Aon Risk Reward Challenge illustrates importance of experience in decision-making
5 Min Read
Written by Michael LoRé
While today’s PGA TOUR players are younger and stronger than ever, it’s hard to argue against the benefits that come from experience, maturity and knowledge, which all serve as invaluable assets when making decisions on the course.
Being able to drive the ball far certainly doesn’t hurt, but that distance decreases in importance if a player is unable to follow it up with a savvy second shot. As players age, their power and physical prowess decrease, so relying on prior experiences and knowledge gained from years on TOUR are factors that impact decision making in hopes to gain ground on the younger field. Whether it’s deciding what to hit off the tee on a tricky hole to set themselves up for an optimal second shot or choosing to lay up on a par 5 rather than go for the green, the ability to make better decisions in times of high pressure is what sets great players apart – and it often comes with time and experience.
Golf is a game that perfectly blends the physical and the mental.
“I definitely think the experience I’ve gained from my years on TOUR makes a big difference in the choices I make on the course,” said Tony Finau, 33, who has won five of his six PGA TOUR titles since turning 30. “I try to take something away from every tournament. The successes and disappointments I’ve had in my career have all shaped the player I am.
“When I’m in a high-pressure situation, those experiences are a huge advantage in making better decisions.”
With the Aon Risk Reward Challenge entering its final weeks, it should be no surprise, then, that the top three players in the standings are all over the age of 30. The Aon Risk Reward Challenge debuted in 2019 to reward those PGA TOUR and LPGA players who make thoughtful, strategic decisions throughout the course of their seasons. The winner on each tour is awarded an equal $1 million for showcasing their decision-making prowess.
Adam Scott, 42, currently leads the PGA TOUR standings. His two decades of experience have undoubtedly helped him thrive on the Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes, which are chosen weekly for the difficult choices they present to players and caddies. Tyrrell Hatton (31), Patrick Cantlay (31), Stephan Jaeger (34) and Rickie Fowler (34) are Scott’s closest competition, proving that experience matters when it comes to strategic decision-making. Seven of the top 10 in the Aon Risk Reward Challenge standings are over the age of 30.
Scott, whose 14 PGA TOUR wins include the 2004 PLAYERS Championship and 2013 Masters, has a 59.4% chance of winning with three events remaining, while Hatton and Cantlay are at 16.8% and 14.6%, respectively, based on predictive analysis accounting for 2023 execution and upcoming Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes.
The Australian is 20-under par on the 20 Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes he has played this season, averaging exactly 1-under par on those holes. He’s 12-under on the par 4s and 8-under on the par 5s, proving he can thrive under myriad challenges. Hatton is 22-under on 24 challenge holes for an average score in relation to par of -0.92. Cantlay is 19-under on 21 challenge holes (-0.91).
Eighteen-time major winner Jack Nicklaus knew the value of experience, citing it as a key reason why he won two majors as a 40-year-old in 1980 and the 1986 Masters at age 46.
“I am a far better golfer than when I started out on the TOUR,” he wrote in his 1974 instruction book, “Golf My Way.” “That is more the result of maturity and competitive experience than of improvement in the mechanics of my game.”
While today’s power game has seen unprecedented success from some of the TOUR’s youngest stars, there is a reason that the conventional wisdom still says players peak in their 30s.
“Experience means everything,” wrote the great amateur Bobby Jones. “For every factor – ground, wind, slope, lie – everything must be accounted for and valued accurately.”
Scott, who has three top-10 finishes this season, has the third-best first-round scoring average (68.38) on TOUR this season thanks to being ranked first in approaches from >275 yards (49’3), second in par-4 birdies or better (22.24%) and third in putting from 10’-15’ (40.57%).
Scott has shown the wisdom to thrive on difficult courses like Quail Hollow Club, site of the Wells Fargo Championship (T5) and Muirfield Village, which hosts the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday (T9). But he also finished T8 at the low-scoring AT&T Byron Nelson and was in contention at the Travelers Championship before finishing T19. That event came the week after the notoriously difficult U.S. Open and gave us an insight into Scott’s thinking.
“After a week of not aiming at a pin, you can aim at a pin,” Scott said after shooting 62-68 in the first two rounds at TPC River Highlands. “That can sometimes spark good things.”
“It’s that one shot you can aim at a pin and hit it stiff that frees you up.”
Conditions change from round to round and especially each week, but intelligent decision making always pays dividends. The Aon Risk Reward Challenge offers another incentive for factoring strategy to navigate challenges.
Unsurprisingly, the winningest players in PGA TOUR history thrived after turning the big 3-0. Ben Hogan had 47 of his 64 career wins, including all nine of his major victories, in his 30s, while Arnold Palmer had 44 of his 62 career wins, including six majors, during that span. Tiger Woods (39 of 82 career wins) and Nicklaus (38 of 73) also proved that experience, wisdom and maturity from years on the PGA TOUR can pay major dividends after eclipsing 30.
“Maturity plays a great part in golf,” Nicklaus told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “It really takes a long time to truly know how to play, to learn one’s own game, and how to be patient with it. … Some players learn earlier, but even then, they tend to peak later.”
Tune into the last few weeks of the PGA TOUR season to see better decision making on display and how maturity and experience will define this year’s Aon Risk Reward Challenge champion. The final three Aon Risk Reward Challenge holes of the 2022-2023 season are below:
· Par-5 16th hole at the Genesis Scottish Open
· Par-5 18th hole at the 3M Open
· Par-5 15th hole at the Wyndham Championship