Ways to Win at Waialae: Aloha Approach
In Ways to Win, I'll use the analytics from PAR Golf to tell the story of the week's PGA Tour event. If you want to know how PAR Golf can help you play your best, read on to see it applied to the best in the world.
Despite the tight finish at Waialae Country Club, the Sony open feels like a bit of a let down after the Tournament of Champions last week. A weak leaderboard and a boring golf course means not many eyeballs on the finish and that includes mine. I followed the last few holes to see if Buckley could finish it off, joining just in time to see his fantastic birdie on 16 get covered up by Si Woo Kim's chip in on 17.
It's not Si Woo Kim's fault that the tournament lacked excitement, even if his 'PGA Tour' shirt on Sunday made it worse... Waialae Country Club is a total let down after a week at Kapalua. The golf course looks like it could literally have been from almost anywhere in the United States. It's completely flat, few holes on the ocean, and honestly looks like it could be one of many old school country clubs here in Dallas, Texas. The cameras can cut away to volcanos and beaches, but the golf course is absolutely boring and didn't exactly pull out the best leaderboard from the field.
Enough complaining... Somebody had to win and Si Woo Kim played a fantastic final round to come from behind to do so, shooting a final round 64 (-6) after birdie-ing the final two holes. So how'd he do it?
Si Woo Kim separated himself with his Approach Game (shots from outside 75 yards that aren't tee shots on Par 4s and Par5s) and his short game (shots inside 75 yards not on the green). Honestly his driving was not very impressive, though the short old school course is difficult to overpower. His putting was also not as you'd typically see from a tour winner.
There were some struggles with the late afternoon winds earlier in the week that set back quite a bit of the field (including first round leader Jordan Spieth who failed to make the cut!). It is rare that you see a tour winner separate themselves so strongly from the field with short game. On a typical PGA Tour setup that is because having a great short game day requires you to miss greens... and missing greens is not a recipe for success. However, Si Woo Kim didn't miss greens either. A quick look at PAR Golf's "Greens in Regulation" graphic show that Si Woo hit 61 of 72 greens or 84%. Incredibly solid work. When he did miss, it tended to be due to iron shots rather than drives putting him into trouble. We'll dive into that in a minute.
So if he didn't miss greens, how did he have so much short game success?
At the shorter Waialae Country Club, you don't have to miss greens to have short shots in and Si Woo Kim was masterful around the greens including chipping in several times. None were more clutch than his aggressive chip in on the 71st hole to tie the lead going into 18.
So according to PAR Golf, when he did miss greens, it was due to poor approach play. We can reference the Approach graphic to learn more as shown below.
Si Woo Kim actually hit 85% of his greens in regulation (GIR) after removing driving mistakes (one where he drove into the water). Thats a phenomenal number. Another couple observations show that his misses are also relatively well distributed around the hole. This means he is picking good targets and not letting a poor tendency (like pulling the ball) have one side dominate.
His average proximity on these shots was 23 feet. That is stuffing it. No wonder he gained 2.8 strokes per round with his approach.
While he did hit 2 approach shots into sand, of the 10 greens he missed, 4 were 'Near Green' from fairway lies where he was mostly able to putt. Si Woo did a masterful job of not short-siding himself and giving himself the best chance even on the few greens he missed.
His driving may not have been spectacular from a strokes gained perspective, a lot of that had to do with the way the old school course requires you to often hit less than driver. Si Woo still averaged almost 300 yards off the tee.
If I was going to be further critical of his performance, he does tend to favor a left hand miss at almost 3 to 1 compared to the right hand side, but the bigger problem may be target selection as he drove it into 8 bunkers on the week. That is quite a few bunkers and while that rarely cost him bogeys at his level, it did cost him birdies as he often had upwards of 50-70 feet to putt on the greens after driving into fairway bunkers.
All in all, a great week from Si Woo Kim with a great finish. A little unorthodox as the putter and driving were not a major factor in separating from the field this week.
Using PAR Golf, with a little more attention to targets off the tee, Si Woo Kim could have dominated this tournament rather than squeaking through with a birdie on the last.
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