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PGA Tour players on the rise in 2016, and those on the decline

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Before last season, I sifted through the players who were projected to rise and decline in the 2014-2015 season. With the start of the 2015-2016 season coming this week, I wanted to go through the projections for this year.

The rankings in the tables below are based out of 184 players:

ON THE RISE

In the past I have discussed what I call The 4 Cornerstones of the Game for Tour players. That is when a Tour player finishes in the top-half on Tour in the following categories:

  • Red Zone Play: Shots from 175-225 yards
  • Driving Effectiveness
  • Short Game Shots from 10-20 yards
  • Make Percentage from 5-to-15 feet

Traditionally, players who have accomplished the 4 Cornerstones for the season have excellent seasons and if they did not earn a victory, are often right in line to win in the near future. I recommend that any player try to accomplish the 4 Cornerstones in a season. However, what I have discovered is that the players who are most susceptible to accomplishing these cornerstones in a season and struggle the next season are the shorter hitters on Tour. So, I added a fifth cornerstone: Ball Speed. And last season, the 12 players who accomplished all five cornerstones had median earnings of nearly $4.4 million. So, shall we begin?

Kevin Chappell

KevinChappell

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Two seasons ago, I would have considered Chappell a top-5 ball striker in the world, and he started to regain his form toward the end of this season. He was a notoriously poor putter who improved to 61st in Putts Gained after using AimPoint’s green-reading system. He’s starting to play the Par-5’s better (49th in Par-5 Scoring Avg.) and increased his club speed to 118.6 mph with the driver. I think he has the potential to be like David Duval when Duval finally got his first Tour victory, and then became almost unstoppable during that incredible run he had afterward.

Ryan Palmer

RyanPalmer

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 4.14.02 PM

Palmer ranked 40th in Actual Scoring Average, but ranked 15th in Adjusted Scoring Average. He was also a member of the 5 Cornerstone Club. Typically, Palmer has been a long hitter who drives the ball effectively and putts well. He is a bit wild off the tee, however, which gives me a little trepidation in selecting him as one of the Tour players on the rise. His wild driving can hurt him on shots from 150-225 yards, where Tour players can gain a great advantage by simply keeping shots in the short grass. But, with his overall game and length off the tee, he could very well win on more wide open courses or courses that have non-penalizing rough like TPC Scottsdale, Golf Club of Houston and PGA West. And now he has proven that he has the all-around game to win anywhere else if he gets on a good four-day streak.

John Peterson

JohnPetersonGolf

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Peterson reminds me a bit of Billy Horschel when Horschel was first out on Tour. His rookie season wasn’t impressive either, but there were some good metrics in his game, particularly in his long approach shots and driving to make me think that Horschel had a real future out on Tour.

Peterson struggled a year ago in his initial rookie season, but regained his Tour card and managed to finish in the top-125. His performance from the Red Zone dipped this season, but he greatly improved his putting and short game play, which was the worst on Tour a year ago and is now at least mediocre. Historical data shows that players of a similar age as Peterson are likely to plateau in the short game, but regain their previous form with the ball-striking, which would equate to a very good season for the young LSU grad.

Patrick Rodgers

PatrickRodgers

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Rodgers’ numbers work well with players from the past, as his iron play is scheduled to improve as well as his putting. He’s already an elite driver of the ball that hits it very long and high. He led the Tour in hang time with the driver at 7.2 seconds. The initial adjustment for rookie Tour players usually comes from iron play and putting, so if a Tour player can drive the ball effectively, that’s a positive sign that they can make the adjustments with their iron play. And with experience, typically the putting starts to improve.

Keegan Bradley

KeeganBradley

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It’s difficult to claim that a high-profile name like Bradley is “on the rise,” but he has not won a Tour event in two seasons and he finished a mediocre 65th on the Money List this season.

However, he has some excellent strong points to build on like being a member of the 5 Cornerstone Club, despite him having an atrocious start to the season.

Below is a chart showing Bradley’s short game performance by event. Anything greater than 0 percent is better than the average and anything below 0 percent is worse than the average.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 4.17.47 PM

Bradley’s Short Game performance did not start to turn around until the Zurich Classic, and he was able to sustain it throughout the rest of the season. In the meantime, Bradley started to finally improve from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), as well as on shots from 75-175 yards have been his weakness over his career. I can see Bradley having a monster season. He’s reached the 5 Cornerstones, has improved from the Yellow Zone and it sure to be motivated in this Ryder Cup year.

ON THE DECLINE

Matt Every

MattEvery

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In the 2014-2015 season, 75 percent of Every’s earnings came from his victory at Bay Hill. After that, he only made 12 of his 25 cuts. It was part of a downward spiral that started to take place in the second half of the 2013-2014 season. He finished the season 182nd in Adjusted Scoring Average.

Every was a decent driver of the ball, but his specialty was his iron play. He started to become an elite putter in the 2013-2014 season, and with his iron play he made for an excellent competitor. His driving started to spiral out of control and now his iron play is going with it. The good news is that he’s still young and historically the younger players have been able turn things around the quickest. If he continues at this pace though, I can’t see him winning again at Bay Hill and it will be a long season.

Padraig Harrington

PadraigHarringotn

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 4.19.02 PM

Many were proclaiming that Harrington was back after his win at the Honda Classic. However, his driving was still abysmal as he ranked 110 out of 124 measured golfers in Driving Effectiveness at that event. Where he excelled at PGA National was where it counted most: shots from 175-200 yards. That was the approach-shot range that had the greatest deviation in results, and the average shot from that distance was hit to 37 feet. Harrington hit his shots from that distance to 17 feet, 20 feet closer to the cup than the average player in the field.

After that, Harrington did little of anything and finished 172nd in Adjusted Scoring Average. He didn’t strike the ball well and putted poorly (162nd in Putts Gained). I just don’t expect much from him this season.

Jimmy Walker

JimmyWalker

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It’s hard to bet against Walker because he hits the ball a long ways and is an elite putter. There is a strong correlation between distance and the average length of a birdie putt when the player finds the green in regulation. That’s why distance off the tee generally allows a golfer to putt worse and still be successful; longer players are more likely to have shorter birdie putts that are more makeable, so they can be a less-skilled putter and still get the ball in the hole more quickly. So when we take a long hitter like Walker and combine that with his elite putting he is likely to be successful year-after-year.

Walker has never been a great driver of the ball, but is usually a pretty good iron player. His driving got off to a nice start, but then dropped off dramatically (along with his iron play) as the year went along.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 4.20.33 PM

What concerns me more about Walker’s performance is that he was only decent in Par-4 Scoring Average (81st) and mediocre in Bogey Rate (120th). Those are the two big scoring metrics that factor in most to Total Adjusted Scoring Average. He generally dominates the West Coast because he plays well on courses where the hit fairway percentage is low, and he putts extremely well on Poa Annua type surfaces. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a win early on, but I don’t see him being nearly as successful as he has been for the past two seasons.

Hunter Mahan

HunterMahan

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Mahan caught fire early on and then in the playoffs, but it was not enough for him to make the Tour Championship. I have been predicting a downward slide for Mahan for the past two seasons and I still project that downward slide. In the past, his biggest issue has been his iron play, particularly from the Red Zone. That has not progressed and now we are seeing a sizable regression in his Driving, as he used to be one of the best drivers of the ball on Tour. His Purse Size Per Event should get smaller, and at this rate he is more likely to earn a number in line with this Adjusted Scoring Average ranking.

Sean O’Hair

SeanOhair

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O’Hair had a fine comeback season, but it was a bit of smoke and mirrors as he finished 98th in Adjusted Scoring Average. He still continues to struggle with his ball striking, but made up for it with his finest season around and on the greens. He has been a poor putter and short game player throughout his career, and the numbers give him slim odds of sustaining that improvement. Meanwhile, he was one of the 10-worst players from the ever important Red Zone last season. His club speed has also dropped from 116.8 mph two seasons ago.

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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

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Eric

    Oct 12, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    How is Keegan Bradley on the rise when he hasn’t won a tournament in three years? He’ll continue to struggle because of the anchored putter ban. He was 126th in strokes gained and 124th in putting average. By the way (don’t know if you’re a proponent of the anchor ban) but he was 47th last year with the long putter. You also have John Peterson and Kevin Chappell on there, neither of which have actually won on tour. Peterson only has two career top 10’s (1 coming at U.S. Open in 2012) and Chappell has only 10 career top 10’s after gaining full time status 5 years ago???

    • Richie Hunt

      Oct 12, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Eric —

      These are projections based on certain metrics and going on past history of players that have had ‘breakout years’ or sudden ‘dropoff years.’ I see Keegan on the rise because his metrics and age match right up with those that have had big seasons on Tour in the past. The same with Chappell and Peterson.

      • Track Man

        Oct 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        a yes “Metrics”

        • Ben

          Oct 17, 2015 at 3:01 am

          He quantified his predictions with numbers, I fail to see what’s wrong with that.

          Thanks Rich for another well-written article, it’s nice to see stuff backed up with cold, hard data these days.

  2. Connor

    Oct 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    good stats. nitpicking…peterson’s a texan and played collegiately at lsu

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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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