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Analyzing Tom Watson’s Potential Ryder Cup picks

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Captain Tom Watson’s captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup became more difficult when Dustin Johnson announced that he will not play in the event. And that was just the start.

I’ve posted the current U.S. Ryder Cup Team standings below. Remember, the top-9 finishers on the points list automatically earn a spot on the team, and T. Watson will pick two additional players of his choice to round out the lineup. Qualifying finishes this weekend at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.

  1. Bubba Watson
  2. Jim Furyk
  3. Jimmy Walker
  4. Rickie Fowler
  5. Matt Kuchar
  6. Jordan Spieth
  7. Patrick Reed
  8. Jason Dufner
  9. Zach Johnson
  10. Phil Mickelson
  11. Keegan Bradley
  12. Brendan Todd
  13. Ryan Moore
  14. Chris Kirk
  15. Webb Simpson
  16. Harris English

Jason Dufner (No. 8) announced that he has bulging disks in his neck, and Tiger Woods, who all expected to either make the team or be a captain’s pick before his back surgery, has yet to play well enough to prove that he can be a good addition to the Ryder Cup team, even if he is 100 percent healthy. To make things worse, Matt Kuchar (No. 5) withdrew from the PGA Championship today with back spasms, bringing his health into question.

The U.S. Team will also be playing against an impressive European team that has a red hot Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Despite these recent events, I still believe that a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup can greatly overcome these odds.

First, I want to run over some of the main tenets when it comes to using a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup:

No. 1: Versatility is critical

Ryder Cup teams need golfers who are suited to play both the four-ball and foursome format. This way, if a player is playing poorly, the team does not have to rely on him to start playing well and can have a different golfer come in and win valuable point(s).

No. 2: When in doubt, favor youth over experience

Most of the U.S. Ryder Cup team captains in recent years have favored experience above all else. Even if a Ryder Cup player is experienced, however, if he has proved to be a poor Ryder Cup player he is simply an experienced, poor Ryder Cup player.

The other part about youth is that if a young player gets a hot hand, the captain can keep him in the lineup without worrying about his stamina. That’s not always true for an older player or an injured player. Lastly, it serves future Ryder Cup teams to see how well these young players perform. It will help future captains better determine if they are a good, poor or indifferent Ryder Cup players.

No. 3: Favor players with great short games over the “hot putter”

While being a good putter is certainly helpful, the best Ryder Cup players historically have been very good around the green. This includes players like Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Jesper Parnevik, Raymond Floyd, Billy Casper, Larry Nelson and Seve Ballesteros, to name a few. The problem with looking purely at putting is that it is hard to rely on player to putt well at any given moment. Even the best putters on Tour putt great (+1.0 strokes gained per round per event) in only about 30 percent of the events they play. Conversely, players with good short games can take that short game from event to event much more consistently, and the ability to save par and stymie your opponent appears to be critical to successful match play.

No. 4: Four-ball format is about birdies and playing each type of hole well

In the four-ball format, Ryder Cup team captains want players who can make a lot of birdies. One of my favorite teams in the four-ball format was Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes in 2008. Weekley is a long hitter who finds a ton of fairways and is usually one of the most effective drivers of the ball. Holmes was the long distance hitter who made a ton of birdies and had the capability to make eagles. So they would have Weekley tee off first and he would usually blast a 300+ yard drive down the middle. And if Weekley was in good shape that would allow Holmes to get a free rip and blast a 375+ yard drive. If the ball was in play, it would put them at a sizeable advantage. Weekley was also a strong par-4 player and a pretty good par-3 player, while Holmes was an excellent par-5 player. Essentially, they had all of their bases covered and could rattle off birdies.

5. Foursome format is about avoiding bogeys and pairing players whose styles of play compliment each other

The foursome format is where bogeys are more likely to happen and this is where a great short game can be even more important. You can have two players who make few bogeys, however, who are a terrible match for each other. For instance, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk may not make a lot of bogeys, but that is on their own ball. Furyk is a player who hits fairways and does not play well from the rough. Since Mickelson is an errant driver of the ball, the combination would not likely be a very good one.

With those out of the way, here’s a table looking at the rankings of some key players that are not in the top-8 in Ryder Cup points. You can click the table to enlarge it.

Hunt Ryder Cup Table 1

I will start with some of the obvious players. Zach Johnson should be a sure fire pick if he doesn’t automatically qualify. He’s played well in previous Ryder Cups and his rankings in the key performance metrics are excellent. In fact, he has done a nice job of hitting shots from the rough this year, which have typically given him issues. And he has been spectacular on the par-5’s despite being a short hitter.

I would also eliminate the following players:

  • Matt Every (poor driving and par-4 play).
  • Erik Compton (poor driving, poor iron play, poor bogey rate).
  • Webb Simpson (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
  • Brendon Todd (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
  • Kevin Stadler (poor par-4 play)

The Ryder Cup courses generally favor hitting shots from 175-to-225 yards, so I would be leery of using any player who has struggled from that distance this year. And since there are 11 par-4’s to be played, the team cannot afford a weak par-4 player.

From there, I will bring it down to these players for the final three spots.

  • Phil Mickelson
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Ryan Moore
  • Kevin Na
  • Harris English
  • Brian Harman

Keegan Bradley becomes the first obvious choice. He has driven it well and has been good with his long approach shots, short game and putting. The issue for Bradley has been iron shots from less than 175 yards. However, he can be paired with an accurate driver of the ball and keep him playing those shots from the fairway. Combine that with his performance on par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s and his Birdie Rate, and Bradley is a versatile player who played superbly in the last Ryder Cup.

Mickelson

phil-mickelson_t640-600x350

I will assume that Phil Mickelson will be selected if he does not automatically qualify. Regardless of what the data says, I have a hard time believing a captain would not select Lefty if he is healthy. So as far as his analysis goes, he’s been a streaky Ryder Cup player. But, he has been better in recent Ryder Cups.

The interesting thing about Phil is that while he has had an off year, the numbers indicate that he is better suited for the Ryder Cup than he has been over the years. His driving has been the best it has been in years, although I would not call him overly accurate. What has hurt him this year, however, is that his iron play has not been quite as good from inside 175 yards than it has been in previous seasons, but he is still a great long approach player. The other issue is that his putting was giving him issues, but we have seen some progression lately.

I don’t think Phil will be a bad pick, although both Ryan Moore and Brian Harman are enticing. Harman is ranks 6th on shots from the fairway, has a good short game and has quality scoring metrics. If there is a worry about Mickelson, it’s that he has yet to finish in the top-10 this year and suffered back problems earlier in the year. I would not be vehemently against a Mickelson pick, but I am not assuming that he and Keegan Bradley will automatically pick up where they left off in 2012 at Medinah.

The Last Pick

This player currently has all of the elements of a good Ryder Cup player.

  • He has a super low bogey rate.
  • He has a great short game.
  • He is one of the premier putters on Tour.
  • He hits his long approach shots well from both the rough and the fairway.
  • He has having a fine year with his scoring metrics.
  • He is only 30 years old.

Who is this player? If you guessed Kevin Na, you are correct.

The possible knock against Na is he has gone fairly unnoticed this year. He has five top-10 finishes, however, which include two second-place finishes. He also finished T12 at the US Open.

The other knock against Na may be his slow play. That could aggravate his partner, but it may aggravate his opponents as well. Colin Montgomerie was not overly liked and was a phenomenal Ryder Cup player, and Sergio was one of the slowest players on Tour during his unbeatable years in the Ryder Cup.

Regardless of how this year’s Ryder Cup qualifying plays out, I see Captain Watson making sure that Mickelson, Z. Johnson, Bradley, Simpson and Dufner (if he’s healthy enough) for this year’s team. That’s a shame, because I’d like to see Harman and especially Na get a chance to prove that they could be fantastic Ryder Cup players.

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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, 2018 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

16 Comments

16 Comments

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  4. marcel

    Aug 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    hes gona pick Rory

  5. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Guess what? He’s going to pick himself. He’ll be the first playing captain in over fifty years, he has played well in two major championships and (here’s the funny part) he’s not injured. He just added Steve Stricker as an assistant captain, probably because Stricker is young in comparison to the other assistants.

    Stricker is also a possibility as a pick. If one of the guys (Kuchar, Dufner) on the team goes down in Scotland, Stricker will be there and will be a legitimate choice to play.

  6. BogeyFree

    Aug 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

    My order would be Moore, Bradley, then Na. I’d even take those 3 over Woods or Michelson. At some point it is entertainment and I understand that, so Michelson is probably a lock.

    I am older guy, but frankly it’s time to bring some youth to the US side. The team already has Furyk and Johnson, plus Watson and Stricker coaching. How much experience do you need…especially when that experience is more with losing than winning Ryder Cups?

  7. Alex

    Aug 8, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Nice.

    Na could be a golden idea, or turn out to be a total bad move. It’s interesting how much you have to decide if stats alone are worth making a decision on.

    I think Na could be a good choice. Unless he can’t rise to the occasion. I’d say, give him a shot.

    Any chance we will see a European article soon?

    • Richie Hunt

      Aug 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I may do a European article. Depends on how many of the players qualify statistically on the PGA Tour so I can have statistical data on them to analyze.

      While the data appears to favor the European team heavily, I could say the same for the US team in 2012. Jumped out to a big lead and then lost at Medinah. You never quite know with this rivalry.

      • ND Hickman

        Aug 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

        As a Brit I’m confident for Europe this year, but as you say the Americans should have closed things out at Medinah so we’ll just have to wait and see. Either way it’s going to be a brilliant Ryder Cup.

  8. gunmetal

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    I absolutely love the Na pick. He sorta flies under the radar but possesses everything you outlined as critical.

    I’m not sold on the Bradley pick. I should be, but I feel like he lets his emotion get out of control and it ends up hurting. He got destroyed by Rory last year despite Rory essentially falling out of the car on to the first tee box. I know he’s the popular pick and will likely make it, I just hope he keeps his emotions in check.

    I also think another thing to consider is matchplay record. Mahan got a bad rap for what went down in Wales, but he should have been on the team at Medina. Despite winning twice in 2012 (once at the Matchplay) Love chose Striker and Furyk. Mahan won the matchplay!! IIRC Ryan Moore has a nice matchplay record as do Reed and Fowler. I’d be happy with Na or Moore.

    Nice read.

    • SN

      Aug 8, 2014 at 12:53 am

      Na is a good choice.
      I think his pace of play will also pixxed the heck out of Europeans.

      and THAT is another advantage.

      • C web

        Aug 8, 2014 at 8:41 am

        Just Pair Na with Furyk…. And watch the Euros self destruct

  9. Brad

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Great overall analysis. Even though statistics are an awesome way to determine many things (I am an engineer) in the case I have to disagree with Kevin Na. He is a nice player statistically, but he has really struggled with the mental game over the years. The Ryder Cup may be the most mentally stressful environment in golf. I think it would be tough for him to excel in this environment.

  10. mb

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    I feel bad for Tom he’s screwed J Duf just pulled out of the PGA

  11. Travis

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Nice article

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I’ll start by saying this: Bob Parsons has a stigma attached to him. With every move he makes or idea he pushes, many people think: Rich guy. No perspective. Who does he think he is?

I also need to say this (whether you believe it or not): This is not a puff piece. This is my honest perspective as I have experienced. Until 30 days ago, I didn’t have one PXG club in my bag and have never been given favor from PXG to “make them look good.”

OK, that’s out of the way, so you know what isn’t the motivation here. The motivation is to describe my relationship with Bob, so the golf community knows exactly who he is, why he is so important, and why we don’t want him to ever go away.

I first met Bob Parsons on December 11th, 2007 on the set of the first commercial I ever booked as an actor. It was for GoDaddy.com, and it was a Super Bowl ad that was later banned and became a “cult classic” for years to come. On the set of that commercial, Bob showed up before principal photography began and walked up to every person on that set (100 people) and personally introduced himself and thanked them for the hard work. When I met and I told him my name, he said in a way only Bob can, “Johnny Wunder!? I’ll never forget that name, that’s a no brainer.”

Fast forward to March of 2018 and PXG’s initial launch of the GEN2 irons. Before our interview was set up, I was reintroduced to him, and he said “Johnny Wunder!? THE Johnny Wunder? I know that name. We have met. I never forget a name.” I explained how we met and he started to laugh, “I may forget a face, Johnny, but I’d never forget a name like that.”

Since then, I have interviewed Bob four times and been his guest during product launches. NOBODY does hospitality like Bob. NOBODY. You are inside the bubble, and you are well taken care of but also respected to the utmost degree. He understands the job we in the media have and will give you everything he can to make the experience worthwhile. Yes, Bob has a larger-than-life on-camera persona. It’s big, funny, gregarious, and to some, intimidating. Bob off camera is a bit of a different thing. He’s a thoughtful, quiet man that will ask about your kids far before he asks what you think about his products.

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  3. Asked how I was doing beyond work and what I was planning for the rest of the year

These were real questions from a man that REALLY cares. Care is the key word here. I’ll get to that in a moment. After the call was done, he thanked me and wanted to make sure I told my wife that he apologized for stealing me away (if only for a few minutes) from my family on a Saturday morning.

This is not Bob selling me. This is Bob.

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