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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour Players on the Rise and the Decline in 2018



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 golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and 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

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top-half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season, but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

When I did the projections of who would rise in the 2016-2017 season, two of my risers were Adam Hadwin and Marc Leishman, both of which executed all of the cornerstones in the prior season. Both earned a victory on Tour last season, both made the Tour Championship, and they combined for more than $9.3 million in earnings. In the 2016-2017 season, there were nine players that executed each of the Cornerstones, and they made an average of $4.6 million. The list included Justin Thomas, the winner of the FedEx Cup, the PGA Championship, and PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

Here are the players that I project to be on the rise for the 2017-2018 season due to their strong performance in the Cornerstones of the Game.

Players on the Rise

Martin Laird


Laird executed each of the Cornerstones of the game and got off to a great start in 2016-2017 before tapering off in the second half of the season. That tapering off would usually make me a little averse to projecting him to rise, but he has shown the ability to execute each of the Cornerstones. He’s also is in that prime age (he’s 34) when Tour players make their most money.

Branden Grace


Grace also executed each of the cornerstones of the game in 2016-2017, and he’s only 29. His biggest issue is that, despite putting well from 5-15 feet, he was fourth-worst putter on the PGA Tour from 3-5 feet. Putting from 3-5 feet is often volatile, however, meaning that a player can greatly improve or greatly regress from 3-5 feet from one season to the next. Given Grace’s age, skill, and aggressive strategy off the tee, I can see him finally getting the major championship victory that has alluded him in the past.

Bryson DeChambeau


DeChambeau struggled for much of the past season. He had a streak of five missed cuts and later missed eight cuts in a row. Many started to blame his single-length iron concept, but his iron play was not the problem. In fact, he was very good from where it counts most; the Red Zone, or shots from 175-225 yards. He’s also quite long off the tee and very proficient with his driver. His major issue was putting.

Here’s a chart showing Dechambeau’s Putts Gained by event. The dotted black line is the trend line, and it shows a nice upward progression in his putting. Once DeChambeau’s putting started to become serviceable, he started making more money and earned his first PGA Tour victory.


The big key here is if DeChambeau sticks with his current putting method. There is some evidence that points to changing equipment and methodology actually hurting putting performance compared to sticking to the same putter and technique. If he can stick to one putter and method and get his Yellow Zone play back to his 2015-2016 levels, he will be in for a huge season.

Brandon Hagy


Hagy was the top ball-speed performer last year, and he also showed a development in the rest of his game. Shots from 10-20 yards are more critical for bombers like Hagy since, when they miss a GIR, they tend to miss in a worse position. Hagy not only showed some quality play from 10-20 yards, but he also putted very well from 5-15 feet. He also ranked 162nd on putts from 15-25 feet and 171st on putts from 25+ feet, which are more likely to progress toward the mean for this upcoming season.

His iron play is still an issue, but there is some statistical correlation between Driving Effectiveness and Red Zone performance on the PGA Tour. This tends to happen with super-long hitters when they first reach the Tour; they struggle from the Red Zone, and then they later develop the skill quite nicely. Good examples are Bubba Watson and Gary Woodland. I expect Hagy will follow in their footsteps this season.

Andrew Landry

Landry did not play the PGA Tour last year, finishing fourth on the Money List on the Tour. He ranked 6th in Driving Effectiveness on the PGA Tour in 2016 and fourth in Putts Gained, however, and he showed some flashes of potential, particularly in the U.S. Open. The issue for him was his poor iron play and short game, but the numbers dictate that the likelihood of him driving it that well and putting that well and having nothing to show for it again are very low.

Players on the Decline

GOLF: SEP 29 PGA - The Presidents Cup - Second Round

Phil Mickelson


Mickelson’s driving started out okay for the season, and then he took a drastic nosedive. The issue for Phil is that he’s seeing a dramatic drop in club and ball speed (currently at 114 mph swing speed/170 mph ball speed) without more accuracy off the tee. Combine that with his poor play from the Red Zone, and it appears that age may finally be catching up to Phil. The data projects a significant drop off coming soon.

Wesley Bryan


Bryan had a fantastic rookie season with a victory, a third-place finish, and three other top-10 finishes. He’s also young (27) and was a good Red Zone player and elite Yellow Zone player who putted well. So, what’s the problem?

The large discrepancy between his ranking in Adjusted Scoring Average and FedEx Cup Points indicates an issue. Bryan’s A-Game he was really good, but when he didn’t have his good stuff he struggled — his best finish in his last six events was a T44.

We also see a major issue with his driving. Bryan was the second-shortest off the tee, and he wasn’t overly accurate, making him the fourth worst driver on the PGA Tour. There’s not a strong correlation between driving and iron play, but there is enough of a correlation to find that troubling.

Bryan could make up for it by improving his play from 10-20 yards given how often he’ll miss a GIR due to poor driving. Even that is a difficult proposition if you drive it poorly enough, though. If Bryan was super long, but still a poor driver of the ball, he could have a chance if he put together four days of quality driving off the tee. But at this point, his data has similarity scores to players like Tyrone Van Aswegen and D.A. Points. It also runs close to Luke Donald, but Donald has not been nearly as effective in the past five years when the top, young players have driven the ball much better and longer off the tee.

Russell Knox


Knox has usually been a statistical favorite of mine due to his ballstriking. He got off to a great fall season on Tour, but in 2017 he struggled mightily with only one top-10 finish. It was at the Bridgestone Invitational, where there is no cut.

Knox’s struggles from the Red Zone are concerning to me given that he is not very long off the tee and he’s not been a very good putter. He compounded the issue even more by struggling mightily from 10-20 yards. He’s still at an age (32) when Tour players start to have their best seasons… but it’s also that time of a player’s career where they can have an unexpected drop in performance that serves as a wakeup call.

Graeme McDowell


McDowell used to be one of the best shorter-hitting drivers of the ball on Tour, as well as an excellent Red Zone player. He has always struggled with shots from 10-20 yards, and his putting performance has been inconsistent. Much of his impressive Putts Gained Ranking (fourth) was based off ranking first on putts from 15-25 feet.

McDowell is starting to get to the age when Tour players regress, and his putting from 15-25 feet is likely to regress toward the mean the next season. That means a lot of struggles from the critical Red Zone, along being unable to get up-and-down to save par — unless he straightens things out.

Pat Perez


Perez’s age (41) works against him, and his putting is likely to regress given how well he putted from outside 15 feet in 2016-2017, which again, is likely to regress toward the mean.

The positive for Perez is that his biggest strength has been his ability to get reasonably close to executing all of the Cornerstones of the game. As he gets older, however, his ball speed is likely to go down, and that has a correlation to reduced effectiveness off the tee. His play from 10-20 yards is also likely to regress given that it was the best he’s ever recorded from that distance in his career. Thus, Perez is more likely to regress in each Cornerstone metric than he is to progress.

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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



  1. Zander Cage

    Dec 29, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Good stuff Rich. You nailed most of your picks last year in the same column. Do you like Aaron Wise or Beau Hossler to breakout this year? Would you agree Lovemark, Ollie and Cauley are also players on the rise? Keep up the good work!

  2. Chris B

    Oct 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I remember seeing last years, I think you may have been right about a few of them

    The only 2 I would question are Bryson D, just because his putting is such a problem. The other is Wesley Bryan, yes his driving can be indifferent but the rest of his game is so good. He had a great run of form through the and early season, it’s not a suprise that his form dipped a bit.

    • Richie Hunt

      Oct 6, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      My concern with Bryson is I think it goes against his nature to not tweak his putting, but that’s exactly what he needs to do. He really wasn’t that bad of a putter when he putted traditional style, but he was determined to use side saddle and it was a disaster. He may vehemently disagree with this, but I think the Tour banning his side saddle may have been the best thing for him.

  3. SteveK

    Oct 6, 2017 at 12:34 am

    Thanks for your reply comments, and, with enough data your projections will determine a trend.
    Your assessment of decliners must surely suggest that they suffer from mental and emotional weaknesses in addition to inherent game and swing flaws that produces your statistical analysis.
    Too bad you can’t quantify their IQ and intellectual level. That would fill in the gap!
    Perhaps you could ask a few of the decliners to take an IQ test to add that metric to your statistics. You should also ask the ‘risers’ too. If they agree, promise to keep it confidential in a customer-client relationship.

    • Richie Hunt

      Oct 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      I think it’s a lot about self esteem, confidence and having a healthy ego when it comes to the mental game. You have to have faith in yourself, but you also have to be honest with yourself when things are not as sharp or if you are progressing and you feel the urge to tweak things to pique your interest. Lots of self awareness.

      One of my clients has won numerous times on Tour and I don’t think he’s the most talented player out there by any means. But his mental game and overall attitude is one of the best I’ve ever seen. If I could put that into some of the other clients I work with, they would become top-5 players in the world overnight.

      • SteveK

        Oct 7, 2017 at 1:00 pm

        I agree, but if somebody has a low IQ and they are competing athletically at the highest level, they will eventually come to the realization that they are not very smart on and off the golf course. That’s the “Lots of self awareness.” you may be referring to.
        Self esteem, confidence and having a healthy ego usually goes with higher intellect, and an IQ test would likely confirm that.
        Of course, mental and emotional weakness may also be due to life problems that can only be resolved through medical attention. Perhaps psychological and medical counseling is also needed to uncover the root of the problem.
        Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

  4. henry

    Oct 5, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I was expecting to see Tony Finau as one of your players on the rise.

    • Richie Hunt

      Oct 6, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      He’s already at that point of rising as he made it to East Lake. It’s more about players that aren’t established versus those who are established.

  5. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    What’s the prediction for the top 10 in the world…
    Who’s will rise, maintain, and decline yo?

    • Donald

      Oct 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Limousine leftist liberal golfers will fall and right on conservative golfers will win.

  6. Blake

    Oct 5, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    I really doubt PP is heading down based on him making the top 30 over the season. And phil just needs to go back to his phrankenwood, or a similar 10-13* 1/2 wood. He just needs to get in the fairway more

  7. SteveK

    Oct 5, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Interesting analysis, but the one metric that you didn’t and could not measure categorically is “mental and emotional” strengths and weaknesses.
    I refer you to the current GolfWRX article on that topic, namely:
    How to improve your mental and emotional strength on the golf course
    By John Haime – Oct 4, 2017
    Pro golfers on the rise and the decline clearly show mental and emotional states that affect their course management and even golf swing mechanics on an unconscious level. Read the comments too.

    • Rich Hunt

      Oct 5, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      I’ve done these projections for a while and the projections have been ‘pretty good’ in their accuracy. But, it’s always easier to project those on the decline than it is those on the rise. I thought and studied this for a while and I came to the conclusion that the decliners are easier to project because when they are struggling they are more likely to stick with whatever they are doing even if it isn’t working anymore because it worked for them at one time so they refuse to change.

      Compare that to the players on the rise which is more difficult to project because even when they have made significant progress they are more likely to make changes if they do not reach nirvana and get that Tour victory. That to me, is the toughest issue for so many Tour players…many of whom I’ve worked personally with. They may have the talent, but they don’t quite trust themselves and think that something is ‘wrong’ if it doesn’t produce victories and something is ‘right’ if it once produced a victory but is no longer working for them.

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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