Valero Texas Open Preview
March 25, 2014
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The Tour moves to the TPC San Antonio Oaks Course this week, site of the Valero Texas Open. Quite simply, this course is a beast to navigate. Relative to par, only PGA National (Honda Classic) and Congressional (AT&T Classic) have played more difficult over the last three years. Unfortunately this year the field is fairly weak; it’s headlined by Mickelson (first appearance in two decades), Spieth, Zach Johnson, Furyk, Kuchar, and three-time winner Jimmy Walker, but the kind of secondary talent that has been present in recent weeks at the Honda and Arnold Palmer just hasn’t shown up.
Unlike Congressional CC, the Oaks Course doesn’t primarily rely on distance as its defense. It is slightly longer than a normal par 72 course, but that distance is concentrated in the par 3s and par 5s (4th and 5th longest on Tour), while the par 4s are the 7th shortest. The main difficulty is hitting the greens; in the last three years golfers only hit 56% of the greens – one of the fewest on Tour. The other notable feature is how difficult it is to successfully scramble. Golfers only made par or better on 47% of their missed greens in last year’s tournament, by far the lowest on Tour last year. If that poor performance is maintained into this year’s tournament golfers who hit more greens will be advantaged by over 0.1 strokes/round simply because hitting greens is more valuable than normal this week.
Beyond the aforementioned scrambling effect, I wanted to test whether this course provided an advantage to either longer golfers or more accurate golfers. I gathered the Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy stats for everyone who played the course from 2011 to 2013 and regressed those independent variables on the dependent variable of performance in strokes vs. the field. I also stripping out putting performance by subtracting the strokes gained putting from the overall performance. My regression attempted to predict performance tee-to-green relative to the field using simply driving distance and driving accuracy.
Unsurprisingly, the model worked as an overall proxy predicting nearly 20% of the variance in performance vs. the field (R^2 0.18). Both distance and accuracy were highly significant at the <.001 level (N=310 golfers). The results indicated that the course has favored good drivers over the more accurate golfers over the past three seasons. Long/inaccurate drivers performed 0.1 strokes better than the field, while Short/accurate drivers performed 0.4 strokes worse than the field. There’s no guarantee that that will continue over this tournament, but it may indicate an advantage for the longer/inaccurate golfers (guys like Jimmy Walker or Ryan Palmer), rather than shorter/accurate golfers (Furyk, Zach Johnson).