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Opinion & Analysis

Is Tiger-like domination a thing of the past?

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There has been some talk lately of the passing of the torch from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy, and it’s hard to ignore some of the parallels.

Rory McIlroy has put together dominating major performances in consecutive years — he won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship by eight shots each — and took over the No. 1 spot in the world. Not to mention McIlroy deciding to leave Titleist, the brand of clubs he’d played in his formative pro years, for a lucrative contract at Nike, an identical move to the one Woods made in his prime. Adding to that is the fact that the two golfers filmed a very cheeky commercial together recently that was reminiscent of the famous Larry Bird-Michael Jordan McDonald’s commercial that aired originally in 1993. The message is pretty simple: Tiger was the man, and is still somewhat the man, but Rory is the future.

But is that really the case? There are many reasons to believe Tiger is the last golf samurai, at least for the foreseeable future. How do I know? It’s not because I’ve scouted everyone who is going to play golf in the foreseeable future. No, it’s more just a process of how things unfold, be it sports or even economic markets. They expand to the point of saturation and then stagnate. Maybe too many people have mastered the craft making differentiating oneself a very difficult task. Or maybe things like social media, and the rapidly rising salaries have quelled competitive spirit and the actual need to play well to earn a living.

The lessons from other sports

Golf is not necessarily too much like other sports, as most other popular sports feature teams. So for the sake of this discussion, we will have to examine individual golfers as their own teams. Obviously there is a difference between an individual’s ability to dominate compared to a team’s, but not necessarily in the arguments I intend to make, so stay with me.

I could start with America’s favorite sport, football, or my personal favorite sport (yes, even above golf), basketball. But really there is no need, most sports develop the same. Think about the great dynasties over the years in your favorite sport: Maybe it’s the New York Yankees of early Major League Baseball. Maybe it’s the Boston Celtics of the 1960s, or the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s. Or maybe it’s Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL. Notice anything about these? They didn’t exactly happen recently.

The last truly dominant team in major sports was the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, closing in on 15 years ago and featuring quite possibly the most dominant athlete in modern team sports history (Michael Jordan, not Toni Kukoc). And even their streak of six titles in eight years was not close to the 11 of 13 that the Celtics of the 60s hung on people. What about the Yankees of the late 1990s? Impressive sure (four titles in five years) but not quite the same as their six of eight in the late 1930s. Or their six of seven they did only a decade later in the late 40s and early 50s. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four of six in the 70s — no NFL team has done it since. The Canadians and New York Islanders traded four-peats in late 1970s, with the Edmonton Oilers throwing out a five of seven after that. No team has as much as three-peated since then, in fact no team has even made three consecutive finals appearances since then. I think you see where this is going. Some sports may develop quicker then others, but the bottom line is every major sport has become harder to truly dominate over the years.

Think about it like Malcolm Gladwell would for a second. Is this a coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe it’s that sports has become more capitalized over the years, that exponentially growing salaries convinced millions of young athletes that playing a particular sport is better then working in an office. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s and Montreal Canadians of the 1970s didn’t travel in swanky private jets or stay in the nicest hotels. The average NBA salary in 1970 was $35,000, roughly five times the national average. A good salary, sure, but not out of line compared to managers or low-level executives, and certainly less than CEOs or high-level executives. Today, NBA players make 150 times the the national average. Think more kids aren’t working on their jump shot now?

The Steelers of the 1970s played before today’s television contracts, revenue sharing and the debut of the unrestricted free agent craze arguably made famous by Reggie White signing with the Packers in 1993. Salaries were once even worse in the NFL — in 1970 the average player got his brain beat in for $23,000 a year, and the average salary didn’t climb over six figures until the mid 1980s.

The trends in hockey are really no different, roughly 68 times the national average today versus eight to nine times the average in 1980, the time that the Islanders and Canadians were ripping through the league. Baseball? I could research the salaries in the 30s and 40s, or I could just tell you back then they didn’t allow African-Americans to play the sport professionally. So draw your own capitalization conclusions on that one.

What does this have to do with golf? Do you know what the average purse was in 1996 (the year before Tiger’s Masters win)? I will give you a hint. The winner of an event in 2013 will make almost as much as the total purse was in 1996. Google it if you don’t believe me. The Mercedes Championship? One million dollars. The Bob Hope was $1.3 million. Purses are five to six times higher in 2013. And this isn’t just inflation here, 1996 isn’t as long ago as you think.

Basketball fans might remember Glenn Robinson signing a $68 million contract in the NBA in 1994. There was a lot of money going around back then, just not in golf. Would Gary Woodland have played golf in 1996? Would Dustin Johnson? Would Rickie Fowler? Tiger made golf supremely profitable on the course (not to mention the value he brought as an endorser, which spread through the ranks) and this was also his demise. He brought more competitors and more real athletes to the game. Other golfers have flat out admitted this, and it takes only about five minutes on Google to find a pretty substantial list of golfers who fess up to it. Tiger monetized golf, but he made himself less unique. In Tiger’s first year on Tour, he was 10 yards longer than his closest real competitor on the course (Davis Love). In 2012, 50 players drove it farther then he did then, and everyone in the top 10 with the exception of John Daly and J.B. Holmes was a recent Tour winner. Nobody is overpowering the field anymore.

Steve Jones made news in 1996 when he won the U.S. Open despite coming into the event ranked 100th in the world. In 2013, Scott Stallings, Jonathan Byrd, Mark Wilson, Alvaro Quiros, Brian Gay, Retief Goosen, Y.E. Yang, Paul Casey, J.B. Holmes, etc., multiple winners all of them, are all ranked lower. Golf is freakin’ loaded people.

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Money changes people

The big-contract curse is a well-known issue in team sports, pro leagues have held contentious debates during union negotiations over the rookie scale. The Glenn Robinson contract I discussed earlier was not brought up by accident. I refer to it now because it was long seen as the defining pro basketball contract, symbolic of an age of spoiled athletes who got paid too early and lost their desire to compete.

This wasn’t just relegated to basketball, as football recently changed their rookie salary scale as well. Could it have been in part because of Jamarcus Russell’s lackluster performance as a quarterback after raking the Oakland Raiders over the coals for a $61 million deal, of which half was guaranteed, even before he threw his first of many errant passes? My guess is probably. Golf will now face these same challenges. As Tiger Woods maintains his position as one of the highest paid endorsers in all of sports, with Phil Mickelson nipping at his heels, companies will continue looking more and more toward golfers to be their spokesman. Especially now with PED scandals seemingly affecting athletes all over the map. Who is safer to stand behind then a pro golfer who gets a lot of television exposure and looks as trustworthy as your next-door neighbor?

Does money change a player’s motivation? Jack Nicklaus did a controversial interview published by the Associated Press in 2008 where he questioned these very things, and which has since been the subject of much discussion. Nicklaus was quoted, among other things, “If they don’t win, they still walk home with a big check,” and also, “When I started on Tour, maybe one or two guys might have made enough money to make a living. …Then it got to five or 10. Now there’s a couple hundred guys who make a living playing golf. We had to really play well and scratch it out to be in a position to get endorsements. But we worked to try to build the Tour so they didn’t have to do that.” And how does that affect performance? “The kids today play perfect conditions every week. If they don’t like what’s going on, they’re finishing 10th or 15th and still make a check. I don’t think it makes them as tough.”

You don’t need to be a huge fan of Nicklaus to see that there is some merit to what he said. Today’s golfers can hang around the top 50 and become millionaires. They can have their houses on “Cribs” and their cars on “Rides.” Golf websites like golf.com can post features like “Pro golfers and their cars,” which shows off the expensive customized cars of Tour players like Anthony Kim, Stuart Appleby and others who have failed to win a major. Today, you don’t need a major to earn a substantial living, so winning multiple majors now more then ever probably requires a Tiger-like obsession with domination. How many people really have that?

Is the need for domination something that we will see again anyway? Does Bubba Watson really care if he loses to golf boys brother Rickie Fowler or Hunter Mahan, or is he happy to take home a $500,000 check and watch his friend win $1 million? With so much money going around, there’s probably not as much motivation to really beat the other guy, when players can team up for marketing campaigns and have it be a more profitable venture.

Ryder Cup - Preview Day 2

Global game and increased reach

Much has been made of the current level of interest in golf in the U.S. Is golf gaining or losing players? Are more players playing golf now then before? These are valid questions sure. But it’s somewhat missing the larger point. Golf is a more global game then it was 20 to 25 years ago. There are golfers popping up from every region of the globe, Denmark, Austria, Zimbabwe, you name it. American golfers aren’t just competing with a limited number of rest-of-world golfers for rankings and prize money. They are now the minority when it comes to the top 100. In 1986 (the first year of the modern golf rankings) all the way through 2000, more then half of the world’s top 100 came from the U.S. Starting in 2001, that number has dwindled progressively to where we are now: A record-low 31 American players in the top 100 to close out 2012. Europe has increased its representation from 17 to 40 over this span, a remarkable 23 percent increase in share. International players have also grown moderately, from numbers in the mid 20s, all the way to high 30s and now settling in around 30 total out of the top 100. More representation from various countries means more competition. Would Rory Mcilroy, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Louie Oousthuizen, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia or Charl Schwartzel have played golf in 1986? Or would they have played something else, like soccer?

Even at home in the U.S., overall numbers of golfers have stayed flat or gone down in the last 10 years, a fact that often gets pointed out. But it fails to acknowledge that golf experienced somewhat of a second boom after Tiger Woods’ first Masters win. At that time, total numbers of golfers jumped from 25 million to just more than 30 million in five years, truly an impressive increase in such a short time-span. So while that number has now slowly come down over the past decade, it is still higher than it had ever been prior. Looking at costs of playing golf, studies commissioned by Golf Digest in 2008 showed that 30 percent of golf courses had initiation fees of $7,500 or less. An article published by USA Today during the recession in 2010 expanded further on how private courses are now more willing then ever to make deals, freeze initiations, give trial periods, etc. I can speak from experience that in my home town of Montreal, there are fewer clubs forcing initiations on members then any time in recent memory. Did I take advantage of this? Why yes. The private club to which I belong now waived my initiation fee in exchange for a three-year commitment, and this was on top of the club lowering its yearly green fees to all members. This would not have happened 10 to 15 years ago. Golf is suddenly a bit more accessible then it has been at arguably any time since the first golf course construction boom happened in the 1960s.

The verdict?

With more people capable of playing golf then ever before, both domestically and globally; with the king’s ransoms being provided to anyone playing regularly on the Tour; with club technology essentially frozen and real athletes playing the game already, does the likelihood of another player coming along and dominating the sport like Tiger Woods seem a little far-fetched? I think it does. Don’t worry about it though, Rory will still be fine, word is he just signed a pretty lucrative Nike deal. At least that’s what I gathered from his new commercial where he is chumming around with new buddy Tiger Woods, a man whose friendship he has earned, but whose level of success will likely elude him.

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Jeff Singer was born and still resides in Montreal, Canada. Though it is a passion for him today, he wasn't a golfer until fairly recently in life. In his younger years Jeff played collegiate basketball and football and grew up hoping to play the latter professionally. Upon joining the workforce, Jeff picked up golf and currently plays at a private course in the Montreal area while working in marketing. He has been a member of GolfWRX since 2008

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Will

    Feb 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Chummy? They didn’t even tape the commercial together.

  2. Svensson

    Feb 19, 2013 at 4:28 am

    This is an interesting discussion but, you know, Rory only has to repeat his above mentioned major performances a couple more times for him to be considered dominating.

    My main takeaway from this though is that while having one dominating player who wins every other weekend can be fun to watch for a while, it gets repetitive and boring quite fast. At least compared to having a field of 100+ players that could get their game on just right for a couple of days and win. Golf should, by all means, be a lot more interesting to watch today than 10-15 years ago.

    So why isn’t it?

  3. DaphneWB

    Feb 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Tiger definitely changed the vector of professional golf in many ways, and this is a great article presenting facts behind his impact, another point: Tiger’s mental game is vital in this sport more than others, and his current form validates it’s importance (hard to win with his recent history/demons in his head)

    • Never Forget

      Feb 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      I have read this article entirely, and hoped that the last four words, “will likely elude him”, referring to McIlroy would have appeared at the beginning of the article, rather than at the end.

      The author does not describe the absolute 365/24/7 hate from the media, golf media in particular which is thrown at Tiger Woods. You mention demons in his head. That is EXACTLY what the media wants, and has done, and will continue to do until TW is GONE. Why else would they encourage their on air announcers/so-called analysts such as Nick Fako Falso Faldo to offer their opinion on what is in Tiger’s head. Is Faldo Karnak? Chrissie Evert left him within 18 months of marriage (his 4th) due to HIS not being able to keep it in his pants. Tom Watson called Tiger out 3.5 years ago on television, yet he absolutely refused to speak to the media when it was his turn, citing “private matters, I will not speak about them”. Onto this century and year, and the golf media will do everything they can to bash Tiger by bringing up fake rumored stories, or creating their own.

      He is always under the microscope and books and stories appear always before a pre-tourney press conference, in order to get into his head and discourage a peaceful mind to concentrate ONLY on practice and golf ahead. This is NOT a gentleman’s game, the way the media is acting. He did less damage to his family than T.Watson and Faldo. Google them plus the word “divorce”, and you will see how biased and hateful they continue to be towards Tiger.

      They try and rip his stats and wins down all the time, by neglecting to mention his wins, only that he left early, and didn’t place the last 4 years….Yes, I am upset, as this clearly shows. I wish Tiger didn’t have kids and could just play the Euro Tour. Boy would Finchem, etc. then realize what bon.ers they have been towards Tiger.

      PS others: Spelling 101: Difference between dominant and DOMINATE.

      • Never Forget

        Feb 25, 2013 at 8:49 pm

        *Evert left Greg, while Faldo chased 20 yr old college student for a year he pursued from the gallery, and married, had another kid, and then left her w/in 3 yrs for current 4th wife. Watson “dated” another pro’s wife while playing with the unknowing hubby. How’s that for degenerate? Finally married her and his own adult kids wouldn’t speak to him for years…of course, he imbibed excessively for years, as well. Tiger hurt himself and his immediate family. He is black, rich, very good looking, and a physically better specimen than any golf media person can stand. Too bad. He will conquer you all.

  4. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    It’s very difficult to predict the future and say there will be another dominate player. World golf is very competitive at present and I don’t see anyone dominating for a few years yet.

    Rory is very good no question but dominating like Tiger did is still a long way off.

    I just want to sit back and enjoy the great golf these golfers are producing.

  5. Chris

    Feb 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    All you need to see is your first picture of that dufus Ian Poulter to know that there is way too much money for being average….

  6. Josh

    Feb 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I have to disagree with this and I also have to say you missed the biggest direct comparison. Golf is almost exactly like tennis is global scale and international participation. Everyone thought Pete Sampras was going to be the best ever for a long time, and literary right as his career ended Roger Fedderer shows up and smashes all his records. There is always the potential for a new more dominant player to show up and he will come. It just maybe 5 to 20 years from now.

    • jeff singer

      Feb 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      Tennis is an interesting comparison. I stayed away from it mostly because i think a sport that’s 1 on 1 will always be more susceptible to individual dominance, as a marginal/moderate skill advantage means a lot more then in team sports, or when playing against a field. Golf is a pretty unique sport in that you can’t defend your opponents. I relate it a bit more to team sports where chance/breaks can play a factor, so becoming a dynasty requires an immense skill advantage. Well, at least in my opinion anyway

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The 19th Hole: Host Michael Williams plays Shinnecock Hills and reports back

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Host Michael Williams reports on his visit to Media Day at Shinnecock Hills, the site the 2018 U.S. Open, where he played the course. How are the current conditions? He weighs in on the Unlimited Mulligan Challenge made by Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports that day, as well. Also, famed Architect David Kidd talks about how he created Bandon Dunes at the age of 25, and Steve Skinner of KemperLesnik gives his views on the health of the golf business.

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Marine and GolfWRX forum member “djfalcone” explains the story of how he got to caddie for Rory McIlroy and Johnny Vegas through the Birdies for the Brave program, and how knowledgable Rory is about his equipment. Make sure to check out his full forum thread here.

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Opinion & Analysis

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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