What an interesting finish to the Barclays. Matt Kuchar beat Martin Laird on the first hole of sudden death. Both players finished the tournament at 12-under par. But when the day began Laird was the front runner, and Kuchar wasn’t even on the radar screen. Laird shot even par 71 the final day, while Kuchar shot a 5-under 66. I was scratching my head trying to figure out the lesson from the day’s play and I found it in the stats.
Laird started off hot with birdies on the first two holes, but from then on looked very shaky. He finished the day hitting only 6 of 14 fairways and 7 of 18 greens. Now hitting only 6 fairways and 7 greens is probably about average for a lot of weekend golfers. But Laird shot even par, while most amateurs posting those stats would wind up somewhere in the mid to high 80’s. Maybe even low 90’s.
The difference is in short game effectiveness.
Despite being inconsistent off the tee and from the fairway, Laird demonstrated remarkable chipping and putting skills. He got up and down 72% of the time by constantly chipping within 3 to 6 feet and making his par-saving putts. The average weekend warrior has a hard time chipping consistently with 10 feet, and as a consequence has an up-and-down percentage somewhere in the 20% range. Part of that was Laird’s ability to use course management to put the ball in a position where he could have a reasonable chip to the pin. Part of it is just plain old practice around the greens. Laird had only 25 putts for the day, where an average golfer probably averages around 34 putts per round.
Kuchar’s stats were even more impressive. He had a bogey-free round, even though he hit only 11 fairways and 12 greens. His up-and-down percentage was 100%! Given the long grass surrounding the greens that is an amazing stat. Kuchar needed only 24 putts!
The other thing that struck me was how accurate these two were once they got to around 100 yards. Both players made 5 birdies on the day, and part of the reason was that they practiced both good course management and game management in order to get themselves to that 100-yard distance. They’ve obviously spent a lot of time hitting 100-yard wedge shots, which is one of the secrets to scoring.
Kuchar seems like a nice guy and his grin is infectious. I’m happy for him. Laird showed a lot of grit and the ability to grind out a good score even on a day when he wasn’t striking the ball particularly well.
The lesson for me is that good scores come from being good from 100 yards an in. Knowing your favorite wedge distance is a key for making birdies. Having a reliable and predictable chip shot is a key for saving par when you miss the green. Spending practice time in these two areas is a lot more important for scoring than hitting a perfect 7 iron. So I’m leaving the driver in the bag, grabbing my wedge, and heading to the shot-game area …