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Why these 10 PGA Tour stars are underperforming in 2016

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As we approach the U.S. Open and Summer Olympics — where golf will be part of the competition — along with the Ryder Cup this fall, I decided to look at what was going on with some of the more popular players on Tour who are not quite meeting fan expectations. The following rankings are based out of 196 players.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan_Spieth_2016_stats

Spieth has one victory on the PGA Tour this season, and is currently sixth on the Money List. However, his collapse at the Masters, missed cut at The Players Championship and struggle on Sunday at the Byron Nelson has caused some concern from the fans. His driving is generally excellent, but his iron play has dropped off dramatically. He was once one of the top-5 iron players on Tour, and now he’s only a little better than average.

Spieth currently ranks 86th on shots from the fairway/tee box from 75-225 yards, where he was ranked 12th in that category last season.

Justin Rose

Justin_Rose_2016_stats

Rose has recorded eight top-25 finishes in 11 starts, and ranks seventh in adjusted scoring average. He’s having a fine season, but he has not recorded a victory. The biggest issue for him is his putting. From a scoring perspective, he has been unable to make a lot of birdies on the par-4’s (102nd), which is a result of his below-average putting. His Green Zone performance is a little off, but that is not a major culprit, and he has typically been an excellent Green Zone performer. I expect that to improve as time goes along.

If Rose can start making some putts, the numbers project favorably toward him contending in the next three majors.

Henrik Stenson

Henrik_Stenson_2016_stats

Stenson recorded a third-place finish at Bay Hill and a second-place finish at Houston. After that, he finished 24th at the Masters and then missed his past two cuts. Overall, his ball striking has been great, but his short game and putting have hamstrung him.

He has been particularly awful on short game shots from 10-20 yards (191st), which is the most critical area for short game play. His putting from 3-5 feet has been excellent (4th), but he has struggled from outside of that range. He ranks 36th on Birdie Putts from 5-15 feet, while ranking 182nd on par-or-worse putts from 5-15 feet. That is typically a sign of a player that is hitting their putts too firmly. While his ball striking is top notch, at this point, he is not giving himself much of a chance if he misses a green in regulation because his short game and putting are killing him.

Gary Woodland

Gary_Woodland_2016_Stats

Woodland is a bit of a unique case, as he ranks 23rd in adjusted scoring average while ranking 89th in earnings. Typically, those rankings tend to match each other, especially for a player like Woodland who gets to play in large purse events.

What we have seen from Woodland is that he has only missed one cut in 16 events. That means he should have a low total adjusted scoring average, however, he has yet to record a top-10 finish. His best finish was a T13th at the Sony Open, and he has six top-25 finishes in total. So he has been good enough to finish right around 25th in an event, but not able to finish much higher than that.

Here’s a look at Woodland’s Scoring Average rankings by round:

Woodland_stats_2016_2

While most people would think Round 4 scoring average is more important, it’s actually the performance in Rounds 1 and 2 that matter much more in terms of Tour success. Furthermore, Round 4 scoring average typically falls in line with the player’s scoring average in Rounds 1-3 over time.

Woodland has also typically been a great Red Zone performer as well. So while he has not had the big finishes at this current time, the numbers project that he is likely to have some great finishes as we go into the summer. His Red Zone Play is likely to improve, and his performance in Round 4 should start to match his performances in Rounds 1-3.

Phil Mickelson

PhilMickelsonMickelson has had a great season, but the standards for him are so high that he’s expected to have won by now, and to minimize missed cuts. He has missed three of his past four cuts with no victories, but has four top-10 finishes.

His performance metrics have been excellent, but he has struggled to put each piece of the game together at the same time. Earlier in the year, he was driving the ball very well, but his iron play and putting were only above average. His short game play was a little below average. In the last few events, his iron play, short game and putting have been very good, but his driving has regressed. In his last event (The Players Championship), he finished last in driving effectiveness.

This is fairly common for players who are starting to rejuvenate their game like Phil has, however; they struggle to get all of the important pieces of the game to work at the same time. Therefore, the numbers point to Phil having great success and meeting fan expectations, soon.

Keegan Bradley

KeeganBradley

What stands out for Bradley is his struggles moving to the non-anchored putter. While that is certainly a major issue, a player of his length, driving skill and overall ballstriking skill should be performing much better on the Par-5s. Simply put, he can play a Par-5 more like a Par-4 compared to the average player in an event. And even with awful putting, that should translate to ranking far better than 158th in Par-5 Scoring Average.

I have him ranked 157th in Par-5 Aggressiveness. Par-5 Aggressiveness is an algorithm that determines how often the player should be going for par-5s in two shots based on the “Par-5 Go For It” percentages of each par-5 they have played, their distance off the tee, hit fairway percentage, performance from 225-275 yards and short game performance. For Bradley, his projected optimal Par-5 Go For It Percentage is at 68 percent and he has gone for par-5s in two shots only 58.9 percent of the time.

The good news is that this is the best Bradley has ever struck the ball with his irons in his career. Typically, he has been a very good Red Zone player (175-225 yards), but has struggled from the Green Zone (75-125 yards) and the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards). If he can straighten out his putting and get near the average on Tour in Putts Gained, he would be projected to get into contention immediately. But, he may be missing out on those victories if he does not become more aggressive on the Par-5s.

Hunter Mahan

HunterMahan

The numbers have projected Mahan’s regression for quite some time. He simply has struggled too much from the Red Zone (175-225 yards) for too long to continue to be successful on Tour. Eventually, his driving started to regress, as well as his Yellow Zone play (125-175 yards).

Good Red-Zone performers tend to do a good job at avoiding bogeys and those big numbers that kill a round of golf. Good Yellow-Zone performers tend to make more birdies on the Par-4s, because they are hitting those approach shots closer to the makeable putt range. For a while, Mahan was countering his poor Red-Zone play with great Yellow Zone play. He no longer does that, hence his struggles this season.

It’s funny because most people tend to think that Mahan was never quite an upper echelon player (top-5 in the world) because of his putting and short game. That’s never been the case, though. He has struggled severely with his Red Zone Play, and now his Yellow Zone play and driving are following suit.

Ian Poulter 

IanPoulter

Poulter’s metrics may boost the hopes of U.S. Ryder Cup fans, as he has been a ferocious competitor for the European Ryder Cup team… but I wouldn’t count the chickens before they hatch. He is still a great short-game performer, which is the one area that has produced the best Ryder Cup players over the years. He is also a strong performer from the Red Zone, which is another key area in the Ryder Cup, and his putting is better than average.

Obviously, Poulter’s Yellow- and Green-Zone play has regressed. He typically has been a good Yellow-Zone performer and an inconsistent Green-Zone performer. Therefore, I would not be surprised if he regains his Yellow Zone performance as the season goes along.

His driving has also played a role in his regression. His club speed has slowed down considerably, as he was at 111.95 mph in 2014 and is now at 109.67 mph. A drop in club speed of 2.3 mph is sizable by Tour standards. He also ranks 190th in Hit Fairway Bunker percentage. That helps explain his regression from the Yellow Zone, as he is getting a lot of those shots from the fairway bunkers.

Webb Simpson 

WebbSimpson

Simpson’s ranking in earnings is much lower than his adjusted-scoring-average ranking, due to the fact that he has only played in 10 events this season. And fans of Simpson should be more concerned with his adjusted scoring average than his earnings. Adjusted scoring average will serve as a better predictor for a player’s earnings and FedEx points at the end of the season.

The good news for Simpson is that he is striking the ball quite well, and his Short Game is sharp. However, like Keegan Bradley, he has struggled with the adjustment to the non-anchored putter. Some may say that it gives credence to the ban on anchored putters, but as far as belly putters go, we simply did not have enough data to determine its true effect on putting performance. And one could argue that after a rough season putting in 2015 (where he still used anchor putting in some events), Adam Scott has putted well this season, as he is currently 71st in Putts Gained.

Boo Weekley

BooWeekley

I think most fans of Boo would expect these type of metrics: great ball striking, poor short-game play and poor putting.

This season, Boo has had struggles from the Yellow Zone. He has never been a consistently great performer from 125-150 yards, but he has had some inexplicable struggles from 150-175 yards (175th). This has greatly hurt his ability to make birdies on the Par-4’s (158th) and has hurt his Par-3 Scoring Average (151st).

We are also seeing Boo’s club speed drop substantially. He is currently at 111.6 mph, and was at 113.4 mph last season. He was at 114.9 mph in 2012.

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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. Ronald Montesano

    May 30, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Was going to say “Family” metric is missing for Hunter Mahan. Has so much money, wife and child and says, why struggle? why majors? why not worry? give him five years of crap play, a new swing coach or two, and he’ll wake up one morning and ask who he once might have was been, then get to work.

  2. Nick

    May 28, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    “I’m not a big believer in stats.” Jezus.

  3. BIG STU

    May 28, 2016 at 4:42 am

    Good article there Rich very informative I do not get into stats that much but that was good reading

  4. Dave

    May 27, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Who cares stats stats that’s all they are new breed out there ,these boys are done and if Jordan doesn’t get back to having fun and just hit it already …..well

  5. Jochen

    May 27, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Is there any good article on the website defining all the terms – green zone, adjusted scoring average, driving effectiveness etc.?

  6. steve

    May 27, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Bradley, Poulter, Mahan and Simpson who expected anything from them? These guys stink. Mickelson on the other hand is 2nd in scoring, no matter how you try to spin it. Phil just needs to put 4 good rounds together

  7. Milo

    May 26, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    I’d say that Mickelson this year has been better than the last 5 years.

    • Milo

      May 27, 2016 at 11:52 pm

      Jordan Spieth definitely is gonna have a nice long career. Bryson Dechambeau for me is still undetermined but I’m rooting for him.

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