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The most overrated ball striker in the game

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It is quite common to see athletes live off a certain reputation that is far from reality. While I am as big of a fan of Derek Jeter as anybody, his reputation provided him with Golden Glove awards that he was not worthy of. Michael Jordan’s defense became a liability in the latter years of his career, and it seems like anytime Bill Belichick uses a new scheme, he is credited as the inventor of that scheme.

On the PGA Tour, misconceptions about the abilities of certain golfers may be more prevalent. It surprises me that there are often so many misconceptions in a sport like golf — a game that has far fewer moving parts than a team sport. But I think a lot of these misconceptions have to do with people struggling to accurately quantify different parts of the game. There is also such a large discrepancy between a PGA Tour player and an amateur golfer that amateurs tend to overestimate the abilities of touring pros when they see them play in person — they think pros are incredible at every facet of the game simply because they are better than anybody they have seen before.

One of the myths I labeled in 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis as the “Mayfair Effect.” It occurs when a player has such an unorthodox swing or putting stroke that it is assumed that the player must be a good ball striker or putter because they are on Tour with that unorthodox motion. I called it the “Mayfair Effect” because of Billy Mayfair’s strange putting stroke. Because of its uniqueness, many golf fans and reporters labeled him as a great putter. The reality is that Mayfair was a very good ball striker who was held back by his struggles with the flat stick.

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Perhaps the biggest myth on Tour today is the prowess of Sergio Garcia’s ball striking and his ineptness with the putter. No other player today quite gets the accolades of being the best ball striker of our generation like Garcia does.

Tiger gets praise for his ball striking, and the statistics show that Tiger is indeed an elite iron player. He just tends to struggle with his driver, and we acknowledge this. However, from what we hear about Garcia’s ball striking abilities, we would think he was the second coming of Ben Hogan. But the stats show this to be far from the truth.

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Sergio has been a very average driver of the ball for the past three years on Tour. As far as his Zone play goes, the Safe Zone (shots from 125 to 175 yards) is his best part of his game, but his performance from that distance is just above average. And the Zone that matters the most on Tour is the Danger Zone (shots from 175 to 225 yards), which outside of 2011 he has been downright mediocre.

This does the raise the question of “How is Sergio still successful on Tour?” Well, he is a much better putter and short-game player than he is given credit for.

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At one point in his career, Garcia was an elite ball striker on Tour and one of the Tour’s best putters. While those days appear to be behind him, he has become a much better putter and short-game player than most people realize, which has been a key for him in 2013.

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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

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. paul

    Jun 25, 2013 at 10:09 am

    for pure ball striking i think its hard to go past Adam Scott,he swings it awesome and doesn’t seem to miss fairways with the driver and gets it out there.also Bill Haas is underrated in my opinion hits it good but doesnt get the recognition he deserves.im from australia and will also say that i think geoff ogilvy is overrated he really struggles now

  2. Charles

    Jun 11, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Whatever the stats say, I’ll never forget being at Torrey South some years ago and watching Sergio make the green on his second shot on the 13th, from the right fairway bunker – with an iron of some kind. I watched with binoculars from behind the back bunker. A stupendous shot.

  3. Goldchips

    Jun 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Good point about people’s reps preceding them. I do, however, believe that Garcia is one of the best ball strikers on tour for this reason. Stats don’t incorporate pictures, they are just numbers. Seeing Sergio work the ball in any direction (high, low, left, right) and the crispness and sound in which he hits the ball, puts him on another level. Stats aside, the dude can hit the ball better than anyone on tour, excluding Woods probably.

  4. tim roncone

    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    great article. all players have thei ups and downs. i personally feel that srtgio is a good player but a hothead who cant control himself. to be honest the whole time he and tiger went at it you could see sergio trying to find that comment that would bring him on top in the battle. and if i remember correctly… what happened in that final round…. oh yea he completely came off the hinges and was no where near taking the top spot. and yes i hate to say it. but sergio is a racist. theres no excuse for making a comment of that caliber. he said it so stop trying to find a viable excuse for his actions as a fan.

  5. stephenf

    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    LOVE both the idea of this analysis and its execution here in this article. So, so many misconceptions based on selective perception, the way announcers talk about a player, etc. “He’ll be disappointed with that one,” they say about the guy who hit the wedge to 14 feet, except that it turns out that’s two or three feet inside the guy’s average. “He can shoot a 63 anytime he really needs to.” “He’s a great short putter” (and then when he misses, “Oh, gosh, now that’s not what you’d expect from him”). And so on.

    As for Sergio’s improvements in the short game, well…necessity really is the mother of invention.

    • Save Par From Afar

      Jun 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      So, so many misconceptions based on selective perception, the way announcers talk about a player, etc. “He’ll be disappointed with that one,” they say about the guy who hit the wedge to 14 feet, except that it turns out that’s two or three feet inside the guy’s average. “He can shoot a 63 anytime he really needs to.” “He’s a great short putter” (and then when he misses, “Oh, gosh, now that’s not what you’d expect from him”). And so on.

      – Actually no thats just Johnny Miller. He’s an absolute buffoon and everyone involved with golf is tired of his act. At the US Open every single bad shot made by even the greats including Ernie Els and Luke Donald he would relentlessly say “Hes feeling the pressure now, that’s ‘US Open nerves’ right there”. Ernie Els and Luke Donald? How about it’s 1 of the hardest courses and setups in the ENTIRE WORLD and not a single player finished the tournament under par. Smarten up johnny, your announcing career is on the 18th hole…. and you certainly won’t be finishing with an enviable score you buffoon.

  6. Ron

    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Ok stinks is abit harsh, it’s well written and it is informative, just think Sergio seems to be villain of the moment,

  7. Dane

    Jun 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t see this as a bash to Sergio, I thought it was very informative. Thanks Rich! Andy hit it on the head! I think most of us in the states would agree with that paragraph.

  8. viper

    Jun 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

    At least Sergio is not a cheater lol

  9. Ron

    Jun 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    This article stinks, why choose now to kick Sergio? There are dozens of overrated players, you might as well call this article Sergio is a racist and his ball striking is rubbish so there!

  10. DT

    Jun 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Great article. I’d like to see how Luke holds up in this. If anyone gets the hype crown, it’s him. I think it’s probably well deserved, but again, I haven’t seen the numbers.

    Care to compare him to Sergio?

  11. Scott

    Jun 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Strange article?! ….nobody in Europe considers Sergio to be a top ball striker ?Westwood, Hanson or Rory are far more impressive, but lets face it, only one number counts when it comes to stats… and that’s the one on the card?!

    • Andy

      Jun 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Well I’m from England and I definitely consider him a great ball striker.

      As a general rule we (over on this side of the pond) consider Sergio to be :-

      1) Incredibly volatile (probably making any data almost useless).
      2) A magician around the greens. Something that most of the Spanish golfer seem to share and a legend founded by Seve and Oly.
      3) A superb Iron player.
      4) In the Wilderness years he had a very bad rep with the putter.

      Lee has the reputation with the Driver.
      Luke has the incredible short game / putter halo.
      Rory has the whole game. But he’s also very young and just been given unlimited money and a hot girlfriend. He’s not surprisingly more than slightly distracted from golf, but finds that shooting a bad first 2 days means more time on the private jet / in Monaco with the cash and the hot girlfriend !

  12. Gary

    Jun 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    The past three years is a very poor representation of a career that to date spans about 13 years. Sergio has improved his putting over the past 3-4 years at a cost to his long game. I don’t know what the stats say, but my recollection certainly is that.

  13. Archshaw

    Jun 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Jordan’s defense a liability?…what are you smoking. He was great in his prime and just average defensively at the end..but never a liability.

  14. c

    Jun 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

    His ball striking has regressed for sure but he was at one time one of the best ball strikers on tour. When you hit more greens you also end up putting from further away which makes your putting stats look worse. In contrast when you miss more greens you can chip close which makes your putting stats look better.

    2004 he was 4th in GIR – 187 in strokes gained putting
    2005 he was 1st in GIR – 164 in strokes gained putting
    2006 he was 37th in GIR – 132 in strokes gained putting
    2008 he was 38th in GIR – 121 in strokes gained putting
    2012 he was 98th in GIR – 27 in strokes gained putting

  15. billy bob

    May 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Surely Harrington has to be considered more successful than Sergio????

  16. Nick

    May 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Sergio is a donkey. Nothing more…nothing less. Forever to be classified as unfulfilled hype.

    • stephenf

      Jun 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      He’s made millions of dollars and won tournaments as one of the approximately 125 best players on the planet at his game. What are you one of the best in the world at, donkey?

  17. Tommy P

    May 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    You are the man Rich, always enjoy your articles!

  18. John Wunder

    May 30, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Great write up Rich. Im a Sergio fan, have been for years but I have to agree with on this one. He’s not the same guy. Always enjoy your stuff man, keep it up.

  19. Mary

    May 30, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Seems to be fully of haters this site
    No body deserves to be forgived? pharisees

    Worst of all the journalists just to gain some money, what kind of headline is this??? with Sergio’s pic to use all the controversy…
    Pathetic

  20. WedgeGuru

    May 30, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I have often wondered about this very same claim about Sergio. Thanks for clearing that up with some good old fashioned data 🙂

  21. James

    May 30, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    tiger is the best player of all time end of discussion

    • Forsbrand

      Jun 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Didn’t realise tiger had won 19 majors? Because that’s what he needs to win before he can be judged best player of all time! Period

  22. Mike

    May 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Probably he is the best international player of the last 10 years, just Vijay or Adam Scott achieves the same high level for several years

    He is playing great this year, wish he’ll play great at the US Open and the PGA, the last round with him and Tiger matched could be memorable!

    • Will

      May 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Rory all more successful than Sergio and most American players for that matter!

      • DaddyDaddy

        May 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

        No they don’t, Lee Westwood (great person and golfer) is 7 years older and has less wins on the PGA Tour than Sergio and more or less the same worldwide.
        Luke Donald is 4 years older and has less wins on PGA Tour and worlwide than Sergio.
        Both were not in the top level for several years as Sergio did.

        To be fair Rory seems to be clarily better tan him.

        Come on people, we have to be honest, you don’t like him? ok, but it’s out of doubt that he is one of the best players of the world since he turned pro

      • Forsbrand

        May 31, 2013 at 6:28 pm

        Listen, there’s guys that are equipment reps that hit it great distances and strike it better than european and us tour players, and they all share the same problem…..they can’t score. It doesn’t matter how well you strike it, or how good your swing looks, it’s all about getting it in the hole and the job done. Furyk, azinger, two gloves, all guys with swings you wouldn’t copy, but fantastic results all the same. Wasn’t tom partner the guy in the 90s that everyone labelled the best swinger out there? How many tournaments did he win though?

    • Billy Cunningham

      Jun 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      I assume English is not your first language?

      “But the true is that comparing to Tiger every pro lose!”

  23. John

    May 30, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Sergio is an amazing player, no doubt about it

  24. JK

    May 30, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Sergio would be a much better striker if Tiger Woods ever stopped pulling clubs out of his bag!

    • Mike

      May 30, 2013 at 11:39 am

      LoL!
      But the true is that comparing to Tiger every pro lose!

      • Lee

        Jun 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        Not really. A lot better ball strikers out there than tiger. Player, no. Ball striker, yes.

  25. Philip Nielsen

    May 30, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Great information. I do hear it all the time about how Sergio is an amazing striker lol. Stats show otherwise.

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