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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.

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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, 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

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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.

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Opinion & Analysis

Paige Spiranac explains her decision to pose for the 2018 SI Swimsuit



During the PXG 0311 Gen2 iron launch event, I caught up with Paige Spiranac to talk about a variety of topics including her advice to young girls in the golf world, how her life has changed since becoming a golfing celebrity, her relationship with PXG, her decision to stop playing professional golf, and she explains why she wanted to pose for the SI Swimsuit issue.

Enjoy my interview above!

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Opinion & Analysis

Bag Chatter: An Interview With 36 Golf Co.



Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email for consideration. This interview is with Jay Vogler of 36 Golf Co (Pictured above caddying for business partner Chevy Mayne).

Talk to me about 36 Golf Co. What are you guys all about?

We’re all about getting people out to the course, having fun and not taking golf too seriously. We’re trying to create a brand for people who love the game, but aren’t necessarily trying to turn pro. The whole idea started when I was walking through a hockey shop and saw all these hockey lifestyle brands and I was like, “Why doesn’t this exist in golf?” We’re mainly targeting the 18-35 crowd; folks that kind of have a laid-back approach. We think it doesn’t matter if you wear cargo shorts and a T-shirt as long as you’re respecting the game and taking care of the course. It’s more important to replace your divots, repair your ball marks and keep up with the pace of play than it is to wear a collared shirt.

There are a lot of people launching brands in the soft goods world these days (clothing, towels, head covers, etc.). As a result, that world can be a little crowded. What makes 36 Golf Co. different from everyone else out there?

Our corner of the market, if you will, is trying to create a community of people who see the game the same way we do. We want to see the game grow, especially among the millennial age group. We think participation is lacking in that demographic, and we want to play a part in making the game a little more accessible for them. We want people to connect over our attitude toward golf. If you see a guy walking down the street wearing a 36 hat, we want you to think he’s approachable and he’s down to hang out and talk about golf and life without being pretentious. We’re out there to lower some of the barriers to entering the game.

Since I know you’re all about growing the game, what do you think it needs? What do you think is the biggest “problem” with golf that’s keeping people away from playing it or trying it?

I think perception is probably the biggest thing honestly. I picked up the game five years ago when I was 22 and I came from skateboarding and snowboarding. When I got into the game, a lot of people make a weird face and were like, “You play golf?!” It’s totally a perception thing, but once you get past that, it’s just such a fun game. From the first time I flushed a 7-iron at a driving range, I was hooked, but a lot of people don’t even get that far. We’re just trying to lower the barriers to the game and put a community out there.

36 Golf Co. “The Looper” Meshback Hat

If you could change one thing about the game of golf, what would you change? It doesn’t have to be something in the USGA rule book necessarily.

Obviously, I would get rid of dress codes. That’s my big bugaboo with the game. If I was just going about my daily life, I wouldn’t be wearing pants and a collared shirt and I think a lot of people would be in that same boat. If we let people come as they are, I bet participation would go way up. Appearance, respectfully, only matters so much. You can wear a collared shirt and still be a jerk and not repair your ball marks.

When you got the idea to start this company, how did you actually go about making that happen? Did you just google shirt suppliers or something? What was that process like?

Yeah, I pretty much spent the first month on Google looking for suppliers. I have a design background, so we did the design and the website ourselves, so that was good. Finding the right suppliers who were willing to work with us and had quality stuff was difficult.

What’s the biggest road block you’ve experienced with 36 Golf Co.? Launching it, marketing it, logistics, billing, whatever…

Starting a business in general was just…so much to take in. It’s overwhelming. Accounting, problems with suppliers… but if you don’t just start it then you’ll never know. I know it’s a cliché, but you gotta start somewhere. It’s not that any one thing was so difficult. It was just the amount of things that come your way.

36 Golf Co “The Sniper” Snap Back Hat and “Fleck” T Shirt

What are you most optimistic about with 36 Golf Co? What’s got you excited these days?

We just went to a show this past weekend in Toronto, and we just met a lot of people who really seemed to get what we were about and were excited to be a part of it themselves. That’s what gets you excited; when people really understand your vibe and want to be a part of that community and rep your brand for no other reason than it resonates with them. That’s what it’s all about.

Let’s play a game. Imagine golf was like baseball and you got to pick a “walk-up song” when you got to the first tee. What song are you going with?

Haha. I’ve been listening to a lot of Jurassic 5 lately, so we’ll go with “What’s Golden.” I feel like that’d be a pretty good hype song.

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, which one would it be? It has to be a course you have played before or have access to, though. Don’t just say Augusta.

There’s a little course called Bathurst Glen just north of Toronto. I used to work there, but it kicks my butt every time I go. It’s a friendly spot, which I enjoy. I struggle playing really nice golf courses. They kind of stress me out.

Chevy Mayne of 36 Golf Co. in the “OG” T Shirt and “Frost Delay” Snapback Hat

It’s kind of old news, but I’ll ask the following since it’s right up your alley. What was your take on the LPGA dress code announcement last year?

Oh man. I was like, “What the hell are you thinking?” You know, when they said that I was showing it to my girlfriend who’s a non-golfer and she was like, “I don’t understand what the problem is.” It’s not like they’re wearing thongs or something. Obviously, I think that golf needs to be tailored to welcome people into the game, and I think that sent the wrong message.

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Let us know what’s coming from 36 Golf Co.

We have limited resourced with just two people, but we have tons of plans. Our main products right now are our hats, which are mainly modern styles. You know, snapbacks and flat brims. We also have T-shirts and quarter zips available. All of that is on our website at We will be getting some golf shirts in soon, which we are calling our “collared T-shirt” this spring, so that’s going to be the most exciting launch for us in the near future. Follow us on Instagram @thirty6ix_golf_co and on twitter @Thirty6ix_golf to keep up with our brand and join our community.

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Opinion & Analysis

How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?



Hitting more than 50 percent of fairways has long been considered a good goal for amateur golfers. The winners on the PGA Tour tend to hit 70 percent. I have long maintained, however, that it is not the number of fairways HIT that matters. Instead, it is the relative severity of fairways MISSED.

Think about it. By the one-dimensional Fairways Hit stat, every miss is the same. A perfect lie in the first cut is exactly the same as a drive in a hazard… or even OB. There is nothing in the 650+ PGA Tour stats about this. In all, there are 60 stats in seven categories that relate to driving performance, but none about penalties! Like PGA Tour players don’t make any?

Let’s see exactly how important the old tried-and-true Driving Accuracy (Percentage of Fairways Hit) really is. To test it, I used two data clusters: the 2017 PGA Tour season (14,845 ShotLink rounds) and my database for the average male golfer (15 to 19 handicappers – 4,027 rounds).

For the graph below, I started with the No. 1-ranked player in the Driving Accuracy category: Ryan Armour. He certainly was accurate by this measure, but why did he only rank 100th in 2017 Strokes Gained Off the Tee with a barely positive 0.020?

Next I looked at the actual top-5 PGA Tour money winners (J. Thomas, J Spieth, D. Johnson, H. Matsuyama and J. Rohm), the 2017 PGA Tour average, and all PGA Tour players that missed the cut in 2017. We all know the significant scoring differences between these three categories of players, but it’s difficult to see a meaningful difference in the fairways hit. They’re not even separated by half a fairway. How important could this stat be?

For those that have not tried, our analysis includes Strokes Gained and Relative Handicap comparisons. That enables users to easily differentiate between FIVE MISS categories below based upon severity. The final three categories are what we consider to be Driving Errors:

  1. Good lie/Opportunity: One can easily accomplish their next goal of a GIR or advancement on a par-5.
  2. Poor Lie/Opportunity: One could accomplish the next goal, but it will require a very good shot.
  3. No Shot: Requires an advancement to return to normal play.
  4. Penalty-1: Penalty with a drop.
  5. OB/Lost: Stroke and distance penalty, or shot replayed with a stroke penalty.

As we are fortunate enough to work with several PGA Tour players at Shot by Shot, we have access to ShotLink data and can provide those clients with the same valuable insight.

Let’s see how the frequency and severity of driving errors relates to the above groups of players (removing Mr. Armour, as he simply helped us prove the irrelevance of Driving Accuracy). The graphs below display the number of Driving Errors per round and the Average Cost Per Error. Note the strong and consistent correlation between the number and the cost of errors at each of the four levels of performance.

Finally, the average cost of the errors is heavily driven by the three degrees of severity outlined above (No Shot, Penalty, OB/Lost). The graph below compares the relative number and cost of the three types of errors for the average golfer and PGA Tour players. The major difference is that PGA Tour players do not seem to have a proper share of OB/Lost penalties. I found only TWO in the 14,000+ ShotLink rounds. While I accept that the most severe faux pas are significantly less frequent on the PGA Tour, I also believe there must have been more than two.

Why so few? First and foremost, PGA Tour players REALLY ARE good. Next, the galleries stop a lot of the wayward shots. And finally, I believe that many of the ShotLink volunteer data collectors may not actually know or care about the difference between a Penalty and OB/Lost.

Author’s Note: If you want to know your Strokes Gained Off the Tee (Driving) and exactly how important your fairways and the misses are, log onto for a 1-Round FREE Trial.

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19th Hole