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Opinion & Analysis

A Statistical Analysis of 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup Prospects

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With the PGA Tour’s season one-third of the way complete, I wanted to examine the potential Ryder Cup players for the U.S. Team and see how they are performing.

Agent to the European stars, Chubby Chandler, recently discussed how the European Team used advanced analytics to its advantage in winning the last Ryder Cup. Future analysis will dive more into optimal pairings based on the data. But for now, I will examine individual performances and keep in mind that the data shows that players with good short games tend to make the better performers in the Ryder Cup.

JordanSpieth2Jordan Spieth is not as sharp as he was at this time last year, but it’s mainly due to his iron play. Typically, Spieth’s iron play has been stronger than his driving, but this year it’s more of the opposite.

BubbaWatson2

Bubba Watson has already won this year at Riviera. And performance at Riviera tends to have a correlation to performance at The Masters. While Bubba has driven the ball great, it’s been a down year by his standards, because he typically blows out the rest of the Tour when it comes to Driving Effectiveness in the first third of the season. Like Spieth, he’s still a fantastic performer, but he’s not quite hitting the lick by his standards.

DustinJohnson2

Dustin Johnson’s problem has been consistency with the driver. When he’s on, he looks like the reincarnation of Jack Nicklaus off the tee. But when he’s off, he’s well off. I wonder if trying to round out the other parts of his game that have been traditionally weak (Green Zone Play and Short Game Play) has caused him to spend less time working on his driving. With that being said, if his Short Game Play legitimately improves he will be a better Ryder Cup player. Right now, he’s a more well-rounded golfer than he has ever been in his career.

RickieFowler2

What prevents Rickie Fowler from being a clearly established member of The Big Four is he cannot quite put everything together. He has great strengths, but usually has one outstanding weakness that prevents him from winning more often. This season it has been Yellow Zone Play, which is mostly due to him being the 2nd worst player from 125-150 yards on Tour. However, he has also improved his short game by leaps and bounds, and that will likely make him a more effective Ryder Cupper. And in the grand scheme of things, poor performance from 125-150 yards is not a big factor on the PGA Tour, since so few shots are hit from that distance per round.

BrandtSnedeker2

Brandt Snedeker has been hot or cold this season. It’s likely that he will still secure a Ryder Cup spot, but he may be a difficult player to use in the Foursomes (alternate shot) format because his Driving and Red Zone Play has been poor.

Typically, Snedeker has been a serviceable driver of the ball. His Red Zone Play has been a weak spot, but he makes it up with his performance from 175 yards and in. The key in using Snedeker in the Foursomes format would be to find a player who is a good iron player, particular from out of the rough, and has a good short game to counter Snedeker’s weaknesses off the tee and from the Red Zone. Otherwise, he looks like he should be reserved to playing in the Four-Ball (best score) format.

PhilMickelson2

He’s not your Father’s Phil Mickelson this season. He’s actually hit the driver quite effectively off the tee, but has been an above average iron player overall. This may make him a better teammate in the Foursome format, which has never been Lefty’s strength in the Ryder Cup. And having the versatility to play either format makes for better odds of the U.S. snapping the losing streak.

ZachJohnson2

Zach Johnson has had a sub-standard season (for him) thus far, and it shows with his rankings in the performance metrics. And he just turned 40, which is when most Tour players start to make a large regression in performance. Thus, he could turn into a player who does not even make the top-12 in the Ryder Cup standings when all is said and done. However, Johnson has been a solid Ryder Cup player, and when he’s playing reasonably well he has a game that is a good fit for the Ryder Cup. I would not count Johnson out for the rest of the season, and even so, I would be more apt to want him to be a captain’s pick if available. He just had a good finish at Bay Hill and made it to the Round of 16 in the WGC-Dell Match Play, so he may start hitting his stride soon.

PatrickReed2

I learned a while ago that it’s an exercise in futility in examining Patrick Reed’s metrics for the entire season. Simply put, if he is playing average or less than average by Friday, he seems to tune out for the rest of the event and that kills his metrics. But if he starts getting into contention by Friday, he can perform with the best of them.

The good news is that Reed’s Driving Effectiveness is better than it has been over the years. And if there has been a clearly defined strength to Reed’s game, it has been his putting and his short game, which make him a great teammate to have in both the Foursomes and Four-Ball formats.

BillHaas2

Bill Haas projects to being a great Ryder Cupper because he is normally a great driver and short-game performer, although he struggles a bit with the irons and is inconsistent with the putter. Still, he can be valuable because of his short game and his driving.

The U.S. has struggled mostly in the Foursomes format, and Haas makes for a better Foursomes performer than a Four-Ball performer (he’s only average in Birdie Percentage). Haas may be best paired with a good ball striker: someone who hits the driver well enough to make his iron shots easier, and somebody who can hit the irons close enough to take advantage of his driving. Haas’ partner can be confident enough to know that if he misses an approach shot, Haas’ short game is good enough to save par.

It will be interesting to see if Haas’ driving comes around as the season progresses. If it does, he could be in for a quality season, and based off his President’s Cup performance, he could be a great Captain’s pick.

BrooksKoepka2

Last year, Brooks Koepka was a great driver of the ball who hit it massively long and was also a great putter. That’s a great combination, because power off the tee has its greatest impact on putting. That’s why long hitters can be successful on the PGA Tour despite being weak putters. And when you have a player as long as Koepka off the tee, who also putts well, he can easily rack up wins.

This season, Koepka just has yet to strike the ball well for any length of time, and has also not been a good short-game performer. I still would not mind seeing him on the team, though.

One of my favorite teams was the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup squad, when Paul Azinger paired J.B. Holmes with Boo Weekley in the Four-Ball format. Weekly hits it fairly long, and was one of the best drivers on Tour at the time. He would tee off first and would continually hit 300-yard drives right down the middle. Once Weekley hit his drive and was fine, Holmes would step up to the tee and swing for the fences. Holmes routinely hit 375+ yard drives, so if his drive was playable it was a huge advantage for the U.S. Team. And with Weekley’s excellent driving, the pair had almost nothing to lose.

I can see Koepka taking over J.B. Holmes’ role and being more effective, because he’s a much better putter than Holmes.

JasonDufner2

Jason Dufner’s game over the years has been that of an excellent driver of the ball, an average iron player and a great short-game player who struggles with his putter. This still makes him a quality Ryder Cup prospect, because the team can use a player who drives it well and has a great short game in the Foursome format. And Dufner makes enough birdies to be effective in the Four-Ball format.

This season Dufner’s short game has regressed, although he has not played in a lot of events and that could change quickly. His iron play has improved a little and his driving has slightly regressed.

KevinKisner2

At this point, I think Kevin Kisner is a player that U.S. Ryder Cup team must have. He does everything fairly well, he’s young, he has a better-than-average short game for his career and makes a lot of birdies (5th). He should be able to perform well in both the Four-Ball and Foursomes formats. If he doesn’t in this year’s Ryder Cup, he projects to be a valuable prospect in future Ryder Cups, and therefore could use the experience.

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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

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Phil

    Mar 30, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    I can’t see Dufner sticking in the rankings to make the team. Who would be your top 2-3 picks to replace him? Jimmy Walker has been playing a bit better. I got to think he will be a captains pick if he doesn’t make it on points.

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 30, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      I could see Jimmy Walker (7th in Adjusted Scoring Average) replacing him. The issue for Walker is that he usually plays his best in the first half of the season and he’s 18th in RC points. So, if he doesn’t pick it up soon, he may be headed into the second half of the season without enough points. He might get a pick because he’s Walker and played in the RC before. I’d rather check out his numbers on bentgrass and see if he’s a guy worth taking.

      I could also see Justin Thomas, JB Holmes, Billy Horschel and if I had to take a long shot, I would say Kevin Chappell, Kevin Na (who I think would be a great RC’er) and Smylie Kaufman.

  2. cody

    Mar 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    another US heartbreak on the way.

  3. slider

    Mar 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    i hope dufner and kisner make the team

  4. DL3

    Mar 29, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Patrick Reed should be an automatic out. Giving up if you are not in contention after Friday is just lazy.

    • INDEX FINGER TO MOUTH

      Mar 29, 2016 at 10:36 am

      SHHHHHHHHHH…

    • Eddie

      Mar 29, 2016 at 11:41 am

      He is the best match play player the US has. He is like our version of Ian Poulter.

      • Jam

        Mar 29, 2016 at 12:09 pm

        Seriously, haters are going to hate no matter what, but I would take 12 Patrick Reed’s on the team. It doesn’t mean I love the guy or would ever want to be around him, but I respect his ability to clutch up and make putts. We only have a few guys like him.

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Recently, we covered some of the best fans outfits from the 1991 Masters Tournament won by Ian Woosnam (Patron Fashion at the ’91 Masters). Now, it’s time to look back on what many call the height of all golf fashion: the 1970s.

This era in sport, not just golf, was pre-large-scale commercialization. Certainly, sponsorships were a part of golf but not in the way it is today. Each break in the action or reply wasn’t brought to you by “brand X” and clothing, and fashion followed a similar minimalistic trend. There was no scripting, there were no special edition brand activations, and shirts were mostly devoid of sponsors unlike there are today—most players didn’t even wear hats.

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1974

Dave Stockton wore a beautiful yellow ensemble, which included matching white belt and shoes. If you’re going to go full yellow – this is the way to do it. Take note, 2006 Hoylake Sergio Garcia.

You don’t need the graphic to recognize the full head of hear belonging to two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw. His patterned polo went along very nicely with a pair of matching solid-colored pants.

Tom Weiskopf never won a green jacket, but as far as the Masters is concerned, he could easily go down as one of the best dressed throughout his career. These pants alone belong in the hall of fame.

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Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game, and if we only take into account Green Jackets, then he’s number 1. Jack also ranks very high as far as outfits go, and always looked classy while strolling the rolling hills of Augusta, almost always in a signature thin horizontal striped shirt.

1975

Johnny Miller is another man that never won the Masters, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of close calls. He came second in 1975 but his outfit could have been considered the clubhouse leader, thanks to a well-fit solid blue stiff-collar polo that also went well with his flowing blonde locks. Now I know I said I would leave the patrons alone for this, but I have to ask “what the heck is that pink thing on that woman’s head behind Miller on the tee box?” I’m extremely thankful this was broadcast in color.

Thanks to the signature glasses, Hale Irwin is easy to spot, and as mentioned already, green also looks good inside the ropes at Augusta. The long button closure was a telltale sign of the times and few pulled this look off as well as Hale. Also, one more patron to point out: the man in the full yellow pants, jacket, and hat (this is the outfit of the guy she told you not to worry about).

Tom Weiskopf, a towering man from Ohio, made clothing look good. His 1975 final round lilac sweater would have fit very nicely under a green jacket along with the high collar white shirt. This look was as classic then, as it is today.

1976

Raymond Floyd won the green jacket this year and the collar on his shirt could be considered a premonition for the culminating events. Raymond’s pants were also well-tailored to show off his brown and white saddle shoes.

Ben Crenshaw once again made color look good in 1976 with a striped yellow and red shirt to go along with a red belt, and yellow pants. This Texas Longhorn even coordinated his glove for the occasion.

 

*Featured image courtesy of Masters.com, and yes, that’s current ANGC chair and then amateur sensation Fred Ridley strolling the fairway with Jack Nicklaus. 

 

 

 

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