Golf Analytics

How Golfers Win

Tee-shot Strategy at Las Vegas

This post applies my method explained in last week’s Open post to evaluate club selection using a mathematical model. Club selection is not noted in the play-by-play, requiring it to be estimated using a number of criteria to evaluate tee-shot strategy.

Applying the Model at TPC Summerlin:

Impact of Lie/Angle:

The results of tee-shots must be adjusted based on the resulting lie and angle off-line from center that they come to rest. A drive six degrees off-line into the rough will roll a shorter distance than one that is hit down the middle of the fairway. Sometimes a driver hit into the rough or bunker will travel a shorter distance than a 3 wood hit into the fairway, just because it doesn’t roll 20-25 yards after landing. I adjust for angle/lie for each round through a linear process which shows the amount of yards that should be added or subtracted to the shot distance. The approximate equations used to derive these values are (where x = degrees off-line from center and y = adjustment value in yards):

Rough: y = -3x + 5
Intermediate: y = -4x + 9
Bunker: y = -6x + 19
Fairway: y = -0.3x + 3
Other (Desert, Out of bounds, Water, etc.): y = -13
Green-side Bunker: y = 5

Impact of Conditions:

Las Vegas is one of the highest altitudes (~2500 ft.) visited by the Tour during the year which increases the carry of drives by around 5%. My estimates say that driving distances were between 12-15 yards longer than at a normal Tour event, largely due to the elevation. I’ve also adjusted for the elevation (uphill or downhill shots) on individual holes. This amount varies between the extremes of the 2nd hole (downhill, adding 11 yards of distance) and the 3rd and 16th holes (uphill, subtracting 6 yards of distance).

Model Results for TPC Summerlin:

The chart below summarizes some basic results. I estimate players hit driver on between 68% and 71% of holes over the four rounds, roughly in line with normal expectations. They regularly hit something less than driver on six holes (1, 2, 6, 7, 10, and 15).

TEESHOTlasvegasNegative numbers indicate lower scores

Evaluating Decision Making Hole by Hole:

1st Hole – 408 yard Par 4:

Players hit driver here about 56% of the time. The fairway is narrow, with trees on both sides of the normal landing area. There’s only one fairway bunker to fear at around 295 yards to the right. This hole had the largest gap between the percentage of drivers hit by long hitters and short hitters with long hitters hitting driver only 40% of the time vs. 74% for shorter hitters. Long hitters performed roughly similarly with 3 wood or driver, while shorter hitters saw slightly better results from hitting driver.

2nd Hole – 469 yard Par 4:

This is a long downhill tee-shot over desert to a wide fairway. Two bunkers catch long shots while the desert can capture shots hit too far right. About 67% of players hit driver here, split as normal for a par 4, with longer hitters hitting driver around 60% of the time and shorter ones around 80% of the time. The results showed longer hitters performed roughly equal with 3 wood or driver, while shorter hitters performed slightly better with driver.

6th Hole – 430 yard Par 4:

Players hit driver around 62% of the time. This hole requires a slightly uphill tee-shot to a sinuous, narrow fairway with desert in play on both sides. Long hitters were cautious here, pulling driver only 40% of the time vs. 70% for shorter hitters. Long hitters performed slightly worse with driver, while shorter hitters performed equally well with either club.

7th Hole – 382 yard Par 4:

This hole requires either a lay-up to a narrow fairway (leaving ~125 yard approach) or a longer shot to a landing area surrounded by bunkers (leaving ~80 yard approach). Few long hitters took on the risky shot (8%), though players who hit driver performed no worse than those who hit hybrids/5 woods/irons. Driver was the worse play for shorter hitters (25%). Overall driver was hit around 14% of the time.

10th Hole – 420 yard Par 4:

There’s a bunker at around 295 yards on the left right where the fairway narrows from 33 yards to 18 yards. Players hit driver here half the time, with the long hitters hitting driver only 28% of the time vs. 59% for shorter players. Long players were best when they hit a lay-up with an iron/hybrid/5 wood, while 3 wood was the best option for shorter players.

15th Hole – Drivable Par 4:

Club selection here is solely based on what you need to drive the green because everyone chooses that option. At this altitude that means 3 wood for long hitters and driver for shorter hitters.

Player Decision Making:

In general over full-seasons, golfers who hit driver shorter distances hit driver more often than those who hit for longer distance. The longest players hit driver around 55% vs. around 85% for the shortest players. Keep that in mind when evaluating players below. Often times it would be a bad strategic decision for a very long hitter to hit driver, while a shorter hitter can comfortably hit driver on the same hole.

More Drivers Hit:

I estimate Nick Taylor, Colt Knost, and Troy Merritt all hit driver on almost every possible hole (87%+ drivers). None of those guys are long hitters at all, indicating that they were likely very aggressive off the tee. Runner-up Kevin Streelman also hit a lot of drivers (79%). He’s about average in terms of driving distance ability, though he’s one of the most aggressive players in hitting driver normally. When you drive it well for a week that pays off; Streelman gained 0.7 strokes/round on the field driving in his win at the Travelers and 0.5 strokes/round on the field this week.

Fewer Drivers Hit:

After playing very aggressive off the tee at the Frys last week, Brooks Koepka reined it in this week. He was one of the most cautious off the tee last year and was fairly cautious again this week. Hudson Swafford was a lay-up machine again; that fits what he did last week and his strategy from last year. Among the rookies, Tony Finau has impressed me the most with his tee-shot/approach shot game. He’s has the potential to bomb it off the tee, but has held back – like most long hitters – through the first two events.


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