Answering Twitter Polls — How much can course setup change scoring averages?

Asking questions using Twitter’s polls is a fun time to get people to think and talk about their opinions. Instead of only replying on the twitter threads, it’s easier to write here than be restricted by the 280 characters. These first three polls were all asking the question as to how much the course setup can change scoring – pin positions, the penalty of the rough and the speed of the greens.

How much of a difference do hole locations make?

Pins in any high level event are incredibly tucked, which leads the question, how much of a difference does that make?

Comically far back. And not the best picture. I should have shown all of the green so you can see how it’s even further back than what it looks like here.

At Firestone last week, there were plenty of examples of players missing short sided, causing difficult up and downs. There were also plenty of times where they stuffed it (on? to? at?) a pin, where the ball ended up between the edge of the green and the hole. Anecdotal evidence is never an accepted way to prove questions involving numbers.

If someone could give me the ShotLink data, that I could match up with pin sheets, we could get a sense of scoring averages depending on how close to the edge of the green the pin is. Yet apparently to get the data, I’d need to submit this giant form with tons of information, including my address, and the “institution” I’m a part of. Unfortunately, golf writing is not part of a university.

I voted for 2-3 strokes. Pin position makes a difference, there’s no denying that, but I can’t see too much other than a couple strokes a round.

Think of it this way: if Tour players had perfect distance control and accuracy, tucked pins wouldn’t make a difference at all. They’d aim at every pin and never miss the green so position wouldn’t matter. As precision drops, they’ll start aiming more towards the center of the green to take the short sided misses out of play. In that regard, they’re aiming more towards the center for safety and a middle pin helps.

So if you voted in the 4-5 or 5+ range, you’re saying that Tour players aren’t that good at iron play and always would have to aim at the center of the greens no matter what. I could go more in to course strategy, but that’s not for this post. My 2-3 range vote, implies they’re able to aim slightly more at pins and be somewhat closer each time. Just enough to get rid of bigger mistakes and hit it closer to make a few more putts.

KVR also had a great point by saying how much of a difference a 4-5 shot decrease per round changes the overall tournament scores.

There was so much talk at last year’s PGA Championship about how difficult the greens and pin placements were. Do you think Justin Thomas’s winning score would have dropped from -8 to -24? Or was the over 7500 yard par 71 part of the reason?

I’m also really curious as well who was the person who voted for the 0-1 range. If that was you and it wasn’t a mistake, I want to hear your reasoning.

How much do approach shots from the rough affect a score?

I’ll admit, this wasn’t a greatly explained question, and based on the responses, the answer choices weren’t ideal either. My goal was to say we should imagine the scoring difference between someone who hit every approach from the fairway, and someone who hit every approach from the rough. No difference in angle, no difference in tree blockage, no other issues.

In the PGA Tour Strokes Gained Defined post, we see this nice chart talking about the differences between fairway and rough strokes-to-go in different yardages.

So let’s imagine we have 14, 140 yard shots, where group one is 14 are from the fairway, and the group 14 are from the rough. Going with the ~0.25 stroke difference, scores would jump 0.25 * 14 ~= 3.5 strokes per round, which is why I went with 3-4.

In answering the poll question, I’m guessing people were considering other factors of hitting in the rough vs fairways rather than only clear approach shots from the rough. Like how when a player misses the fairway, the rough eats up the roll and leaves them with a much longer approach shot. Like if a ball rolls into the rough, it can take 20 yards off the driving distance (or even more if the course conditions are rock hard like seemingly every Tour course). That makes the somewhat standard ~0.25 difference bump up to maybe a ~0.30 stroke difference.

Another problem with this question is people’s understanding of the type of grass, the thickness, and the length of the rough we’re talking about. Like the not deep at all rough at Riviera that you can kind of see in these pictures, as opposed to “injury-thick” rough that Geoff Ogilvy described back in the day. Those are both considered rough when calculating the strokes-to-go numbers. Another added difficulty in answering the question.

We can get philosophical for a second, and ask, is a ~0.25 stroke penalty for missing a fairway enough? There’s tons of controversy in this bomb and gouge era on how to penalize errant drives, but the point to bring up is that there isn’t an accepted way. And frankly, I don’t see how there can be a single one that makes everyone happy. Some courses go with super long rough, some can be incredibly tree lined, some can have comically difficult and funky greens, and some have bunker death traps. I like how there are differences in design and setup, otherwise playing the same type of course every week would get more and more boring.

The main point of this question was to get people thinking about how much of an actual difference being in the fairway as opposed to the rough is, and I’d say the answer isn’t as much as a lot of people think.

Do slow greens make it easier or harder to make putts?

The most interesting and talked about of these three questions.

Again with this, it’s not possible to have a scientific answer, and there are tons of reasons people came up with for why. Here are some comments, starting with people saying slowness makes putting gap narrow.

Sure, on slow greens, it takes a big difference in swing speed to have the ball roll a couple feet further. On fast greens, a tiny tap can make a big difference.

Slower greens would cause the ball to break less, needed less green reading skill, which is what I’m assuming Bielo means with imagination.

Now for the one and only comment about how slower greens make good putters even better.

I like it! Going against the curve. People say that downhill putts are better for more pressure situations; With nerves shaking, barely touching a putt is easier than needing a strong confident stroke. Everyone knows that confidence is incredibly important to making putts, and slow greens require more firm, confident strokes. That can make a difference.

And finally, the neutral position:

I’m with Max here. There can’t be too much of a change. It takes skill, desire, and confidence, and every other related adjective to putt well, green speed regardless. I vote no change.

That’s it for now, but I’m sure there’ll be more golf question polls to come. Stay tuned, but also get in touch if you have questions of your own you want answered.

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