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Why some of the most popular Tour players are disappointing this year



The U.S. Open is golf’s second major championship, making it the unofficial halfway point of the PGA Tour season. Before we hit the second stretch of the year, I wanted to take a look at the metrics of some of the PGA Tour’s most popular players who have not quite played up to their potential in 2015.

Maybe one of these players will find their game this week and win their first U.S. Open (or in Graeme McDowell’s case, his second U.S. Open). And looking at the numbers, some players seem closer to playing their best than other.

These rankings are based on the 202 players who have qualified statistically for my study, and my explanations are based on my knowledge and experience working as a PGA Tour statistician.

Graham DeLaet


DeLaet is considered by some analysts to be the best player on the PGA Tour without a victory. In the previous two seasons, he proved to be one of the best ball strikers on the planet, but this year his ball striking has regressed with the most noticeable drop-off in his driving. He has a couple of issues. For starters, his club speed is down quite a bit. It was 120.96 mph in 2013 and only 117.91 mph this season. The other is that DeLaet is laying up off the tee more often, so he is effectively losing distance as he only ranks 87th in Driving Distance on all drives.

DeLaet is still fairly accurate off the tee, as he is hitting 63 percent of his fairways and he is 159th in Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway. That’s not too terrible at his club head speed. His miss bias is only 50.7 percent to the left, so I’m not sure why DeLaet has started to utilize a more conservative strategy, as it is clearly to his detriment. He still has capable enough ball striking to limit his bogeys, but his slower club speed and more conservative nature is making it more difficult for him to hit shots close to the hole and give himself a good chance at making birdie.

DeLaet is not playing in the U.S. Open this week due to injury, and the 33-year-old’s physical issues could be a leading contributor to his woes.

Luke Donald


Luke Donald’s main issue over the years has been his driving. His strengths were just about everything else, particularly the putter and approach shots from 75-175 yards. Since that fantastic 2012 season, he has tried to make changes to improve his driving, but he has lost his superior iron play, deft touch around the greens and deadly putter.

Donald still shows some glimpses of elite performance from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), but his Red Zone play (175-225 yards) has completely fallen apart and his driving is some of the least effective on the entire Tour. He’s able to avoid bogeys because he still has a great short game, but a lack of distance, inferior iron play and below average putting makes birdies difficult to come by.

Donald ranks 190th and 191st in putts from 5-10 feet and 10-15 feet, respectively. This is an indicator that he may have problems with the putter that will take longer to solve.

Jason Dufner


Dufner is playing better than his earnings indicate, as he’s 46th in Adjusted Scoring Average. His game usually revolves around excellent driving and short game play. Dufner is sometimes very good with the irons and at other times he is about average with the irons. Putting is usually the weakest part of his game.

This year, Dufner’s iron play is better than it has been in the past couple of seasons, but his driving is not quite near the elite level it usually is. The same goes for his short game play. However, if his top driving form returns to form and he can make some putts, I could see him having a strong stretch of performance down the road.

Hunter Mahan


Most of Mahan’s 2014-15 earnings have come from last fall. Since then has only missed one cut, but outside of a T9 finish he has not played well in 2015.

Mahan’s strength has been his driving, and he has an underrated short game and putter. His weakness over the years has been his iron play, and he is still struggling to figure it out. When you drive it well like Mahan does and have a sound short game and putt well, it’s going to be difficult to miss cuts.

This is the similar to the way he has played in the past, and he seems to eventually have four good days with his irons game and win a tournament. It’s going to be tough for him to move to the next level with such poor Red Zone performance, but his performance this year is akin to similar to previous seasons.

So why is a he on this “disappointing” list? There’s a feeling in the professional golf world that Mahan has the skills to win more frequently, and he’s continued to fall short of those expectations.

Graeme McDowell


McDowell has made changes to his swing in order to hit the ball higher. Typically, Tour players are better off hitting the ball high than low, all other things being equal. So I can understand his desire to make changes.

McDowell’s launch angle has now improved to 11.02 degrees with the driver and his Max Height is nearly 96 feet, which is closer to the Tour average. But the swing changes have so far made him far less effective off the tee. Previously, McDowell was a perennial top-20 driver of the ball.

The swing changes also appear to have caused some growing pains with his irons. He is usually very good from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), but this year he’s ranked 169th. And he’s typically an elite player from the Red Zone (175-225 yards), but this year he’s only above average at 69th.

McDowell has always struggled with his short game play, and this year is no different. What is different is his Driving Effectiveness and Yellow Zone play. Combine those with a weak Short Game and it’s a recipe for making bogeys.

Phil Mickelson


Mickelson has not played poorly by PGA Tour player standards, as he is 29th in Earnings and 31st in Adjusted Scoring Average. But the 45-year-old has higher standards for his play, and since he has yet to win this season he is worth noting.

Unlike previous seasons, Phil’s driving is not doing him in. In fact, he’s more effective off the tee than the average Tour player. The difference for Phil is that his iron play, which is usually a strength, has been off a bit. The good news is that he is still good from where it counts most, the Red Zone (175-225 yards).

His short game play has been below average as well — but Phil’s Short Game is not always on point. I think he tries to hit the heroic shot too often and sometimes that costs him. If he can improve his iron play, however, then he should not have to worry about attempting the heroic up-and-down shot to begin with.

Since iron play has usually been a strength of Lefty’s, I can see him having a strong stretch of play at the end of the season.

Carl Pettersson


Pettersson is playing better than his Earnings indicate (99th in Adjusted Scoring Average). Pettersson’s game usually revolved around pretty good driving and very good putting, but he appears to have made some swing changes and that has taken a toll on his driving a little. His putting has also dipped, and he has to prepare for life without the long putter for next season.

Charl Schwartzel


Schwartzel’s iron play has hurt him in recent seasons. He only ranked 132nd on iron shots from the fairway last season, and this season his iron play has become considerably worse. Schwartzel usually has a sound short game, but has struggled around the green and has not been able to hole putts.

Adam Scott


Scott has not played in many events, so his performance is actually better than his earnings. But he is still a long ways from performing in the upper echelon on Tour. Scott is still a good-to-great ballstriker, but he has had some issues hitting approach shots from the rough. He has also been hitting the ball lower off the tee than in years past as he has adjusted to a new driver head and shaft that he switched to for more distance.

But the main issue for Scott has been his putting. Trying to transition to a traditional putter has not worked well thus far.

Bo Van Pelt


Van Pelt’s strength used to be his driver. He was a solid iron player and a bit suspect on and around the greens. He was known for hitting quite a bit up on the driver and being able to do it effectively. Now he appears to hit less upward on the driver as we can see by his ranking in Carry Efficiency.

This season he ranks 71st in Carry Efficiency (Carry Distance/Club Speed = Carry Efficiency) compared to ranking 14th in Carry Efficiency in 2012. His launch angle has only changed by 0.21 degrees since 2012, but his Spin Rate is now roughly 350 rpm lower this season. Furthermore, his hang time is less by 0.2 seconds, which is substantial for hang time.

Van Pelt is a little shorter off the tee due to the drop in club speed, but he’s missing more fairways and all things considered I think his change to a lower-spinning driver is actually working against him.

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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 or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10



  1. mark

    Jun 18, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    pretty sure it all comes down to the old ball and chain!!
    scott just had a baby, dufner got a divorce.
    mcdowell, mickelson and mahan all punching above their weight
    and the rest probably cant get any!

  2. Christosterone

    Jun 18, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Why does the golf channel not constantly question every swing they make?
    Tiger gets absolutely lambasted every time he misses a fairway…
    Curious how Chamblee and his like are so naive to the difficulty of the PGA tour.
    It is a razors edge to make a cut, let alone win an event…or, say 5 events in 2013….

  3. brian d

    Jun 18, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    carl petterson is not popular…

  4. random guy

    Jun 18, 2015 at 11:31 am

    crazy how fickle golf is. improve 2 things in your game and three components get worse. refreshing to know it’s a struggle to put it all together even for top professionals….sigh

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TG2: So Jack has 21 majors now? Tiger at 17?




Fred Couples has 5 majors? The Golf Hall Of Fame lists The Players, and a few more obscure tournaments, wins as majors? So does this now mean Jack has 21 and Tiger is at 17? What is going on there?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2



This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”


The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus –

Nick –

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats on his thoughts on the future of the golf market, what he loves, what he hates, and the star clubmakers on the rise.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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19th Hole