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Sunday, September 20, 2009

What You Can Learn from Jiyai Shin

The LPGA is playing Torrey Pines South, the same course the PGA plays. Granted, it’s set up shorter―6721 yards, nearly 900 yards shorter than the men play―but it’s still a tough course and long for the women. And at this point, with one round to go, Jiyai Shin is one of only two women to shoot in the 60s in every round. (The other is Ai Miyazato.) She goes into the final round two shots back of Na Yeon Choi, who’s trying to win her first tourney.

I won’t bore you with a load of facts, but consider this. Shin is a rookie this year; she played her way onto the LPGA by becoming the first non-LPGA member ever to win three LPGA tournaments… and one of those was a major, the 2008 Women’s British Open. She’s got three more wins this year, as well as 23 other worldwide wins. She’s locked up the Rookie of the Year race and, with her win last week, she’s taken over first place on the money list and in the Player of the Year race.

This is interesting to me, because Shin just doesn’t seem to be the player you’d expect to be a dominator, but believe me, she IS a dominator. It’s hard to believe when you see she’s 91st on tour in driving distance… and this week, she’s more than 5 yards below her average. But check out these other stats: 2nd in driving accuracy, 2nd in birdies, 4th in rounds under par, T4 in putts per green, 6th in GIR, and T17 in eagles. These are incredible stats, especially when you consider that she gives up 15-20 yards against most of the other players in the field. Even Miyazato, who’s notoriously short, consistently hits it 7-8 yards past her.

So how does such a short knocker do it? (She’s SECOND in birdies, for Pete’s sake!)

First off, her stats say she hits the fairway. A lot. 82.5% of the time, in fact. Any player plays better from the fairway, but it’s vital if you’re a short knocker. (The rough will cut your distance stats really fast.) But guess what? Shin isn’t anywhere near her best this week; about 63%, if my figures are right. So as important as driving accuracy is, that’s not what’s doing it for her this week.

So I check her birdie count: 19 so far. She birdied more than a third of the holes she’s played! If it’s not her driving, where is it coming from?

It’s not her GIR. She’s normally 72.5%; this week, she’s a mere 54%. Scratch GIR as the reason.

Putts per round isn’t really a good indicator of putting, simply because if you aren’t hitting greens, you won’t need as many putts. Shin has taken 71 putts through 3 rounds, and she’s 13 under par. For all practical purposes, she’s only used 24 short game shots total in all three rounds; many of us use that many in just one! (Here’s how I figured that total: You’re allowed 36 putts per round; for 3 rounds, that’s 108 putts. She’s made no eagles, so she didn’t “cheat” by reaching a green in less than regulation. Subtract the 71 actual putts she used, and 13 putts for being under par, and that leaves 24 short game strokes.) That’s an average of 8 shots per round, which sounds about right since her GIR this week is just over 50%.

What this means is that when Shin makes a chip or a pitch, that shot is as accurate as any putt she makes. She’s just as comfortable from off the green as she is on it.

Can you say that?

That’s why Jiyai Shin is dominating longer and stronger players. It’s her short game that takes up the slack, even when she gives up 20 yards on her drive. The short game is something at which anybody can get better, and it’s one of the quickest ways to take shots off your game.

Take a lesson from her and work on your chipping and pitching a little. You’ll be glad you did.

2 comments:

  1. If she is 20 yards behind on her drives, she most likely is probably one club shorter with her irons. So, most of ladies are hitting 8-iron to the green when she is hitting 5-iron. That makes her 72.5% GIR pretty remarkable, even more so when others are hitting 5-iron and she is hitting 3-rescue.

    Great point on the short game. Funny thing is, everybody KNOWS it, very few actually PRACTICE it...

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  2. Good point about the approach shot. (I was too lazy to do the math.) It just emphasizes how much difference a good short game makes.

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