somewhere below 1.80 (the great ones are trying to stay under 1.75 over the course of a season). Heck, all I need to do is avoid 3-putts and make my share of birdies, right?

Birdies per Round (BPR)
Well, there's the rub. My birdies per round rate has been simply horrible over my career (1.31) and last decade wasn't much better (1.39). My BPR rate is up to around 1.65 so far this season, but that's still ridiculously low for how many chances I've been giving myself. The Easiest Course in the World has very small greens, so you can pretty much hit them anywhere and have a good birdie chance--plus if you miss them in the right places, chip-ins or putts from the fringe aren't that hard to sink (or rather, they shouldn't be). This is the 1st week I've been something other than a once-a-week golfer, and I've been averaging 2 birdies per round in it (along with my 1st eagle since 2004!). That's still not so hot, as tECitW now has 3 very short par 5s (reachable in 2 shots even for me most days), 3 birdieable par 4s, and 1 short par 3 (of course my only hole in 1 in my life came with a 3-wood on the long 1!). Sure, it's a par-37 from the back tees that plays around 3325 yards, the fairways have been narrowed, the rough is actually a bit of a penalty for the 1st time since I've been playing there, and there's actually a pond now to the right of the 2nd reachable par 5's green. But let's face it: it's still super-easy, except when the wind gets strong (which is about half the time; we're not quite on Lake Erie, but we're still close). Bottom line: I should be able to put up respectable LPGA #s--approaching 3.00 BPR--on a course like that. And since I can't afford to play much away from tECitW, my overall BPR should still be well above 2.50 by the end of the season.

Scoring Average
Surprisingly, even with pretty much the best performance stats of my career in all these categories, my scoring average is significantly up this season (81.06 compared to 78.59 last decade and 79.68 over my career). The culprit is the usual gremlin that dogs weekend golfers: too many big numbers! The long par-4 7th--which doglegs gently left, tilting left to right a bit after the corner, with an elevated green surrounded by trees and protected by a monster that overhangs its entire left-front quadrant--is a typical trouble spot. The long par-3 9th is also traditionally a difficult par, as I'm hitting a 3-wood virtually all the time into a relatively small green that's exposed to the wind.

But the biggest difference this season has been on the 1st hole, which went from being a tough, long par 4 to a frustratingly difficult short par 5 from the blues because it narrows so tightly in the last 100 yards, with overhanging trees on the right and a new creek extension that gets in your head on the left. In the mid-summer in most seasons, I'd usually have a mid- or short-iron in my hands, and would even birdie the hole once in a while. Now, it's just long enough to make me have to go after my 1st drive of the day to have a chance of reaching it in 2 and just tight enough to give my normally-reliable fairway woods the hiccups when I do actually hit a good drive. When I don't, I haven't yet figured out what distance I like to lay up to, because the green has been getting harder and harder as the summer gets hotter and drier, so it's hard to keep the ball anywhere near a front pin (and it's always been a front pin this season!), no matter what club you have in your hands, particularly from bad lies in burned-out fairways. What I need to do is just play the 1st safe and hit all my approach shots to the middle of the green, but that's easier said than done on your 1st full swings of the day on a course without a driving range!

Still, it's not my long game that's caused most of my big numbers this season. It's my wedges. I've either been hitting them just as I envisioned them (about a third of the time) or I've been skulling them, hitting them thin, fluffing them, chunking them, misjudging them, and so on (for what feels like much more than 2/3 of the time!). This is a common problem for me early in the season, but it's only this week that I've had time to practice them. No real progress to report on that front, but I'm bound to improve. In mid-season form, my wedges are one of the real strengths of my game.

The other area I really need to improve on is to bring my practice-green run shots to actual course conditions. The only thing that kept me from breaking 80 today was a mental block on my chipping (combined with several awful lies from hardpan and such, greens that were like rocks and so burned out in places they were more like cement, and several approach shots that left me short-sided or in some other kind of compromised position). I'm pretty disappointed with my inability to hit any kind of recovery shot with any kind of consistency. If I miss the green in regulation, I'm feeling like anything can happen, rather than confident that I'll give myself a good chance to save par most of the time.

Putts per 9 Holes (PP9H)
And yet, what gives me some hope for the rest of the season is that even with all these short game woes, my putts per round rate is the best in my career (down to around 15.59 putts per 9 holes, .03 better than my best season, 2002, when I played 82 rounds!). My overall PP9H rates aren't at all representative of how good a putter I am--15.81 for the last decade and 15.87 for my career--which leads me to believe that the other parts of my short game have never been as good as I've believed them to be. Again, the comparison to the LPGA is telling: those with average short games or who hit a heck of a lot of greens in regulation there average around 15 PP9H; the really good ones (often those who are having trouble hitting greens by tour standards, but not always) get it down close to 14 PP9H.

The long and the short of it is that my short game is letting me down, my approach shots are nowhere near as accurate as they need to be, and my driver is too inconsistent to allow me to attack the holes that need attacking on any kind of regular basis. The end result is that I can play great for a stretch--like when I went eagle-birdie-par-par-birdie midway through my first 9 yesterday--or play truly awful golf--like the +5 I was on the surrounding 4 holes that side.

So that's where my game stands in week 1 of my 6-week experiment as to how good a golfer I can make myself into while my wife and girls are in Japan. I'd love to hear if you're going through anything similar to what I'm going through--and what you're doing to address your own issues on the course!


courtgolf said...

Hmmm - so you're saying that by comparing your stats to the LPGA stats, you're definitely NOT going for a sex change operation. Good plan. :-D

The Constructivist said...

Thanks! I forgot to mention the reason I was comparing it in the post itself, actually. I didn't understand the significance of these stats until I stopped playing and started LPGA blogging. Even when I was keeping some of them, I didn't really have a standard to measure myself against. Well, Corey Pavin. But a statistically significant standard--not until I figured out what was bad, average, good, great on the LPGA. Now I have something to shoot for--and a better sense of where the improvements I'm looking for should show up statistically.