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.
Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.
What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.
Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.
After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:
“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”
In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.
“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.
“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”
Here’s what the leaders have to look forward to as they close “The Bear Trap”. The 17th plays to a mere 156 yards today, but any play at the pin depth or line necessarily brings the penalty area into play. Commit to a line, hit the shot, and accept the result. pic.twitter.com/g0a2qqCv3E
— Squares2Circles (@Squares2Circles) March 3, 2019
His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.
At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.
“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”
Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.
“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”
“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”
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