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An early look at the potential U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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With the Masters and the Players Championship complete, I wanted to examine the statistics of the current leaders in Ryder Cup Points for the U.S. Team. Over the history of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Team has relied on pairings that were friends and practice-round companions instead of pairing players that were more compatible from a statistical standpoint. This has led to disappointing performances from the U.S. Team and top players such as Jim Furyk performing poorly at the Ryder Cup, as he is ill-suited for the Fourball format.

After a disastrous 2014 Ryder Cup where the U.S. Team lost by a score of 16.5-11.5, the U.S. decided to use a more statistical approach to Ryder Cup play. According to my calculations, the 2016 U.S. Team’s pairings were the closest to optimal that the U.S. Team has compiled in the last seven Ryder Cups. And not surprisingly, the U.S. Team won 17-11 over the Europeans.

Since there are several months to go before the Ryder Cup, I won’t get too much into potential pairings in this article. Instead, I will focus more on the current games of top-12 players in U.S. Ryder Cup Points Standings and how that translates to Ryder Cup performance.

About the Ryder Cup Format

In the Ryder Cup, there is the Foursome format (alternate shot) and the Fourball format (best score). There are distinctly different metrics in the game that correlate to quality performers in each format.

In the Foursome format, short game around the green performance is usually critical. In a typical stroke play event such as The Players Championship, short game around the green performance usually has a much smaller impact on player’s performance. But in a match play, alternate-shot format the opposite has been true. My conclusion is that with the alternate-shot format, more greens in regulation are likely to be missed. The team that can save par and extend holes is usually likely to come out on top. The European team has mostly dominated the U.S. team over the past 20 years in the Foursome format, and the European teams typically are stronger with their short game around the green.

Other factors involved with Foursome play are Red Zone Performance (shots from 175-225 yards) and being able to pair the right players together based on how they each play off the tee and with their approach shots from the rough. For example, a pairing of Phil Mickelson (who misses a lot of fairways) and Zach Johnson (who is not very good from the rough) would likely be a poor pairing.

In the Fourball format (lowest score), the best performers are high birdie makers and players that perform well on the par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s. Bubba Watson makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, thus making him a good candidate for the Fourball format. The only issue with Bubba in the past is he has occasionally struggled on the par-3s. That can be resolved by pairing him with a player who makes a lot of birdies and is a strong performer on the par-3s. The reason for Jim Furyk’s struggles in the Fourball format is that he does not make a lot of birdies and is a merely average performer on the par-5s.

Note: All rankings below are based out of 209 golfers.

1. Patrick Reed

In the past, it has been difficult to get an accurate depiction of Reed’s game. He was notorious for either getting into contention or blowing up if he wasn’t in contention after the first round. He is now far better at avoiding those blowup rounds and remaining competitive regardless of how he well he performs at the beginning of the tournament. His iron play has been excellent, and since he is good on approach shots from the rough, short game around the green and he makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, he should continue to be a great competitor in the Ryder Cup format. Given his inability to find the fairway off the tee, however, I would recommend pairing him with a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

2. Justin Thomas

On paper, Thomas should be Team USA’s toughest competitor as he has little in the way of holes in his game. He drives it great, hits his irons well from every distance, has a superb short game and can putt. He also makes a ton of birdies, plays every type of hole well and rarely makes bogeys. Like Reed, it would be advisable to pair him with a player that is a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

3. Dustin Johnson

DJ is the second-strongest performer on paper. The only thing that currently separates Justin Thomas from DJ is their Red Zone play. DJ has typically been a world-class performer from the Red Zone, however, and the data suggests that his ranking from the Red Zone should rapidly improve. He struck it well from the Red Zone in his last two events at Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass. And with his putting performance this season, he could make for a great competitor in this year’s Ryder Cup.

4. Jordan Spieth

Spieth has the metrics to be a strong Ryder Cup performer, as he strikes the ball well with his driver and his irons while having a superb short game around the green. His only weakness in the Fourball format is his performance on the par-3s, but that is due to his inability to make putts from 15-25 feet (198th). That is the crux of the situation for Spieth; can he get his old putting form back?

A look at previous great putters on Tour that inexplicably struggled with their putter shows that Spieth is going about his putting woes the correct way. He’s not making equipment or wholesale changes to his putting stroke. He is continuing to work with what made him a great putter just like Jason Day did last year when he inexplicably struggled with the putter early in the season… and then turned it around and regained his old putting form.

The question is, how long will it take for Spieth to regain his old form? Typically, players like Spieth that have a dramatic drop-off in their putting take about a year to regain their old form. He may not regain that form by the time the Ryder Cup takes place. If he does, Team USA is very strong with its top-4 points earners.

5. Bubba Watson

Bubba is off to a strong enough year to make the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, but the best bet for him is to stick to the Fourball format given his struggles around the green. Watson’s performance on the par-5s has not exactly been remarkable, but typically he’s one of the very best in the world on par-5s and can make a ton of birdies.

6. Rickie Fowler

Fowler has not been as strong in some areas of the game such as Red Zone, shots from the rough and putting as he has been in recent years. That makes him a little less appealing in the alternate shot format, but he still has a solid foundation to be a quality contributor in either format. The upside is if Rickie gets back to his old form with the putter and from the Red Zone, he should be a top-notch Ryder Cup performer because he is well suited to perform in either team format. At this time, he would be best suited to play with an accurate driver and very good performer around the green (i.e. Matt Kuchar) in the alternate shot format.

7. Brooks Koepka

There currently is not enough data on Koepka due to his wrist injury he suffered early in the season. Koepka is arguably the best bomber in the world who is also a great putter and a solid performer from the Red Zone. The main issue for Koepka has been his short game performance around the green. That would typically make for a weak partner in the alternate shot format, but Koepka was spectacular in the 2016 Ryder Cup. His combination of length and putting may make him a formidable Ryder Cup performer for years to come.

8. Phil Mickelson

As a statistical analyst for golf, I never quite know what I’m going to get from Lefty. This season Lefty has putted superbly, but his performance around the green has left a lot to be desired.

In recent Ryder Cups, he has been a quality performer in both the Foursome and Fourball formats. His recent success in the alternate shot format makes him a mandatory candidate, however, his inability to find the fairway means he would need a partner who is very good from the rough. The data suggests that his performance around the green should get closer to his old form as the season goes along.

9. Webb Simpson

Like Mickelson, it’s always a surprise as to what the strengths and weaknesses of Simpson’s game will be by the end of the season. Typically, he’s been a decent driver of the ball that is often a superb iron player and short game performer. With the anchoring ban, he has struggled with the putter up to this season. Lately, he has been an incredible putter that is struggling a bit with the irons.

Most of Simpson’s struggles with the irons have been from the rough, so a partner who finds a lot of fairways off the tee could be an excellent pairing in the foursome format with Simpson.

10. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar could be a very critical player for Team USA down the stretch. There are potential players on the team that could be valuable in the alternate shot format if they can find a teammate to find fairways off the tee to make up for their struggles on approach shots from the rough. Historically, Kuchar has been the most accurate off the tee of the players mentioned thus far.

This season, however, Kuchar has been underwhelming in his ability to find the fairway. The next most-accurate drivers of the ball that are near the top-12 in Ryder Cup points are Brian Harman, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner and Andrew Landry, and none of them have nearly the experience in the Ryder Cup as Kuchar has. If Kuchar continues to miss fairways, his chances of making the team are not good unless he’s a Captain’s pick. If he cannot find the fairway, he has little-projected value as a member of the team. He is not making a lot of birdies, and his struggles on the par-3s and does not make him a favorable teammate in the Fourball format either.

11. Brian Harman

Harman’s value is that he has fairly decent Fourball metrics and his accuracy off the tee, putting, and iron play can work well with players like Fowler, Simpson, and Kuchar in the alternate shot format.

Harman has not performed that well from around the green using the Strokes Gained methodology, however; he ranks 15th on shots from 10-20 yards. I placed that metric in there as strokes gained takes into account all shots from less than 30 yards, but 10-20 yards is the most common distance range from which scrambling opportunities occur on Tour. Thus, Harman is an excellent performer from 10-20 yards and is only losing strokes around the green due to poor performance from 20-30 yards, and those shots occur less frequently on Tour. His struggles from 20-30 yards would also explain why his par-5 performance is roughly average, as that is the distance players typically finish from the hole when they go for par-5s in two and do not make the green.

And even though Harman is not very long off the tee (147th in Measured Driving Distance), he is a quality performer from the rough and thus he does not have to be tethered to another short-hitting, accurate driver in the alternate shot format.

12. Bryson DeChambeau

Dechambeau makes for a solid Ryder Cup candidate, as he has no outstanding weaknesses in his game this season as he appears to have rid himself of the putting woes that have hurt him in the past. I think he is better suited for the Fourball format, however, given how many birdies he makes. Pair him with a strong performer on the par-3s like Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson and it would make a very formidable duo in that format.

A pairing with Mickelson in the Fourball format would be intriguing given DeChambeau’s excellent driving. DeChambeau could hit first and — if he continues to drive it superbly — that would free up Mickelson to not worry so much about his woeful driving and focus more on making birdies. Perhaps a Fourball pairing with Bubba would make for a situation where DeChambeau could tee off first and pipe his drive, and then give Bubba a free rip to hit it as far as he possibly can and give them a sizeable advantage over their opponents.

31. Tiger Woods

I know I said I was only going to look at the top-12 players in Ryder Cup points, but the readers would inevitably ask about Tiger anyway. Furthermore, Tiger is an intriguing candidate for the team given his current game.

Tiger has struggled in both the Foursome and Fourball format. He seems to not play that great in alternate shot. In Fourball, it appears that he plays well by himself, but he is often let down by his teammates. The Europeans have always gunned for Tiger in the Ryder Cup, and it takes a special type of teammate to deal with the hysteria of having Tiger as their partner.

There are the makings of a very good alternate shot partner with Tiger, as his iron play and putting are still really good and his short game has been incredible this season. In the Fourball format, it would be advisable to find a strong par-5 performer, as Tiger’s performance on the par-5s has not been outstanding thus far. Having said that, I could see three excellent partners for Tiger in either format.

Patrick Reed has the numbers to be compatible with Tiger’s game, and he also has the track record of living up to the moment in the Ryder Cup. Dustin Johnson is can make up for Tiger’s possible big misses off the tee and can overpower a course with Tiger. And Phil Mickelson, whose game is compatible with Tiger’s, and could provide a symbol of the old guard working together to beat the Europeans.

There are certainly a lot of compelling possible pairings for Team USA, and there is still a long way to go before we start to see what pairings are available. The European Team looks like one of the strongest in years, and with all of the potential storylines for the 2018 Ryder Cup, it could be one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. 2putttom

    May 24, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    we need a rookie / 2nd yr. player on there.

  2. ogo

    May 24, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Aaaaah … the U.S. Tribal Ryder Cup Tribal Team ….. 😮

    • Tyler

      May 24, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      It couldn’t get any worse than Tom Watson’s picks. I lost a lot of respect for him over those.

  3. moses

    May 24, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Hopefully Tiger continues his good play to become a Captain’s pick.

    • ogo

      May 24, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      …. as long as he doesn’t kneel during the playing of the national anthem … 😛

  4. 3PuttPar

    May 24, 2018 at 10:20 am

    “In the Fourball format (lowest score), the best performers are high birdie makers and players that perform well on the par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s.”

    Sooo players that perform well on all holes? What other holes are left? LOL

  5. James Glenn

    May 24, 2018 at 10:05 am

    Rich, love the work — but doubt you need to include the metric of “performing well on par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s.” That covers every hole in golf, so essentially we want players who perform well on every hole? Otherwise, love it.

    • Rich Hunt

      May 24, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      I will give an example of what I mean by it.

      Typically, Bubba Watson dominates the par-4’s and par-5’s. On Tour, par-4 performance is the most important of the holes with regards to its correlation to success on Tour. The reason why is that the average Tour player plays 10-11 par-4’s per round. Despite dominating the par-4’s and par-5’s, Bubba tends to struggle on the par-3’s over his career. He will still be one of the very top players in the US, but having him in the Fourball format can create a glaring deficiency on the par-3’s if he’s not paired with a good par-3 performer.

      Other players may not quite dominate the par-4’s and par-5’s like Bubba does. But, if they are sound performers on the par-4’s, par-5’s and par-3’s and make quite a few birdies…then they may very well be better suited for the Fourball format over Bubba.

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Opinion & Analysis

A different perspective

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play a round with two of the greens keepers at a local golf course and it was a fascinating experience. It gave me a chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to make a golf course great.

Many of us play at public courses, and sometimes its luck of the draw if the course we are at is in good condition. In my case, if I find a course that is well maintained and taken care of, I make it a regular stop. In this case, I was at Ridgeview Ranch in Plano Texas and it is a great public course and I play here at least once a month.

The two guys I played with were Tony Arellano and Jose Marguez. Both were great guys to share a round with. Tony shared what it’s like to make sure that all the greens are maintained properly and watered correctly. He showed me where there were some issues with one of the greens that I would never have noticed. We talked about how the invasion of Poa annua grass forces his guys to pull it out by hand with a tool that is smaller than a divot repair tool. It became clear to me that as a golf community, we need to lift up the people that do this labor-intensive work and thank them for all they do. Ridgeview Ranch is without a doubt one of the better public courses in my area, and it is because of the hard work these men do that keeps it this way.

As we watched the Masters tournament a few weeks ago we were awestruck by the awesome beauty of Augusta National and in my case I believe that is what heaven looks like. I think we take that kind of beauty for granted and forget the massive amount of time and hard work that go into making a golf course look good. These people have to deal with all of the different factors that Mother Nature throws at them and be prepared for anything. In addition to that, they also have to make sure the watering system is maintained as well as all of their equipment.

I have played at other courses in the DFW area that have a terrible staff and a superintendent that either don’t care about the course or don’t know how to stop it from falling apart. The course won’t spend the money to go get the right people that will take pride in their work. Some of these places will charge you more than $80 per round, and when you get to the first green that has dry spots that are without any grass you feel like you have been ripped off.

We all love this game not because it’s easy but because it’s a challenge and being good at it takes a ton of effort. We also love it because it gives us a chance to hang out with friends and family and enjoy time outside in the sun– hopefully without cell phone interruptions and other distractions of our modern day. We spend a ton of money on green fees, equipment and sometimes travel. We want to get what we pay for and we want to have a great course to spend the day at.

I wanted to write this article to thank all of those men and women that start work in the early hours of the day and work through the hottest stretches of the summer to keep our golf courses in great shape. They are people that never get the credit they deserve and we should always thank them whenever possible. Tony and Jose are just two examples of the people who work so hard for all of us. Ridgeview Ranch is lucky to have these two men who not only work hard but were fantastic representatives of their course. So next time you are out there and you see these people working hard, maybe stop and say thank you let them know what they do really makes a difference.

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5 most common golf injuries (and how to deal with them)

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You might not think about golf as a physically intensive game, but that doesn’t change the fact it is still a sport. And as with every sport, there’s a possibility you’ll sustain an injury while playing golf. Here’s a list of the five most common injuries you might sustain when playing the game, along with tips on how to deal with them in the best way possible so you heal quickly.

Sunburn

While not directly an injury, it’s paramount to talk about sunburns when talking about golf. A typical golf game is played outside in the open field, and it lasts for around four hours. This makes it extremely likely you’ll get sunburnt, especially if your skin is susceptible to it.

That’s why you should be quite careful when you play golf

Apply sunscreen every hour – since you’re moving around quite a lot on a golf course, sunscreen won’t last as long as it normally does.

Wear a golf hat – aside from making you look like a professional, the hat will provide additional protection for your face.

If you’re extra sensitive to the sun, you should check the weather and plan games when the weather is overcast.

Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint. This group are the main muscles responsible for swing movements in your arms. It’s no surprise then that in golf, where the main activity consists of swinging your arms, there’s a real chance this muscle group might sustain an injury.

To avoid injuries to this group, it’s imperative you practice the correct form of swinging the club. Before playing, you should also consider some stretching.

If you get an injury, however, you can recover faster by following RICE:

Rest: resting is extremely important for recovery. After an injury, the muscles are extremely vulnerable to further injury, and that’s why you should immediately stop playing and try to get some rest.

Ice: applying ice to the injured area during the first day or two can help. It reduces inflammation and relaxes the muscles.

Compress: bandage the rotator cuff group muscle and compress the muscles. This speeds up the muscle healing process.

Elevate: elevate the muscles above your heart to help achieve better circulation of blood and minimize fluids from gathering.

Wrist Injuries

Wrist tendons can sustain injuries when playing golf. Especially if you enjoy playing with a heavy club, it can put some strain on the wrist and cause wrist tendonitis, which is characterized by inflammation and irritation.

You should start by putting your wrist in a splint or a cast – it is necessary to immobilize your wrist to facilitate healing.

Anti-inflammatory medicine can relieve some of the pain and swelling you’ll have to deal with during the healing process. While it might not help your wrist heal much quicker, it’ll increase your comfort.

A professional hand therapist knows about the complexities of the wrist and the hand and can help you heal quicker by inspecting and treating your hands.

Back Pain

A golf game is long, sometimes taking up to 6 hours. This long a period of standing upright, walking, swinging clubs, etc. can put stress on your back, especially in people who aren’t used to a lot of physical activities:

If you feel like you’re not up for it, you should take a break mid-game and then continue after a decent rest. A golf game doesn’t have any particular time constraints, so it should be simple to agree to a short break.

If you don’t, consider renting a golf cart, it makes movement much easier. If that’s not possible, you can always buy a pushcart, which you can easily store all the equipment in. Take a look at golf push cart reviews to know which of them best suits your needs.

Better posture – a good posture distributes physical strain throughout your body and not only on your back, which means a good posture will prevent back pain and help you deal with it better during a game.

Golfer’s Elbow

Medically known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow occurs due to strain on the tendons connecting the elbow and forearm. It can also occur if you overuse and over-exhaust the muscles in your forearm that allow you to grip and rotate your arm:

A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is the way to go to alleviate the most severe symptoms of the injury at the beginning.

Lift the club properly, and if you think there’s a mismatch between your wrist and the weight of the club, you should get a lighter one.

Learn when you’ve reached your limit. Don’t overexert yourself – when you know your elbow is starting to cause you problems, take a short break!

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TG2: Our PGA picks were spot on…and Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball

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Rob picked Brooks to win the PGA and hit the nail on the head, while Knudson’s DJ pick was pretty close. Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball and we talk about some new clubs that are going to be tested in the next couple days.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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