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The most important clubs in golf.

When asked to choose the three most important clubs in golf, the legendary Ben Hogan replied, "The driver, putter, and wedge."

Two out of three aren't bad...but still not perfect. A computer analysis of 9,000 rounds of college golf during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 Division I seasons revealed that the irons and the short game are far more important than hitting fairways (driving accuracy).

The survey, compiled by Golfstat, a Bloomington, IL, company, covered 36 schools, including Auburn, Oklahoma Augusta, and 1993 national champion Florida.

The analyses focused on five categories: driving accuracy, greens hit in regulation, putts per round, non-sand save percentage, and sand-save percentage -- and how each affected scoring averages.

Greens in regulation (GIR) involved every club in the bag except the putter. To achieve a GIR, the player had to make the green in two shots less than par: one shot on a par three hole, two shots on a par four hole, and three shots on a ar five hole.

Greens in regulation and putts per round emerged as the two chief determinants of scoring average, accounting for 93% of the overall score: greens, 53.1 %; putts, 11%; and interaction of the two, 28.9%.

Driving accuracy, measured by fairways hits per round, proved to be the least important factor, influencing scoring average less than 1.5%.

FROM THE COURSE

The survey results elicited an intriguing response from many of our outstanding college golf coaches:

"That (the put-down on driving accuracy) doesn't make a lot of sense," reported Augusta College coach Jim Kelson, who led his team to three straight Division 1 tournaments. "If you hit the ball in the trees a lot, you're not going to score very well."

"It really surprises me," said Oregon State coach Steve Altman. "My experience is that you can control the ball out of the fairway better than you can control it out of the rough."

Although non-sand saves per se did not appear to have much of a statistical impact (20%), their heavy correlation to putting made them significant.

Texas A&M coach Bob Ellis felt that hitting greens provided a better index to the posting of low scores.

"When you hit a green in regulation, you have a chance to birdie," he said. "It makes a big difference. And it is also a psychological factor. It's upsetting to miss greens; it irritates the golfer and can affect his touch."

But doesn't driving accuracy -- hitting the ball into the fairway -- help a player hit greens in regulation? Not so, according to the analysis.

Every five fairways missed added up to one fewer GIR. Meaning that a player who misses the fairway isn't necessarily going to miss the green.

Let's imagine a golfer hits 10 fairways and 10 greens in one round, and then hits only five fairways on the next round. if his iron play remains consistent, he will hit nine greens, according to the study. And if the green he misses happens to be on the fringe in a greenside sand trap, he could very well get up and down.

What we are saying, in effect, is that you don't necessarily have to hit the green with an accurate drive in order to set up the approach shot.

The United States Golf Association attempts to determine the difficulty of golf courses by what it calls a "Slope" rating. The higher the Slope rating, the more difficult the course is purported to be.

Coach Ellis (Texas A & M.) once had a player shoot nine under par for two rounds in a tournament, despite hitting only seven fairways.

Computer science disputes the claims made by Hogan, Harvey Penick, and the countless other teachers who stress the importance of accurate drives.

Penick, in his Little Red Book, wrote: "The woods are full of long drivers."

Ohio State coach Jim Brown claims that the driver plays a pivotal role in scoring in both college and professional golf: "A lot of guys on tour have told me that if you don't drive it in play, you're not going to make any birdies."

Of the top 15 college scorers in the 1992-93 study seven wound up among the top 15 for greens in regulation, one for putting, and none for fairways.

The 1993-94 pattern was similar: six of the top scorers finished among the top for greens in regulation, five for putting, and one for fairways hit.

The survey data was pretty much validated by the statistics for the PGA tour. Of the top 20 PGA scoring leaders for 1994, 10 placed among the top 20 in greens in regulation, nine for putting, and only four for driving accuracy.

The data was also in accord with the research done by Dr. Lou Riccio of the USGA Handicap Research Team. He had this to say in the 1987 Golf Digest:

"When it comes to hitting greens, iron accuracy is far more important than driving distance or fairways hit. if your iron play is solid, you can - and will -- hit greens from the rough."

U. of Florida coach, Buddy Alexander, believes that since many of the college tournaments and successful players can be found in the south, the players' errant drives are not as prone to be penalized because of the often thin bermuda rough on the courses.

Coach Altman (Oregon State) agrees: "I believe that the courses in the south are typically shorter than our courses in the west. That doesn't apply to all courses, but the ones out here generally have a higher slope rating (by the USGA)."

The survey involved 35 Division I schools and one Division II member -- 1993 national champion Columbus College. Ranging from Florida to Temple to Washington State, eight of these schools played in the 1994 NCAA tournament.

Although the study did not involve itself with mental factors such as confidence and relaxation that contribute to low scoring, the participants recognized that mental factors play a huge role in success.

Coach Alexander (Florida) believes that the psychological factors in putting make the putter the most important club in the bag.

"It's the last club you use on every hole," he declares. "When you sink a putt, you carry a positive feeling with you to the next hole, whereas missed putts will place extra pressure on the rest of your game."
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:the irons, the putter, and the wedge
Author:Stock, Robert
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:1054
Previous Article:Maximizing field position with punting zones.
Next Article:Lombardi: The paradox and wonder.
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