Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour Players on the Rise and the Decline in 2017



At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season.

There are a number of variables that historically are quality indicators of a player’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. However, I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game.

These cornerstones include:

  • Driving Effectiveness
  • Red Zone Play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short Game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball Speed

I used to call it The Four Cornerstones of the Game, as I did not factor in ball speed. What I found was that players who finished in the top-half in Driving Effectiveness, Red Zone Play, Short Game Shots from 10-20 yards and Putting from 5-15 feet had a high likelihood of being very successful on Tour and winning… or keep winning. However, I later discovered that players who were able to achieve all Four Cornerstones and be in the top-half in ball speed performed even better and had an increased likelihood of winning.

For instance, in the 2014-2015 season, the players who executed the Four Cornerstones (without ball speed) averaged nearly $1.9 million in earnings, while the players who executed the Four Cornerstones (including ball speed) averaged nearly $4 million in earnings. For short hitters who likely cannot substantially improve their ball speed, the Four Cornerstones still apply and are a good benchmark to improve their scoring average and thus make more money, which is the ultimate goal, right?

Sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out. For example, shorter-hitting Brian Stuard accomplished all Four Cornerstones in the 2013-2014 season and then lost his card in the 2014-2015 season. However, he then won in New Orleans this past season. But last year, the top player I had on my list to rise was Kevin Chappell. He accomplished all Five Cornerstones in the 2014-2015 season and went on to finish 8th in FedEx points.

Here are my players likely to Rise and Decline in 2017.

Players on the rise


The following rankings are based out of 185 players for the 2015-2016 season.

Patrick Rodgers


Rodgers makes the list of players on the rise for the second year in a row. At this point, he compares closely to a younger Keegan Bradley prior to the anchor putting ban. He’s a good driver of the ball who generates a lot of club speed. He also plays well from the Red Zone and is a competent short-game player and putter. Rodgers was hurt a bit by having to play a schedule that featured small-purse events, and he struggled to make putts outside 25 feet (150th).

However, putting outside 25 feet is a volatile metric in the sense that a player who performs poorly on long putts one season is more likely to perform well from outside 25 feet the next season. According to this trend, Rodgers is likely to be a better overall putter in the 2016-2017 season.

The two largest obstacles for him to overcome will be shots from 150-175 yards (179th) and putting from 10-15 feet (180th). However, given his Red Zone performance and putting from 5-10 feet and 15-25 feet, the historical data suggests that those metrics should improve this upcoming season.

Sean O’Hair

The Barclays - Round Three


O’Hair has had a very up-and-down career, as witnessed by him being on my Players on the Decline last year and now being on my Players on the Rise list for this season. My projection of him being on the decline seemed to have merit, as he only had one top-10 finish and missed the cut in four out of the five events before the FedExCup Playoffs. He turned things around in the Playoffs, however, recording a second-place finish at The Barclays and making it into the Tour Championship.

O’Hair has changed swing coaches over the years, and has made various swing changes. He appeared to hit quite a bit downward on the driver and then switched to having one of the most upward attack angles on Tour. While many encourage hitting up on the driver for increased distance, the data shows that it’s very easy to over do it and for Tour players it can have a negative effect on their driving. O’Hair went through that and it now appears he’s reduced the upward attack angle a bit and is starting to find the driver swing that works for him.

Like Rodgers, O’Hair has some major issues from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), which will make birdies more difficult to come by, but he has been a very good Yellow Zone player in the past. And at the age of 34, he’s starting to hit those prime years of performance on Tour.

Shane Lowry


The name of Lowry’s game up to this point in his career has been ballstriking. And while he had a fabulous season driving the ball, he has typically been an even better iron player. While he was still good from the Red Zone, his performance from the Yellow Zone and Green Zone (75-125 yards) was not typical for him. In the meantime, he developed an excellent short game and became a very good putter from 5-15 feet.

Lowry will have to improve on putts from 3-5 feet (177th) and regain his old from the Yellow Zone. I think from a status standpoint one could compare Lowry to Graeme McDowell before McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. However, Lowry is much longer off the tee than McDowell was and had a fantastic year with his short game around the green, while McDowell is one of the worst on Tour around the green.

Marc Leishman



Leishman accomplished all Five Cornerstones of the game and at 33 years old, he’s reaching the age of prime performance on Tour. In the past, Leishman’s weakness has been his driving, but he has been a strong Red Zone performer.

The data suggests that he may finally be conquering his driving woes, and while he had a solid season from the Red Zone (175-225) he has typically been much better from that distance range. If he can regain his old form from the Red Zone with the improvements in his driving, he might be a serious contender in the majors this season.

Adam Hadwin


Hadwin executed all Five Cornerstones of the Game at 28 years old. He was hurt by the small-purse events he was allowed to play in. Another issue for him is his very conservative play off the tee, laying up quite often. I had him ranked 140th in Tee Shot Aggressiveness, which ranks players based on driving distance and courses played along with how often they decided to lay up off the tee versus hitting driver. Matt Kuchar ranked No. 1 in Tee Shot Aggressiveness, while Hadwin was very conservative.

Hadwin did have a good year of driving the ball, but had he decided to lay up less often, that would have likely made him more effective off the tee in the long run. And given that he has ample distance off the tee and putts well, he was missing out on some opportunities to win tournaments.

Players on the decline


James Hahn


Hahn finished 40th on the Money List despite ranking 127th in Adjusted Scoring Average thanks to his win at the Wells Fargo Championship. He was right at the average in Driving Effectiveness, but was a mediocre Red Zone player who putted poorly and was the second-worst player on Tour from 10-20 yards.

The positive news is that he hasn’t lost any ball speed, which is where players who drastically decline also tend to drastically decline in their overall performance. He has typically been a better iron player than he was this past season, however, and his numbers suggest that he won’t make many birdies and struggle to consistently save pars going forward.

Jason Day

TOUR Championship - Round Two


Day is a difficult subject to tackle because he was second in both Adjusted Scoring Average and the Money List. However, his ball-striking metrics were not as good as one would assume. His weakness has always been his performance from 150-200 yards and this year it carried over to 200-225 yards as well.

Obviously, much of this could be blamed on his injuries. However, that’s part of the point, as the numbers indicate that the injuries are taking a toll on his game. The issue here is that if he comes back healthy and can stay healthy for a period of time, he can churn out performances like he had at the end of 2015 and at The Players Championship this year.

The other issue is that he had the best year putting on Tour since the Putts-Gained metric was created. Odds are that he’s not going to putt nearly as well as he did. He may be one of the top putters on Tour this season, but he’s likely to be statistically worse than how he putted in the 2015-2016 season.

Smylie Kaufman


Kaufman benefited from a schedule that featured big-purse events, as he finished 35th on the Money List despite ranking 96th in Adjusted Scoring Average. The good news for Kaufman is that he’s young, he’s long off the tee, he was a good Red Zone player and he’s an above average putter.

He will need to greatly improve his driving and his Yellow Zone play in 2017, however. At this pace, it will take away a lot of good birdie opportunities. And if his short game play from 10-20 yards does not improve, he will struggle to avoid bogeys as well. This season he will not receive the same opportunities in terms of a big-purse schedule.

Bubba Watson



Bubba’s driving performance and putting became a real struggle for him this season. He also turns 38 years old, which may begin to work against him.

The numbers indicate that Bubba still has plenty of game left in him, as he hasn’t lost significant ball speed and is a good iron player, but he may no longer be quite the performer he was from 2010-2014. Bubba has said he was struggling with some of the mental parts of the game. That may have been a major factor in his putting woes and carried over to his driving, as he typically is the very best driver on Tour. While he still finished 10th in Driving Effectiveness this season, he is typically significantly better off the tee than he was this past season.

Fabian Gomez


Gomez also benefitted from a large-purse schedule that comes with winning twice in a 12-month span. After his victory at the Sony Open, he went on to miss 10 out of 21 cuts to the finish the season. He did have a strong FedExCup Playoffs, but failed to make the Tour Championship. He should have a strong big-purse schedule, but not as much as he had in the 2015-2016 season.

His driving was better than average, but he doesn’t hit it very far. His best attribute was his putting. Meanwhile, he was a mediocre iron player and short-game performer, which typically leads to not making enough birdies and not avoiding enough bogeys.

Your Reaction?
  • 85
  • LEGIT24
  • WOW5
  • LOL7
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP3
  • OB9
  • SHANK93

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, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. birdy

    Oct 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Lot of shanks…..wish those would comment as to why unless you just have a different guess on who is going to have an up or down year……and then the usual pathetic response by smizzle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?



We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.


We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

Your Reaction?
  • 204
  • LEGIT16
  • WOW4
  • LOL4
  • IDHT5
  • FLOP4
  • OB2
  • SHANK16

Continue Reading


The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie



Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

Your Reaction?
  • 4
  • LEGIT1
  • WOW0
  • LOL2
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK2

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”



Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

Your Reaction?
  • 860
  • LEGIT83
  • WOW18
  • LOL10
  • IDHT6
  • FLOP12
  • OB11
  • SHANK59

Continue Reading

19th Hole