2009 GROOVE CHANGES

I started his post with the idea of making it my first in my PGA Tour 2009 Preview series. I wanted to take a look at how the much talked about groove changes would affect the game of golf.

Where I started was with a look at the difference between what difference the difference is between the fairway and the rough. To do this was pretty easy, as the PGA Tour keeps laser tracked stats titled “proximity to hole from fairway” and “proximity to hole from rough.” Now, those stats are individually pretty biased as a means for rating players because they are not at all adjusted for the difference in difficulty of courses.

Overall, though, since it is almost impossible for a golfer to play only the fairway on one course and the rough on another, when you take the tour average, that stuff should even out. Also, things like good lies, bad lies, distance should even out when looking at all the players over the course of the season.

This is the chart I came up with Broken down by year:

The chart should be fairly explanatory, except for the bottom row, which I’ll get to in a second.

At first, this fooled me too, as I noticed that there did appear to be a huge gap between 2002 and 2009. Then I went back and noticed in 2002 there were only 15,000 attempts from the rough. In 2009, there were over 43,000. I doubt that means players became wildly less accurate in 2002, rather the PGA Tour lasered all its events in 2009, and only a select few in 2002. The problem is those select events in 2002, were probably the bigger PGA Tour events that more people care about and are generally played on harder set-ups.

There were over 40,000 attempts from the rough in 2003, so I’m assuming that is the first year the PGA Tour started lasering all its events. As you can see, the rough has gotten easier on Tour since 2003, with the average proximity getting almost 2 feet closer since back in 2003. Of course, this could have nothing to do with Technology(or grooves) and relate to other factors like players getting stronger, better, hitting it further, or tournaments cutting down the rough to make tournaments more exciting with more birdies.

I tried to look up stats on distance to the hole after tee shot averages, but those only went back to this season, so it’s virtually impossible given what the PGA Tour publishes on it’s website what the actual effect of technology has been.

To illustrate my point I took a look at the PGA Tour’s proximity to hole from different yardages:

There is a clear advantage to being closer to the hole. I put in the percent of error, just because I have heard people say stuff to the extent of “well, relatively speaking you do better on shots from 100 yards than a tricky distance like 50.” Relatively that’s true, but it’s also irrelevant. You would rather have a closer look from your next shot, regardless of where the first one came from. It seems, at least from the yardages the PGA Tour compiles, that being closer to the hole on average is the way to do that.

Since, I think that chart shows that there is an advantage to being closer to the hole for your approach shot, that could mean that the PGA Tour is hitting it closer from the rough for the simple reason that their approaches from the rough come from shorter distances. There is no way to tell that technology has had any effect on this. Or it could also be some of the factors I named above, it’s hard to say to with the available data from the PGA Tour.

The bright-side is that they have very detailed stats from 2009 and there is a clear rule change going into effect. It shouldn’t take us too long before we are able to tell if the groove changes have made the rough harder.

How to do that is an interesting story. This is where the stroke per 1000 shots from the first table comes into play. To calculate this effect, I used the proximity vs. distance stats from above and distance vs. % of putts made that comes again from the PGA Tour’s shotlink stats.
DISTANCE REMAINING v. PROXIMITY TO HOLE

PUTTS MADE

DISTANCE OF PUTT V. PCT MADE

As you can see there is a very strong correlation between that success in putting and getting approaches close, decreases exponentially with distance*

*It’s possible that the distance categories that the PGA Tour uses skew the graph a little. For example, using the percentages and averages of distances(0-5 is 2.5 on the graph, etc) there is a strong correlation, but it crosses the y axis at 1 at around 1.7 ft. Which is to say pro’s never miss from 1.7 feet or less. I think that is probably a stretch and there is a different exponential equation for extremely short putts. However for these purposes, this works fine, since the proximity to the hole is in the 20s and 30s.

So, just looking at 2009, we can say that the average approach from the rough ended 42.81 feet from the hole, compared to 31.34 feet from the rough. Plugging those numbers into the putting equation above, that results to being about 32 strokes better from the fairway over 1000 shots*. Of course, that understates it because it assumes that every shot hits the green, which is not true. While on average, a player would scramble the same no matter where he hit the previous shot from, an average proximity of 10.5 feet further away is going to result in more missed greens, so it is probably safe to say that it is more than a 32 shot difference from missing the fairway.

*This also doesn’t take into account that you are probably less likely to 3 putt from 30 feet than you are from 40 feet.

It’s impossible to say, given the PGA Tour’s available data, if there is a significant difference in the penalty of hitting the ball from the rough over the past few years. It’s also impossible to say what the cause of any difference would be. However, after next year, there should be enough available data to determine what effect the groove changes had.

As far as this favoring certain players, that again is hard to tell. There was definitely a difference in missing the fairway, so if the difference increases guys that hit a lot of fairways should benefit. However, I doubt that hitting the fairway will all of a sudden become more important that GIRs, scrambling and putting from close range(IMO, in that order). Those three stats are usually so much more important to scoring that a small penalty for hitting the rough is unlikely to change what makes good golfers good.

The other factor will be how big of a deal people are making of the groove changes. I seriously doubt that even if the rough gets harder to play from it will ever match the effect that golf announcers will attribute to it. I can just imagine Peter Kostis next year saying, “Well, that’s the effect of the new grooves” on every shot that misses the green from the rough. The fact is, the guys are pros who are really good, practice a lot and are able to tailor pretty much any equipment they want. I’m sure they will be prepared.

I actually think, if you want to project who might be undervalued for next year, guys that just bomb away might be more valueable. The consensus, from what I’ve read so far, seems to be that guys are going to scale it back to hit the fairways more. It’s unlikely they will hit significantly more fairways with this strategy, but the 20 yards they give up even with a more penal rough is probably not worth it.

Thanks to PGATour.com, where I got all the stats.

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