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Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation
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TOPIC: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation

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dconnally
Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation

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Wednesday April 10, 2019 4:19 PM
Watching the pro golf tourney in San Antonio last weekend got me thinking about a topic I’ve been mulling over (no, not Muellering over!) for a long time. Especially for the pros, and specifically the male pros, it’s the issue of risk versus reward in their approach to attacking some holes.

I was specifically looking at the way the pros played #18 at TPC San Antonio in the first couple rounds where conditions were ideal – very little wind or wind slightly helping, sunny warm weather, good fairway and rough conditions.

The 18th hole is a 591-yd par-5 with a fairly narrow fairway with some slope to the golfer’s back. A creek flows down from the back right side of the green and crosses in front of the green. Left of the green the rough slopes upward toward the cart path. The green is narrow in front and wider in the rear, and like many greens at TPC SA it’s a pedestal-type green with the surface raised up above the surrounding rough. Sand left front of the green and behind.

I played this course about 3+ years ago and got my a** handed to me with the pedestal greens, deep bunkers, and the need for lofted soft approaches. I don’t generally have the length to go for par-5s in 2 shots, and when and if I do it’s not a situation where the tournament or a paycheck to feed my family is on the line. As amateurs we might all say “Hey, what the heck, let’s go for it! A disaster is just an adjusted 7 or 8.” But the pros are fighting for $$, Fedex points, their Tour card, and paying their bills. A few strokes can make a big difference in their checks – every week.

So I’m watching on Golf Channel and looking at the PGA Shot Tracker for how they are playing #18. Even with a great drive, you’re looking at 260 yards to the green over the hazards described. Plenty of fairway short and right of the creek to lay up to your favorite wedge distance, although this can be a little more awkward angle, but you’ve got a wedge in your hand. And most of the pros are hitting 3-wood or 5-wood, which isn’t generally considered an “accuracy” club. Is the “reward” here worth the “risk”?

Let’s take Harold Varner III on Friday’s round. I’d classify him as an “average” pro. After a good drive in the fairway, he’s got 261 to the flag, which is down front in the narrow neck of the pedestal green. He blasts a 3-wood left of the green, missing the bunker. Now - he’s in the rough, on a downslope above the level of the green with a swale in front of the green, to a narrow neck of green with a creek beyond. Does this 3rd shot look better to him than a sand wedge from 100 yards if he’s trying to make birdie? What were his chances of hitting this narrow green, surrounded by trouble, from 260 out? Multiply this by 4 rounds and you are talking about the potential for losing a lot of coin for this tournament. And that‘s just on this one hole!

It’s not just this particular hole. Every week you see pros hitting shots where it looks like the chances of success are pretty low (I mean, even the pros can’t always hit the perfect shot!) and the potential for lost strokes or disasters is much greater. “Driveable” greens surrounded by hazards, awkward angles, etc. Yes, these guys are great at recovery, but if you come to a hole thinking “birdie” and wind up struggling to make par, are you helping yourself? Is this strategy worthwhile?

Just a topic for discussion by all of us “can’t get there in two” golfers out there.

[[Edited by dconnally on Wednesday April 10, 2019 4:42 PM]]
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 Message #91043
Nickesquire
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation
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Wednesday April 10, 2019 5:08 PM
Over the past few seasons, there is an extensive list of players who did not win a tournament and still pocketed over $1,000,000 that golf season. But to get into the really big $$$, they need to win tournaments and/or cash some top 5 checks, not just make the cut week after week.

In MANY tournaments, the difference in 2 strokes for a player in the top 10 can be well into 6 figures come Sunday afternoon. If you are talking 2nd alone or a six way tie for 7th, the difference in $$$ is HUGE. However, if you are talking the difference in finishing 39th alone or in a 3 way tie for 44th, not so much.

I wonder if they consider going for a par 5 in two or a par 4 in one, THAT is the thinking early in a tournament. That an eagle now could pay huge dividends by tournaments end plus provide confidence and momentum in the current round.

My suspicion is that most pro's who need the paycheck would play risk/reward holes differently in the first or especially late in the 2nd round than they would if high on the leaderboard Sunday afternoon. Guys who want wins who are more secure financially, maybe not so much.

Example: if they perceive themselves to be on the wrong side of the projected cut line with 9 holes or less to play in round 2, why would they NOT go for it? If everyone say +3 or above is going home w/o qualifying for the weekend, do you really care if you finish +4 with a par or +6 with a double... their goal is the improbable eagle to get to +2 and live to play another day.

To David's thought about those players that cannot get there. I wonder if it makes things less complicated if you know you cannot get there and have to just set up your wedge? Less eagles but more birdies could produce the same overall result over a full season. Maybe even more consistent results if you also have less blow up holes.

However, competiting on the level these guys do, they may "need" an eagle to compete for a title and having the firepower to get there at least provides another strategy option.
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The goal is long and straight! But on the many times I cannot seem to hit them straight, I at least want to hit them long!
 Message #91046 - This was a reply to message #91043
dconnally
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation

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Wednesday April 10, 2019 6:54 PM
Good points, Nick. But even for the high earners, who you assume want a win and not just a good check, I'm sometimes flabbergasted by their decisions.

Taking your comments into account, and looking at Harold Varner's example above - which one is more likely to make the eagle? The pitch from the rough above the hole, or the sand wedge from the fairway?
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rob1563
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation

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Wednesday April 10, 2019 7:48 PM
Great idea.

So I looked up HVIII's season stats:

approaches 50-125 yards: 21'8", 188th this season (he's over a foot closer 75-100, about a foot worse 100-125)
all approaches greater than 200 yards: 54'4", 151st for the season

going for the green, birdie or better: 50%, 163rd
scrambling from the rough: 93rd

It wouldn't surprise me if he wanted to put it in the bunker, where he's 36th proximity to the hole from, at 8'2".

Also depends on the day, he shot even par on the weekend to finish T23, after being in the top 10 after the cut. He may have been trying to move up as he was falling down the leaderboard.
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Itslikeimsayin
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation
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Wednesday April 10, 2019 9:41 PM
Cool thread. In 5+ years on Tour, HVIII has earned $4.6 million in winnings and probably has all his expenses paid by sponsors. My guess is that he wants to win. I think Nick is on the right track that these guys know they have to go low to win, and they're confident enough in their short games that the risk seems palatable. He doesn't end up with his ball in the rough on a downslope every time he goes for the green in two; that example is probably a worse-than-average result for him.
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dconnally
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation

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Wednesday April 10, 2019 10:37 PM
I just used Varner as an example. You see this type of approach every week at different venues by different players.

Obviously these guys can do things most ordinary people can't, but some of these decisions I see still make me scratch my head at what must be a perceived reward against a very significant risk in those situations.
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Itslikeimsayin
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation
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Wednesday April 10, 2019 10:57 PM
QUOTED  I just used Varner as an example. You see this type of approach every week at different venues by different players.


Which also speaks to my point: Even middle-of-the-pack Tour players are likely pretty comfortable financially. What they really want now is to win. (Just a theory... Would be interesting to see if established veterans take more risks than players on the bubble who are trying to attain full status.)

Related, but on a different point, I feel like I've heard stats about how people score better the closer they are to the hole. (Basically that you should never lay up. You should always try to get as close as possible with your next shot, even if that means a so-called "awkward" distance.) Not sure if that holds true for pros as well, but it's possible.

[[Edited by Itslikeimsayin on Wednesday April 10, 2019 10:58 PM]]
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AndrewZ28
RE: Risk versus Reward for the Pros - A Contemplation
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Thursday April 11, 2019 2:22 PM
I'd like to see what the average distance to the hole a tour pro hits it from 100 yards. I'm guessing in the 15 foot range. Then it would be good to see the odds of making a 15 footer. 50%? I don't know.

I think the thought process is get it as close to the hole as possible, even if it means in a bunker or rough or whatever. Those are better than 100 yards from the fairway.

On top of that if a guy is 260 out and lays up, I'm guessing that layup shot is pretty awkward. They'd have to hit something like 9 iron which just seems weird.
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