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5 Dark Horse Picks for the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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With one leg left in the majors, I wanted to examine the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, again. This time, though, I wanted to look at the players that are outside the top 15 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings that have metrics that comply with making a quality Ryder Cup participant.

Related: The Official U.S. Ryder Cup Points List

While ballstriking has a much greater influence on Tour success than short game shots around the green, historically the best Ryder Cup players have excelled around the greens. Putting is always important in terms of winning events on Tour, but it’s nearly impossible to project putting for any player. Although there are certainly players that are significantly, statistically better on certain greens grasses than others.

Where the U.S. Team has struggled the most over the years is in the foursome (alternate shot) format. The fourball (low score) format has not been much of an issue for the U.S. Team. Each format stresses different facets of the game. So given the U.S. Team’s struggles in the foursome format, this list of players are more skilled toward that format.

Charles Howell III

CH3_2016_Ryder_Cup_Metrics

Howell fits well in the fourball format because he makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s, par-5s and par-3s well. However, he’s been a competent driver of the ball this year and has been pretty good from the Red Zone (175-225 yards), which will be featured at this year’s venue, Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. He tops it off with great short-game play, and this makes for a competent foursome player. Pair Howell with a good iron player, and that could make for a tough foursome team to beat.

Jimmy Walker

JW_2016_Ryder_Cup_Metrics

Walker has slumped since March, but he had a good Ryder Cup showing in 2014 and is still an excellent short-game player and good putter. He has traditionally been a much better putter and iron player. The Bogey Rate and slump concerns me, but he is a player to keep an eye out for and see if steps up his play down the stretch.

Webb Simpson

WS_2016_Ryder_Cup_Metrics

Simpson has been brilliant in virtually every part of the game, but has struggled with the transition to the non-anchored putter. That has been the main contributor to him being unable to win this year, and his high bogey rate. His putting, however, has been trending upward. Like Walker, he’s a player to watch out for to see if the putting is starting to come along. If so, he would make an excellent Ryder Cup teammate.

Kevin Streelman

KS_2016_Ryder_Cup_Metrics

Like Simpson, the only thing holding Streelman back has been his putting. His putting has trended considerably upward, however, which you can see in the chart below (the dotted line is the trend line).

KS_Strokes_Gained_Putting_2016

With better putting, Streelman becomes a more appealing fourball player, but can also drive it well, strike it well on the mid-to-long approach shots and gets up-and-down if he misses the green.

Kevin Na

KN_2016_Ryder_Cup_Metrics

Na is an unheralded player, but has the game to make for a tough Ryder Cup competitor. This season he has struggled a bit with the driver, but the counter to that in the foursome format is to stick him with a good iron player that plays well out of the rough.

Na has also typically been a much better putter than he has been this year, and could be due to hit a hot streak soon. So, the U.S. team would have a promising foursome player, as well as a player that makes a lot of birdies, which works well in the fourball format. He has also typically been an even better player on the par-5s, so like his putting, I wouldn’t be surprised if his par-5 play picks up soon as well.

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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

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Bryant

    Jul 24, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I think that Simpson would be a complete liability to the US Squad. He has not played well in like 3 years. I would take someone like Charlie Hoffman or Bill Haas.

    • Bryant

      Jul 26, 2016 at 8:15 am

      The Americans need to grow up and play with who they paired with. Just go out and compete.

    • Marty Moose

      Jul 26, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Webb skied his 3-wood off the first tee last Ryder Cup. Not a good choice.

  2. BD57

    Jul 24, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    These comments … are a good argument for not having comments.

  3. Matt Mitchell

    Jul 24, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Seriously!?! You are free and unrestrained to offer your opinion but this author is not granted the same freedom though he writes from a place of experience and application!?! Just baffling man! Simply astonishing that you got so butt hurt over my comment! I guess your feelings and self-congratulating opinions are all that matter!?! Good luck with the life amigo!

  4. TheInfidel

    Jul 23, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Free tip for 2016.

    If the USA want to get beat like a drum again you need Webb and Na!

  5. Steve

    Jul 23, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    What a bad meaningless article

  6. Matthew Mitchell

    Jul 23, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    So it is just a coincidence that a player makes x number of putts within 15 feet in a given round which then contributes to the strokes gained putting statistic which is measure against all players on the same course. A coincidence is just happen stance and shows no direct intentionality or relevant skill as it relates to what is measured. A statistic is a numerical aggregate of the same occurrence, fact, outcome, etc over a given period of time. One instance may be a coincidence like the probability of you making a putt from 10 feet but these guys making a putt from 10 feet is over 40%. Why would this be a coincidence. I seriously don’t think you really know what that word means. And for the safety of us all, don’t swim in public and subject the children to this horror show of stupefaction and ignorance!

    • Matt Mitchell

      Jul 24, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      Haha seriously! Says the man who got kicked out of a public pool. Just contribute something worthwhile. Sorry I called it out but know what the words mean before you make a definitive statement about them. You made a negative comment about this article which means you have just judged your own intent of leaving a comment! I assume your original comment was to show the uselessness of this article? If that is the case then why in the world are you calling me out for you calling the author out? Grow up bro, read a book, and at least measure your comments regarding others with some modicum of self reference.

  7. Joe sixpack

    Jul 22, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Just not very interesting.

    Make a clear point and explain it. Showing lists of rankings in various stats is pretty meaningless. Who cares if someone is 20th or 120th in “yellow zone play” if the difference between the two is a fraction of a stroke per round? You need to give context. You need to explain what matters and why.

    All this shows me is an excel table that you created for each player and then cut and pasted. Highlight the stats you think are relevant and explain why.

    Rather than throw out a few dark horse candidates, pick someone who you think is the best candidate and explain why.

    This is the kind of stuff they teach in jr. High…..

    • Richie Hunt

      Jul 22, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      I hear your point. However, much of this is difficult to quite translate between stroke play on Tour and Ryder Cup play. For instance, ‘only a half a stroke per round’ is actually a tremendous difference in a player’s season. If a player improves by a half stroke, they are going to improve roughly 45 to 70 spots on the Money List (Money is always hard to project due to different purse sizes in events and ties splitting the purse).

      Also, the subject has been a recurring article for myself on this Web site….what goes into good Ryder Cup players and what types of players are good in fourball vs. foursome formats. So at the sake of sounding redundant, we kept this one more brief.

      • Joe sixpack

        Jul 22, 2016 at 10:51 pm

        Amusing that you misquoted me. That won’t help you win arguments or seem more professional. (And your goal here is to develop a reputation as a statistician, right? A stats guy needs to be precise in his language.)

        I don’t see how any of this helps your cause. Your analysis of stroke play stats is inherently difficult to use as a predictor of match play performance in the pressure cooker of the Ryder cup, as you acknowledge. So why bother? You end up with an incoherent piece that says little and doesn’t do much to increase your stature as a statistician.

        There are other stats guys out there doing a lot better work right now. You’re going to have a tough time competing with them with this kind of stuff. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know how a golf statistician can earn a living posting on a website like this. Seems to me you need some tour players to hire you to advise them. In my opinion this kind of article isn’t going to help make that happen.

        • Matthew Mitchell

          Jul 23, 2016 at 1:06 pm

          Wow, Joe Sixpack- you are kind of a d-bag! Your name suggests as much and you think far more of your position than I think you own in mental awareness to substantiate. Were you hoping that Rich provide a far deeper, more in depth article on the subject that is, by definition, subjective! They are his dark horses and they don’t have to be yours. I could tell you to go to hell and you don’t have to go though your critique here may say otherwise. Did you want him to take the stats and use them in a Bayesian prediction model for the purposesof probability calculus. Perhaps a hint of modal logic and possible world argumentation of different scenarios playing out in different possible situations that would best support the above stats WHICH HE DID EXPLAIN UNDER THE HEADER! Lets get into the weather predictions and past scenarios of when those players played in similar weather conditions. Maybe He could have dug deeper in the probabilistic permutations and calculated which player would statistically do best with other known Ryder Cup players. Were you hoping this would be peer reviewed by other golf scholars like Butch Harmon, the ghost of Bobby Jones, and every Golf Channel commentator! Next time you think of writing on this site, I want you to do two things. 1.) Don’t contribute 2.) Test and see if what you say has anything relevant at all- soon to be Joe Kegger! (Opposed to six pack- have I lost you yet). Also, rather than being an annoying troll talking about things far above your pays scale, be far more concerned with excellence in your own contributions than the lack of quality provided by others. It may serve you well. I think this may only be the 3rd time I have ever contributed on this site but I can’t leave stupid and spiteful alone.

          • Matt Mitchell

            Jul 24, 2016 at 12:17 pm

            Man, you really don’t like people making negative comments after you vomit all over the Internet. Let me put it this way, we have already established that you don’t know the definition of the words coincidence and statistic so I would be hard pressed to think you are qualified to peg a persons disposition!

  8. Clemson Sucks

    Jul 22, 2016 at 11:08 am

    If any of these 5 are on our team we are in trouble.

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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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