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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour Players on the Rise and Decline heading into 2019

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically 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.

This past season there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.2 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be ‘on the rise.’

PLAYERS ON THE RISE

*The following rankings are based out of 193 players

Daniel Berger

Normally, The Players on the Rise is reserved for lesser known Tour players. Berger had a solid season, but it was considered a disappointment as he only had one top-10 finish (T6 at the U.S. Open).

But, Berger executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and overall his skill metrics are impressive. The main concerns is that his driving distance declined as it appears he’s hitting with a more downward attack angle than in the past and he ranked 191st on shots from the greenside bunker. But if those issues get resolved he’s on pace to get back into the winner’s circle, very soon.

Brandon Harkins

Harkins recorded three top-10’s last season, but showed a quality all-around game except for his Short Game around the green. However, that is a smaller priority. He is quite long off the tee and effective overall with the driver. He was also a very good Red Zone performer and showed the ability to putt well. He only missed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game due to his short game performance, but that is far lesser on the scale of importance when it comes to success on Tour.

Keith Mitchell

Mitchell missed The 5 Cornerstones due to his putting. However, there is a correlation on Tour between driving distance and the length of the average birdie putt. Meaning, the longer a Tour player hits the ball they will likely have a shorter average length birdie putt. Thus, the longer hitter can be less skillful with the flatstick and still make more putts because they are hitting putts from a closer distance which normally are easier to make. Therefore, the data is not overly worried about Mitchell’s putting woes. And in general, it’s common for bombers to struggle badly with their putting in their rookie season.

JT Poston

Poston only missed The 5 Cornerstones due to his play from 10-20 yards. But he showed that he was a quality driver and putter of the ball while being an elite Red Zone performer. Historically, players like Poston that drive it well and excel from the Red Zone while having quality ball speed tend to improve dramatically from the Yellow Zone in the following seasons. And that means making a lot more birdies while avoiding bogeys.

Cameron Champ

Champ is coming from the Web.com Tour, so he doesn’t have any stats yet to share. But there is no substitute for pure, unadulterated power on Tour. And Champ has it by the bushels full. His Club Speed at the Safeway Open was recorded at 129.6 mph and he was No. 1 in Driving Effectiveness for the event.

Historically, the bombers that arrive on Tour struggle from the Red Zone and with their short game and putting early on. If Champ can perform reasonably well in those areas he could have an immediate impact on the Tour this season.

PLAYERS ON THE DECLINE

Jason Dufner

Age (40) works against Dufner. He was a very good driver of the ball with respectable distance off the tee. It appears that he has made some alterations in his swing to produce an upward attack angle with the driver in order to gain more distance as he gets older. Players near Dufner’s age that have made similar attack angle changes have suffered from a similar consequence; their iron play declines dramatically.

This is also about the age when a Tour player’s putting starts to decline and that would leave a profile of a player that drives it well and is respectable around the green, but has struggles on approach shots and putting. That means fewer birdies on a Tour that is becoming more birdie-happy.

Si Woo Kim

The former Players Championship winner benefited from the schedule that comes along with winning at Sawgrass. He finished 153rd in Adjusted Scoring Average, but still finished the year 34th in FedEx Cup points.

Kim doesn’t do anything that well outside of his short game. His putting performances are often downright bizarre. Such as the lead he had at Harbour Town where he was on fire and then missed four short putts in a row to blow the lead. As much as being long and a good putter works well on Tour, short and yippy putting doesn’t work on Tour.

Kevin Kisner

Kisner was a popular candidate for a Ryder Cup Captain’s pick, but the numbers suggested otherwise. He wasn’t the accurate driver that they were looking for. And his iron play was horrendous and his short game around the green was not much better. He did rank 13th in Putts Gained, but some of that came from the benefit of putting well outside 15-feet and over time that will regress towards the mean. Thus his strength will not likely be as strong as it was this season.

Matt Kuchar

Kuchar’s age (40) is starting to show up in his lack of distance off the tee and his regression in Red Zone play. He still puts up quality numbers, but he’s more likely to see a regression in his putting.

These are still numbers that can have successful seasons on Tour and maybe get a victory, but as far as competing in the bigger events (except for Sawgrass) it appears that Kuchar’s days may be over.

Brendan Steele

Steele benefited from a schedule where there was a lot of FedEx points given out due to him winning the Safeway Open in 2016 and 2017. And the good news is that he’s still an excellent driver of the ball that hits it a long ways with very good accuracy. However, his iron play and putting were a real struggle for him last year and there’s no signs of his putting improving anytime soon. Despite ‘owning’ Silverado Country Club, he finished T53 and it’s just another indication of a decline in his play.

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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. Mr. Freeze

    Oct 10, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Who were the 10 that hit all 5 Cornerstones?

  2. Mr. 1488

    Oct 10, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Speaking of age, its about time you change that picture Richie. Its from 20 plus years ago. You’re now a middle aged man, not a 17 year old kid.

  3. Zander Cage

    Oct 9, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Good stuff Rich! I always enjoy reading this column.

    Who were some of the guys who just missed the 5 cornerstones to look out for?

  4. Point Misser

    Oct 9, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Player on the rise: Tiger Woods

  5. Reznor

    Oct 9, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Am I understanding that you aren’t using any kind of comparison base? So even though Berger had a horrible year compared to his 3 previous seasons, and battled an injury, his stock is on the rise based on a single year’s snapshot of static metrics? I would agree that it is unlikely for someone so young and talented to have 2 consecutive years of such poor performance, but I can’t wrap my head around how after his worst year on tour, and using no more than the stats from that worst year, you can postulate that his stock is on the rise.

    • DarthBlader

      Oct 9, 2018 at 5:28 pm

      Its all relative. Doesn’t mean he is going to win the Masters.

      • Matt

        Oct 10, 2018 at 9:53 am

        This you’re missing his rather simple point. He had a poor year compared to his previous performances… so why is that “on the rise?”

        • truth

          Oct 10, 2018 at 8:12 pm

          You realize there is more likelihood to be on the rise from the bottom right?

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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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Opinion & Analysis

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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Podcasts

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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