Our ability to hit the fairways has long been the traditional measure of driving accuracy. It is, after all, our goal when we stand on the tee of a par 4 or par 5 hole; but, like most of handicap placard the “traditional stats” in golf, it is one-dimensional. It is a simple yes/no answer to the question that forces us to focus mainly on the Yes. Why, because the Yes is understood to be a positive outcome, albeit without the important dimension of distance; but, the No has a myriad of undefined, negative possibilities with a far greater impact on the game.
Over the past 18 years we have studied golf performance at every level – including PGA Tour players – and have concluded that hitting or missing fairways is a statistic of limited relevance. Of far greater importance is the character and severity of the miss. Did the ball land in light rough, in a bunker or behind a tree (with or without a shot?), or disappear in a pond or worst of all – Lost or Out of bounds?
At the highest level of the game, “Fairways” has become the least relevant. A recent study of performance on the PGA Tour conducted by two professors at Northeaster Univ. in Boston, MA sited the declining importance of driving accuracy in recent due primarily to the distances that players are hitting the ball. To support this, our #1 player in the world hit only 61% of the fairways during his recent seven-event winning streak. In the final event, at Torrey Pines, Tiger hit only 46% of the fairways enroute to victory. Of far greater importance is the fact that Tiger’s tee shots resulted in an ERROR only 2% of his total attempts. An error means the result was a penalty or a position from which he did not have a normal opportunity for his next shot – requiring some sort of advancement. For comparison, the other “Winners” on the PGA Tour average similar numbers: Fairways = 66%, ERRORS = 2%.
Errors made? Yes!
At the amateur level, the frequency and severity of errors climbs as does the handicap. In a study of single digit handicap golfers that I conducted several years ago, I determined that over 80% of the double bogeys began with an error from the tee. A double bogey is the dreaded, scoring anathema for this low handicap group. I have found that these errors do far more to earmark one’s Long game handicap than to the good shots and certainly the fairways hit.