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Opinion & Analysis

10 PGA Tour players who will rise (or fall) in 2014

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With the 2014 PGA Tour season starting, I wanted to give the readers a look at a few players on Tour that I feel will be on the rise and falling for the season. The data below is the player’s 2013 metrics.

Players on the Rise

colsaerts.625.redington

NICOLAS COLSAERTS

Table 01

Colsaerts was the hot prospect headed for the Tour in 2013 coming off splendid play at the 2012 Ryder Cup. He generates a ton of club head speed and is one of the longer hitters on Tour. He was also eighth in approach shots from the rough and fourth in approach shots from the fairway. Thus, he’s an excellent iron player if he keeps the ball in play. He actually drove the ball quite well for most of the season, but he regressed toward the end of the year.

The reason why I like Colsaerts is that he hits it so long and hits it so well with his irons that the only part of the game that held him back was on and around the greens. And where he excelled with his irons was in the ever-important Danger Zone. He also was first in shots from 225-to-250 yards.

Colsaerts was saddled with the strongest strength of schedule on Tour last year, while only ranking 100th in Purse Size per Event. I believe that he can get used to the greens along with working on his putting in the offseason that he will have much more success in 2014. As I have mentioned in Pro Golf Synopsis, the biggest statistical advantage that distance provides is it allows the golfer to putt overcome poor putting. This is due to the par-5’s on Tour playing more like par-4’s for long hitters such as Colsaerts. Therefore, he can still be a mediocre putter on Tour and have a big year. He just needs to stop putting like one of the worst putters on Tour.

CHARLES HOWELL III

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Table 02

Howell has been one of the most overrated ballstrikers in recent years and subsequently one of the most underrated in terms of short game and putting. What has happened is that he has steepened his angle of attack with the driver over time. I have written about this in Pro Golf Synopsis, where the most common trait of a golfer who “loses their driving” on Tour is the one who starts to struggle with his accuracy off the tee and to counter that he tries to fly the ball lower by hitting more and more downward on the ball. This may provide some initial relief for the golfer, but eventually he not only starts losing distance off the tee, but he becomes more inaccurate and imprecise off the tee as well.

Here is a look at Howell’s radar metrics during the past three years:

Table 1

Frustrated, Howell started to work with Grant Waite for much of the second half of 2013 in order to improve shallow out his attack angle. Here is a look of his radar metrics in the fall 2013-2014 season:

Table 2

This created a noticeable improvement in his ballstriking in the 2013-2014 fall season. Here is a look at his rankings in the key ballstriking metrics in those tournaments he played in:

Table 05

Granted, his rankings in these events is out of roughly 120 players versus his cumulative rankings in 2013 being out of 190 players. But, he is currently in the top-10th percentile in driving and entirely better from each of the zones. With his club head speed, putting and short game he can take this much improved ballstriking and set target for having a spectacular 2014.

MATT JONES

matt_jones_7_lg

Table 06

Jones’ metrics may not impress many golfers. Last year I wrote about how PGA Tour players only need to be average or better in four areas of the game.

  • Driving Effectiveness
  • Danger Zone (175 to 225 yards) Play
  • Putts Gained
  • Short Game Shots from 10 to 20 yards

There is a very strong correlation between Tour players that finish in the top-half in these categories and their success on Tour. Not only do golfers that achieve “The Power of Being Average” usually keep their cards, but they tend to have wildly successful seasons. Jones finished a very respectable 49th on the money list. But even more impressive was his ranking of 29th in Adjusted Scoring Average. His Purse Size per Event is likely to improve and if he has the talent to achieve each of the “Big Four” areas of the game, he has a good chance to carrying it over to 2014 and having a terrific season.

JOHN SENDEN

John-Senden

Table 07

While Senden’s metrics were not impressive, 2013 was a down year for him. Senden is well known for his ballstriking and is usually one of the premier ballstrikers on Tour from off the tee and on shots longer than 175 yards.

Since Senden did not lose any club head speed, I believe that he will regain his ballstriking in 2014. Furthermore, he was hampered by his inability to make putts from longer than 15 feet. He ranked 153rd in make percentage from long distance and historically that metric means he should progress toward the mean.

JOSH TEATER

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Table 08

Teater just missed finishing in the top half of “The Big Four” (Driving Effectiveness, Danger Zone, Short Game Shots and Putts Gained) as he ranked 96th in Putts Gained.

If there are worries about his game, he tends to miss a high percentage of the time to the right (60.5 percent) and that his ranking in Adjusted Scoring Average (82nd) should have been much better given his key performance metrics. This indicates that Teater may have some issues with his strategy.

In the end, it is difficult to take away from a player that almost executed “The Big Four” and did it against top-tier competition. Furthermore, parts of his issues with the putter were from long distance as he ranked 138th in make percentage from beyond 15 feet. This should progress toward the mean in 2014.

PLAYERS ON THE DECLINE

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JOHN MERRICK

Table 09

Typically, Merrick has been a very good driver of the ball and has had some issues with his iron play. In the past two seasons, he has made strides to improve his iron play, but his driving has regressed. Last year he started off the season as one of the premier Danger Zone players on Tour, while driving the ball very effectively and putting well to win his first-ever PGA Tour event, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Since then, Merrick has only made an average of $35,566 per event played, which would have ranked 105th on Tour. Merrick benefited from playing a fairly soft schedule that had a fairly high purse size per event. Those two rankings should be more similar in 2014, which means that his strength of schedule should become tougher while his average Purse Size per Event should drop slightly and that would make it more difficult for him to have success.

DEREK ERNST

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Table 10

Ernst benefited from his surprise victory at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow after making it through the Monday qualifier. He was a good driver of the ball in 2013, but did not do much well beside that. He performed poorly in each of the zones and was the second worst on Tour on short game shots from 10-to-20 yards. He was also a mediocre putter.

That does not make for good prospects in 2014, and he finished out the 2013 missing nine of his past 13 cuts with a best finish of T-44th. One of the big things Ernst has going for him is his world-class club head speed. If he can use that speed to his advantage and start bombing shots off the tee, all he needs is one good week of golf and he can get into contention for another victory. But since he does not hit it as far as his club head speed indicates, I have my doubts that will happen.

HUNTER MAHAN

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Table 11

Mahan’s game has always been his impeccable driving of the ball. He generates about average club head speed and is above average in distance off the tee. But, he has an uncanny ability to hit a ton of fairways (66.6 percent) given his distance off the tee. The problem for Mahan has been his Danger Zone play and his Short Game from 10-to-20 yards. Mahan is an underrated putter, but was also saved by ranking 39th in Putts Made Percentage from 15 to 25 feet. That should regress toward the mean in 2014 and that means that his performance should dip as well if he everything remains the same. I still see him as ranking in the top 100 on the Money List, if not the top 50. But, I feel he will have a down year when I look at the data.

CHRIS STROUD

Chris Stroud

Table 12

Stroud had that incredible chip-in on the 72nd hole of the Travelers to force a playoff, and had a fine year overall as he finished 55th on the PGA Tour money list.

We can see some of the reasons why I do not favor his prospects in 2014. He drove it poorly (164th) and he is a short hitter off the tee. He also performed poorly from the Danger Zone. Where he made it up was from the Safe Zone and with his putting and short-game play. So he did a good job of getting the ball up near the green in regulation and could often putt and chip his way to par and birdie.

Most of his driving issues were consistency related. He hit a decent amount of fairways (62.4 percent), but ranked 137th in Fairway Bunker Percentage and 147th in Missed Fairway — Other Percentage (shots that find the water, trees, O.B, result in rescue shots, etc). Short and crooked is a hard way to make it on Tour.

Stroud also ranked 50th in make percentage on putts from longer than 15 feet. That should regress toward the mean and will cost him strokes in 2014.

JONAS BLIXT

blixt.625.trotman

Table 13

If you look at Blixt’s 2013 season, we see a golfer that only played well in four tournaments. He had a T-26th finish at the British Open, a T-11th finish at Colonial, a fourth-place finish at Oak Hill and a victory at The Greenbrier. Outside of those tournaments, he usually missed the cut or finished poorly.

Blixt did this through good, but streaky putting and a good short game. The chart below shows Blixt’s streaky putting throughout the year:

Table 14

Anything below -0.5 is quite poor and above +0.5 is quite good. Blixt ran through some extreme highs and lows throughout the season, which created a trend line that was very streaky. He was on fire with the putter after Sawgrass and it is very unlikely he will be able to keep up that pace in 2014.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | Golf Gear Select

  2. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | GolfClick.net | Blog

  3. AIPM

    Mar 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Good call on John Senden… Stats only go so far, but so far these have been pretty well judged.

  4. topnotch17

    Jan 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Nerd alert!

  5. AHG Anderson

    Jan 10, 2014 at 8:42 am

    I like the use of stats in this way and since Tour pros and caddies and others subscribe to them then that tells us all we need to know; they work and they help the pro focus on where he needs to improve or consolidate. Of course there’s speculation in all sports or all walks of life but having access to such data can only be a good thing; it doesn’t promise how the future season might pan out but then unless you have a crystal ball then nothing else can either. Those guys who don’t rate what they are being told here are those I’d imagine who flunked out at school in math; they can’t interpret the data so they diss it as being useless – open your minds to the 21st century you cavemen!

  6. Brian

    Jan 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Any thoughts on Graham Delaet for 2014? He seemed to do well in 2013, especially after he went to the short putter.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jan 9, 2014 at 10:22 am

      He should do well because he typically performs well in the key metrics to being consistently successful…driving and Danger Zone play. He’s one of the very best ballstrikers on Tour.

  7. gunmetal

    Jan 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I think these data would be pretty valuable to the players. I would want know where I need get better. I agree with everyone on the list except for Colsearts and Mahan. I watched Nicolas at done event in China a few weeks ago and wasn’t at all impressed. One week at the Ryder cup (thanks for that timing, btw) isn’t enough to convince me. I do live to watch him swing, though. Mahan knows how to win. I think this was his first year not winning in a long time. He’ll be fine.

  8. Mike

    Jan 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Well numbers don’t lie. It’s like making your pick in horse racing. Look at the numbers and you are right with some luck.

  9. JnRadioActive

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    If i had a dollar for everytime I heard it was going to be the year of Chucky 3 Sticks… well I’d have 6 or 7 dollars anyway…

    • Jeff

      Oct 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Great comment. Chuckie 3 sticks saves his best for practice rounds at Isleworth.

  10. Homer Simpson

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Here we go again…useless speculation exactly.

  11. Evan

    Jan 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Useless speculation. The players create the data, not the data creates the player. Player’s 2014 season success will depend upon:

    1. Talent
    2. Hard Work
    3. A little luck

    That’s it, that’s all… good luck digging into the stats after the tournament has left town.

    • JM

      Jan 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      I think all the writer is saying is that the data is a reflection of the players game as far as strengths/weaknesses

      The stats show how a particular player “should” fare over the course of a year long season given past performance metrics and trends.

      Of course, some players will just get hot some weeks and it may be enough to win or skew overall stats.

      And of couse some players will improve parts of their game and others will regress in certain areas. It is the players who can improve in certain key areas that may be weak, without having their areas of strength regress that will have successful seasons typically

      • Evan

        Jan 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        Yes, I know what the writer is saying… what I am saying is that even with stats in hand, it is still pure speculation. Does he probably have a slightly better chance at predicting success on tour considering he follows these guys and studies the numbers? Sure, but it’s still pure speculation. RH might be a wealthy man if he had a formula to pick success in golf… he’d live in Vegas, not Orlando.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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