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Do you play golf like a pathological gambler?

If I give you the opportunity to participate to the contest of your choice. You have to choose a single number corresponding to a face of the dice. The first contest uses a 6-sided dice and the second an 8-sided dice. Which contest do you choose to participate in?

The choice seems obvious (unless you're terrible at mental arithmetic). You have 16.7% odds winning the first contest rather than 12.5% ​​for the second.

Where am I going with this parallel? In fact, most golfers behave on the course like pathological gamblers: they constantly attempt shots that they only statistically succeed very rarely, having the magical thought that this time will be the right one (the machine will end up paying!).

Perfect shot vs shot pattern

You find yourself with your 7 iron distance from the green. The flag is 10 feet from the fringe to the right and 8 feet from the front of the green. You feel in the zone, confident, and you aim straight for the flag.

Well, the odds that your ball will end up short of the target are about 75%. The classic mistake here is to base the decision on the one prospect of a perfect shot (you went all in with a pair of deuces!).

An alternative to this kamikaze strategy is to consider your shot pattern. To take another analogy, consider a golf shot to be a cannon shot. If for a target X, we go for 100 cannon shots, what would be the size of the diameter of the circle formed by all the balls on the ground?

As a guide, the average dispersion pattern of a driver on the PGA Tour is… 75 yards! On hole # 15 of the Copperhead course, a 195 yards par 3, the shot pattern is… 50 yards wide. And we're talking about a 7-6 iron hit by the best players on the planet.

Poker strategy

Knowing this, it's time to take action. Off the tee, common sense seemed to teach us that it's better to hit a 3 wood when the hole is shorter or narrower. In fact, if you take a more in-depth look at the probabilities, this is a very bad strategy.

As the average dispersion of a tee shot is 75 yards, if there is this distance between two hazards (water, out of bounds, dense forest), choose a target in the center of this point and takethe driver out. The logic behind this strategy: hitting your 3 wood results in a considerable loss of distance (often over 30 yards) and the accuracy percentage only increases by 1-2%. The sacrifice is not worth it statistically speaking.

"Yes, but it is much better to attack the green from the fairway than the rough" (Gary, 27 handicap)

In absolute terms, yes. But as mentioned earlier, hitting the driver versus wood 3 only slightly decreases accuracy while dramatically decreasing the distance to reach the green on the second shot. This increases the odds of hitting the green in regulation, increases the average proximity to the hole (shorter average putt) and increases the percentage of conversion of the putt.

For the approach to the green, it also pays to focus on the probability aspect. Often golfers have misconceptions about how likely they are to hit the green or how close to the hole they should expect to hit hteir approach.

Inside 100 yards, the pros always hit it inside 10 feet!

Sorry Gary, but it is very inaccurate. In fact from the fairway, (still on the PGA Tour) only 28% of shots are found within 10 feet. The best players in the world, when they are between 75 and 100 yards from the green, reach it 78.01% of the time. From the same distance, from the rough, you are more likely to witness a bogey than a par. I remind you that we are talking about the best, the elite, the crème de la crème! So when you hit your wedge on the fringe in front of the green, that doesn't make you the worst player in the history of the game!

In putting, misperceptions are also well present!

Within 10 feet, the pros never miss a putt!

No Gary! When you watch golf on TV Sunday afternoon, you watch the hottest 2-3 golfers around. Not only do they find themselves among the elite on the PGA Tour, they made the cut after 36 holes (find themselves among the top 65 golfers in the tournament) and are at the top of the leaderboard just a few holes from the end of the competition. It may be the case in this exceptional week, Player X made all of the less than 10-foot putts he faced. But when you look over the span of a full season, the picture is quite different. On average from 7 feet, the make percentage (PGA Tour) is 58%. From10 feet, 40% and from 20 feet, 15%. From 33 feet , the odds of making the putt (5.8%) are less than making 3 putts (6.5%)! So don't judge yourself too harshly if you miss an 8-foot putt… the best players in the wolrd do the same half the time.

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