According to Official World Golf Ranking Twitter guru Nosferatu, the year-end top-10 has been finalized, with five new faces joining the list compared to the end of 2017.
Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari will all end the year sitting inside the top-10 in the world, and Justin Rose will have one last opportunity to end 2018 as the world number one when he tees it up at the Indonesian Masters.
These will be the Top 10 players in the world at the end of 2018:
— Nosferatu (@VC606) December 2, 2018
But what about the five players to drop out of the year-end top-10 rankings? Well, here we take a look at the players to make way, and just what department of their game was responsible for their fall down the rankings.
Spieth began 2018 as the world number two, but after a barren year where he failed to find his best form, the 25-year-old now sits 16th in the world golf rankings. While, the common conception is that the result of this was entirely to do with his putter turning cold in 2018, and that was a significant factor, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Spieth dropped from 37th to T123 in strokes gained putting over the past year, which proves that his play with the flat-stick has been a significant issue in 2018. However, since the beginning of June, in the eight events that record strokes gained statistics, Spieth gained strokes with the putter in seven of them. The American wasn’t just doing the bare minimum on the greens either, gaining an average of over two strokes per event with the flat-stick in the second half of the season.
So, in the final stages of the 2018 where did Spieth’s issues lie? Off the tee. Over that same period, Spieth dropped strokes to the field in six of those eight tournaments off the tee. The three-time major champion dropped on average 1.25 strokes to the field off the tee per event in this period, showing that while Spieth may have solved his issues on the greens, there is another department of his game now causing him a headache.
Stenson’s drop in form on the greens has been more dramatic than Spieth’s. The Swede ended last year ranked ninth in the world golf rankings, but a dreadful year with the flat-stick has seen him drop to 26th in the world.
Stenson finished 157th in strokes gained putting in 2018, and over his final five events of the 2017/18 PGA Tour season, the Swede lost an average of 3.5 strokes to the field per event with the flat-stick.
A closer inspection shows that the big Swede’s issues on the greens come from the 5-10′ range. During the 2017/18 season, Stenson sat 192nd in total one-putts from 5-10 feet. Only one man, Andrew Yun, performed worse than Stenson from this range.
It’s been an odd period for Garcia on the PGA Tour. The Spaniard ended 2017 ranked 10th in the world, a year where he won the Masters and only claimed one other top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. Well, this year Garcia didn’t win the Masters, and only managed two top-10 finishes on Tour.
Known for being a brilliant ball-striker, the only noticeable difference between Garcia’s play in 2018 compared with that of 2017 appears to be off the tee. The Spaniard gained an average of 0.8 strokes off the tee per event in 2017, but this year that number dropped to 0.16. As he continues to struggle on the greens, small margins like this can make all the difference.
However, Garcia ended his season in style on the European Tour. The Spaniard recorded five straight top-10 finishes on the European Tour to close out his year, one of which was a victory at the Andalucia Masters. The current world number 23 may not have enjoyed the best of years, but the signs look good for 2019.
Injuries stifled Matsuyama in 2018. The Japanese star suffered from a niggling left wrist injury all season, and that has been the primary cause of his fall from fifth in the world at the end of 2017, to his current ranking of 25.
The 25-year-old gained an average of 0.48 strokes off the tee for 2017, while this year that number dropped to 0.15, and its the only area of Matsuyama’s game that appears to have shown a drop-off. Although, when you factor in his injury issues, in all likelihood Matsuyama only needs a clean run of health to re-join the game’s elite.
Fowler’s drop down the rankings has been less pronounced than anyone else on this list. Fowler is due to end the year ranked 11th in the world, in a year that can only be seen as a disappointment regarding lack of victories.
Digging into the numbers, the slight fall down the rankings is due to his putting not being quite as sharp in 2018. The previous year, Fowler ranked first in strokes gained putting, while he ended the 17/18 season sitting 43rd in the standings. He’s hardly had a poor year on the greens, and the only difference between seasons seems to be that he just hasn’t holed his fair share from range in 2018.
Fowler was number one for putts made outside of 10 percent on the Tour in 2017, making almost 20 percent of his looks from that range. In 2018, the Californian only made 16.5 percent of his putts from outside the 10-foot range.
Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020
As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.
Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.
Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.
Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.
Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.
PXG leaned in
Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.
The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.
Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.
In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.
Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.
The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.
Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled
Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.
There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.
Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.
Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.
Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”
Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.
It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.
What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.
Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.
It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.
The Titleist train chugged on
I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.
So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.
It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.
Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to
Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.
The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.
As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.
Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball
Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.
However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.
On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions
In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.
After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.
Is 2020 golf’s big chance?
At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.
Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.
It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).
If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.
The news sports landscape
Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.
People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.
The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry
- Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
- As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.
When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.
Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.
As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.
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