05/04/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/04/2021 11:10
The most exciting holes on the PGA TOUR require players to factor the potential benefit of a birdie or eagle against the chances of finding trouble and make decisions at key moments in competition. The Aon Risk Reward Challenge has highlighted such holes all season, rewarding the strategic decision makers whose deft analysis and execution have resulted in on-course success.
Joaquin Niemann currently leads the season-long Aon Risk Reward Challenge standings. He has racked up 28 birdies-or-better on Challenge holes already this season, going for the green 76% of the time. It's a calculated strategy that has paid off handsomely.
'I tend to be a little more aggressive on these holes if I feel like I can find the right miss,' said Niemann. 'If I know I can either get on, or near the green… or if I miss the green I can be in a bunker or have a chip that makes birdie still possible, I'll go for it. I feel pretty confident in my short game that I can take the risk and still get up and down.'
The numbers bear out Niemann's philosophy: 78% of his strokes gained against the field on Challenge holes this season have come on shots around the green or on putts.
Numerous players have seen their success on Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes springboard them to victory. In the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Brooks Koepka hit a strong tee shot in front of the green of the drivable par-4 17th. He pitched in for eagle, propelling him to a one-shot win. Daniel Berger put an exclamation point on his victory at the following week's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, attacking the final green in two and making a 30-foot eagle putt for a two-stroke win. Both players are currently in the top 10 of the season-long Aon Risk Reward Challenge standings.
Also in the top 10 of the Aon leaderboard is Louis Oosthuizen, whose tee shots on Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes have been the source of more than half of his strokes gained on the field.
'A lot has to do on the day with the way you feel,' said Oosthuizen. 'Are you comfortable? Where is the pin? … If you feel comfortable, then you can take it on.' The smooth-swinging South African has felt comfortable more often than not, going for the green more than 80% of the time this season on Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes.
Having a winning strategy can be worth handfuls of shots every week on the PGA TOUR. A well-informed and prepared team surrounding a player is paramount, something that has aided Niemann's decision making throughout the Challenge this year.
'I have a new caddie this year with Gary Matthews and we work really well together,' said Niemann. 'Obviously, things change day-to-day that may impact our strategy with pin placement or wind or just how my swing is that day. Gary has helped a lot and having our process in place has been helpful to put me in the lead of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge.'
The myriad ways players can attack a golf course are often best revealed on risk-reward holes. Last season, despite ranking 187th on the TOUR in driving distance, Brendon Todd ranked sixth in total birdies made. Knowing when to maximize scoring opportunities can bridge the gap between shorter hitters and their longer competitors.
'If it's a situation where going for it can put me in a bunker or a hazard that brings par or bogey into play, then I'll lay up to a comfortable wedge distance because my wedge play is one of the strengths of my game,' said Todd. 'Understanding my strengths goes into the decisions on those holes.'
For the players currently in the top 10 of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, deft decision-making and execution off the tee has led to lower scores. More than 45% of the strokes gained against the field by the players in the top 10 have come off the tee. This week's Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole, the 14th at Quail Hollow Club, is a short par-4 that will undoubtedly continue that statistical trend as it tempts players to drive the green.
In the last two Wells Fargo Championships, about 60% of the field tried to drive the 14th green. Even with water protecting the left side, and bunkers guarding the front, those who were aggressive gained one-third of a stroke on the field. Leaving the tee shot in the front-right bunker on this hole is an excellent play, with players who do so averaging half-a-stroke under par since 2018.
But what about the other 40%, who have elected to lay up at the 14th? Overall, players who lay up off the tee have averaged right around even par. The riskier lay up to the left side of the hole brings the water hazard into play, but has yielded lower scoring averages than laying up to the right. The multitude of choices and potential outcomes make the 14th one of the most intriguing holes this week at Quail Hollow Club.
The Aon Risk Reward Challenge continues to highlight these exciting holes, and the players with the best preparation and decision making on them, all season long. To learn more about the season-long competition, click here.