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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, 2017 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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