An analysis of the now four-time winner's tremendous comeback
September 10, 2017 by Alex Colucci in Analysis with 4 comments
Ultiworld Disc Golf’s coverage of the 2017 Vibram Open is presented by the Disc Golf Pro Tour; all opinions are those of the authors. Catch up on everything DGPT here.
After three days of dominance that had her six strokes ahead at the Vibram Open, it looked like Valarie Jenkins would cruise to the win. Paige Pierce upended that narrative, though, and battled back on the daunting Maple Hill course with a 1005-rated final to stun for her fourth straight win at the event.
How did one four-time PDGA World Champion come back to knock off another? There were three keys to Pierce’s win that clicked when they absolutely had to. First, she continued playing some of the most difficult holes on the course nearly as well as she had played them during the entire event, despite horrible weather. Second, she cleaned up a number of miscues on relatively easier holes that hampered her scorecard in earlier rounds. And finally, she managed to connect on timely shots down the stretch to obtain the lead — and hold onto it — as the holes ticked away.
An analysis of the Disc Golf Pro Tour’s shot-by-shot footage of the round, combined with the compendium of statistics available on UDisc Live, gives a closer look at how Pierce went from an average round rating of 959 through the first three days to topping four digits for the win.
Stats on Stats
First, let’s take a look at some of Pierce’s statistics from both the 2017 Disc Golf Pro Tour season and the Vibram Open. In the below chart, the 2017 Tour Average column shows Pierce’s average percentages for 11 different stats that UDisc Live retains.1 This column gives us a statistical baseline to which we can compare her Vibram Open performance.
The next two columns show Pierce’s averaged percentages from rounds one, two, and three at the Vibram Open and, separately, her percentages for round four.2
|2017 Tour Average||Vibram Open Rounds 1-3||Vibram Open Round 4|
|Below Par %||26||24||17|
|Over Par %||18||24||6|
|Fairway Hit %||69||67||94|
Through the first three rounds, we can see Pierce was carding fewer strokes at and below par than her season-long averages. Other measures where Pierce under-performed relative to her season averages were fairways hits, reaching both circle 1 and circle 2 in regulation, and scrambling. Her putting inside the circle was just slightly better than normal, while circle 2 putting was down and OB Rate improved.
Comparing both the season-long averages and rounds one through three to round four shows a marked improvement in nearly every measure. Specifically, we can point to improvements in hitting the fairway and scrambling; increased rates of reaching circle 1 and 2 in regulation; and the resulting significant decrease in strokes over par. The differentials in the next chart paint the picture:
|Over Par %||6.0||-12.5||-18.5|
|Fairway Hit %||-2.6||25.2||27.8|
A negative differential in par percentage shows under-performance, while a positive differential in over par percentage also shows under performance, because getting more strokes at or below par is better than collecting more strokes over par. Normal positive and negative values hold for the remaining measures.
Tale of the Tape: Corrections
Of course, statistics don’t quite tell a complete story. The video shows Pierce made some important corrections in the final round in some places she had previously struggled.
The 270-foot hole 2 played as the 14th most difficult and, given Pierce’s distance off the tee, is well within her range for a birdie look. In round two, she turned her drive a bit too much and it headed over the OB rock wall. She saved the par, though, with a long putt:
In round three, it seems that Pierce either attempted to over-correct on her drive or released it early. The result left the shot too far left into the stand of guardian trees, and her forehand roller out didn’t quite make it to 10-meter circle. She then missed the uphill par save from 35 feet:
Her tee shot was not shown on the final round coverage, but the stat sheet shows that she had a birdie putt from circle 2 and ended up with a drop-in par — certainly an improvement over the earlier rounds, especially considering the less-than-ideal weather conditions.
Maple Hill’s 250-foot 8th played as the third easiest hole over four rounds, and for good reason: It’s fairly straightforward, as competitors attempt to land on the island green and use the hill as a backstop for an easy birdie. Pierce parked her drive under the pin on the first day, but had more difficulty in the second and third rounds. In round two, her drive faded left early, barely staying in bounds. Despite the difficult lie, she was able to get up and down for par.
On the third day, Pierce’s drive stayed straighter and was safe about 30 feet past the basket. But she missed the putt back at the water, wide right and it found the OB. In the wind and rain during round four, Pierce’s drive went a bit further left than is ideal and left her with an obstructed look around guardian trees. Despite missing the putt, she was able to convert for par, which, again, was an improvement over previous rounds considering the conditions.
In round two, Pierce had difficulty not just on the tee of hole 13, but also its green. Her drive went left early into dense rough, but she made the tough out to 40 feet, which she missed:
She improved on her drive in round three, but missed her birdie putt high from 40 feet, got a bad roll to the rough, and could only lay up to about 30 feet. She missed that uphill bogey save high, too:
Tale of the Tape: Clutch
After this point, things began to turn around for Pierce. She got things going with an 18-foot birdie putt on hole 14, staring down the OB water:
She only carded one more bogey through the rest of the third round and final day, aggressively going for the green on hole 1 in the rain in an attempt to make up strokes. Indeed, Pierce continued to play some of the more difficult holes at Maple Hill as well as or better in the final round than she did earlier in the event. Holes 6, 9, 12, and 13 played as the second, fourth, third, and fifth most difficult for the field, respectively, throughout the tournament. She parred all four in the final round, and in each instance that result helped her either cut into Jenkins’ lead, or take it outright, like she finally did on hole 13.
She picked up a stroke on hole 6 after this impressive, straight-finishing drive that left her with an easy up-and-down for par:
Hole 12 saw perhaps Pierce’s most important putt of the final day, a par-saving bid from 30 feet to stay within one stroke of the lead as Jenkins was sitting inside five feet with a drop-in par:
After staking the lead with a par on hole 13 to Jenkins’ double-bogey, Pierce had to show off some scramble and approach skills to keep her newfound two-stroke lead on the final few holes. On hole 16, her drive found an early tree that left her faced with a challenging approach, while Jenkins was already parked for birdie:
After that excellent upshot she dropped in her birdie from no more than seven feet. On 17, with Jenkins in the woods after a tree kick on her drive, Pierce had this signature jump-putt approach to land the birdie and pad her lead:
The resulting three-stroke lead essentially iced the win heading into the final hole.
Pierce’s impressive closing performance saw her conquering not only difficult weather conditions, but also some of the mistakes that kept her from the lead in earlier rounds. If nothing else, her performance is a lesson in perseverance. Keeping yourself close and taking advantage when the time comes is just as important at the highest level the sport as it is anywhere else.