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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
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