Scott Fawcett vs Brad Faxon

A while back there was quite a heated yet interesting online argument between former PGA Tour player and current putting guru Brad Faxon and commonly referenced Scott Fawcett of Decade Golf. As the story goes, Faxon, describing a characteristic of his own putting and quite possibly in an effort to help his followers, stated,

“I do know that whenever I missed a putt it was past the hole far enough that I had to mark it; it was never a tap in”.

Fawcett, believing that the stats didn’t quite match up with this claim and highlighting how this philosophy may prove to do more harm than good for the golfing public, bit back. Cue some jostling back and forth between the two culminating with Fawcett posting the actual PGA Tour putting stats from Faxon´s career…

From there general nastiness ensued and the two would go on to have future arguments with no one coming out smelling of roses.

Now, although the general sentiment of the argument was rather distasteful, it did stir up a couple of important points in relation to statistics.

On paper, Fawcett is absolutely correct. Faxon in fact did not hit every putt past the hole long enough that he would be forced to mark it and the stats back this up. In fact,  a rather large proportion of Faxon’s total putts were actually left short.

1 up Fawcett

But, and it’s an important but, what if the stories we tell ourselves in our heads were actually more important than the stats themselves? In other words, what if what we believed to be right and wrong was more important that being actually right and wrong?

What is often lost when talking about stats is that we are dealing with human beings. Human beings who have emotions. Emotions that are assigned to our actions.

For every golf shot we hit, the vast majority of us assign an emotion to it. It might be joy. It might be disgust. Pride. Disappointment. Judgement. Anger. Indifference. It could be anything. There is a whole pastel of hues with regard to our reactions. This reaction may then carry over and affect our future shots and performance.

Stats, on the other hand, don’t deal with emotions. They deal with data. They notch up each shot coldly. Stats are black and white. Right and wrong.

It is this dissonance between using the black and white of stats with emotional, colourful players that is sometimes the point of friction for us as coaches.

Back to Fawcett and Faxon.

Yes, Fawcett is 100% correct that Faxon did not mark his ball past the hole for every missed putt. But…

What if for every putt that he left short or barely got to the hole, Faxon berated himself,

“That was weak!”
“Never had a chance!”
“You’ve been practising getting it past the hole all week and then you do that!?”

And then that emotion spilled over into the next tee shot or played on his mind the next time he had a similar length putt.

Furthermore, what if he did bash the first putt by and then missed the one coming back. There might be disappointment but there might also be…

“You gave it a chance.”
“Don’t worry about it. At least you played bravely.”

Hey, I know I’m playing Devil’s Advocate a bit here but you could then potentially have a player walk off after 2 putting feeling dejected and the same player walking off after 3 putting and feeling buoyant. The crazy thing is that these occurrences may then affect future performance.

So yes, in isolation, an analysis of a shot or group of shots may show it to be a negative BUT depending on the emotion that we apply to the shot or group of shots, the overall, longer-term effect may be a net positive. 

All Square

We know that trying to pierce a ball through a 6 feet gap in the trees from the pinestraw is statistically not the best strategy but what if the guts it takes to take on the shot or the elation experienced when the 1 out of 20 times it does come off produces a greater good?

We know that aiming at the centre of the green is probably the play but what if the idea of playing “boring golf” is destructive in the long term?

I don’t know.

But I do know that Twitter can sometimes be a nasty place.

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