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Opinion & Analysis

10 PGA Tour players who will rise (or fall) in 2014

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With the 2014 PGA Tour season starting, I wanted to give the readers a look at a few players on Tour that I feel will be on the rise and falling for the season. The data below is the player’s 2013 metrics.

Players on the Rise

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NICOLAS COLSAERTS

Table 01

Colsaerts was the hot prospect headed for the Tour in 2013 coming off splendid play at the 2012 Ryder Cup. He generates a ton of club head speed and is one of the longer hitters on Tour. He was also eighth in approach shots from the rough and fourth in approach shots from the fairway. Thus, he’s an excellent iron player if he keeps the ball in play. He actually drove the ball quite well for most of the season, but he regressed toward the end of the year.

The reason why I like Colsaerts is that he hits it so long and hits it so well with his irons that the only part of the game that held him back was on and around the greens. And where he excelled with his irons was in the ever-important Danger Zone. He also was first in shots from 225-to-250 yards.

Colsaerts was saddled with the strongest strength of schedule on Tour last year, while only ranking 100th in Purse Size per Event. I believe that he can get used to the greens along with working on his putting in the offseason that he will have much more success in 2014. As I have mentioned in Pro Golf Synopsis, the biggest statistical advantage that distance provides is it allows the golfer to putt overcome poor putting. This is due to the par-5’s on Tour playing more like par-4’s for long hitters such as Colsaerts. Therefore, he can still be a mediocre putter on Tour and have a big year. He just needs to stop putting like one of the worst putters on Tour.

CHARLES HOWELL III

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Table 02

Howell has been one of the most overrated ballstrikers in recent years and subsequently one of the most underrated in terms of short game and putting. What has happened is that he has steepened his angle of attack with the driver over time. I have written about this in Pro Golf Synopsis, where the most common trait of a golfer who “loses their driving” on Tour is the one who starts to struggle with his accuracy off the tee and to counter that he tries to fly the ball lower by hitting more and more downward on the ball. This may provide some initial relief for the golfer, but eventually he not only starts losing distance off the tee, but he becomes more inaccurate and imprecise off the tee as well.

Here is a look at Howell’s radar metrics during the past three years:

Table 1

Frustrated, Howell started to work with Grant Waite for much of the second half of 2013 in order to improve shallow out his attack angle. Here is a look of his radar metrics in the fall 2013-2014 season:

Table 2

This created a noticeable improvement in his ballstriking in the 2013-2014 fall season. Here is a look at his rankings in the key ballstriking metrics in those tournaments he played in:

Table 05

Granted, his rankings in these events is out of roughly 120 players versus his cumulative rankings in 2013 being out of 190 players. But, he is currently in the top-10th percentile in driving and entirely better from each of the zones. With his club head speed, putting and short game he can take this much improved ballstriking and set target for having a spectacular 2014.

MATT JONES

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Table 06

Jones’ metrics may not impress many golfers. Last year I wrote about how PGA Tour players only need to be average or better in four areas of the game.

  • Driving Effectiveness
  • Danger Zone (175 to 225 yards) Play
  • Putts Gained
  • Short Game Shots from 10 to 20 yards

There is a very strong correlation between Tour players that finish in the top-half in these categories and their success on Tour. Not only do golfers that achieve “The Power of Being Average” usually keep their cards, but they tend to have wildly successful seasons. Jones finished a very respectable 49th on the money list. But even more impressive was his ranking of 29th in Adjusted Scoring Average. His Purse Size per Event is likely to improve and if he has the talent to achieve each of the “Big Four” areas of the game, he has a good chance to carrying it over to 2014 and having a terrific season.

JOHN SENDEN

John-Senden

Table 07

While Senden’s metrics were not impressive, 2013 was a down year for him. Senden is well known for his ballstriking and is usually one of the premier ballstrikers on Tour from off the tee and on shots longer than 175 yards.

Since Senden did not lose any club head speed, I believe that he will regain his ballstriking in 2014. Furthermore, he was hampered by his inability to make putts from longer than 15 feet. He ranked 153rd in make percentage from long distance and historically that metric means he should progress toward the mean.

JOSH TEATER

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Table 08

Teater just missed finishing in the top half of “The Big Four” (Driving Effectiveness, Danger Zone, Short Game Shots and Putts Gained) as he ranked 96th in Putts Gained.

If there are worries about his game, he tends to miss a high percentage of the time to the right (60.5 percent) and that his ranking in Adjusted Scoring Average (82nd) should have been much better given his key performance metrics. This indicates that Teater may have some issues with his strategy.

In the end, it is difficult to take away from a player that almost executed “The Big Four” and did it against top-tier competition. Furthermore, parts of his issues with the putter were from long distance as he ranked 138th in make percentage from beyond 15 feet. This should progress toward the mean in 2014.

PLAYERS ON THE DECLINE

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JOHN MERRICK

Table 09

Typically, Merrick has been a very good driver of the ball and has had some issues with his iron play. In the past two seasons, he has made strides to improve his iron play, but his driving has regressed. Last year he started off the season as one of the premier Danger Zone players on Tour, while driving the ball very effectively and putting well to win his first-ever PGA Tour event, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Since then, Merrick has only made an average of $35,566 per event played, which would have ranked 105th on Tour. Merrick benefited from playing a fairly soft schedule that had a fairly high purse size per event. Those two rankings should be more similar in 2014, which means that his strength of schedule should become tougher while his average Purse Size per Event should drop slightly and that would make it more difficult for him to have success.

DEREK ERNST

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Table 10

Ernst benefited from his surprise victory at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow after making it through the Monday qualifier. He was a good driver of the ball in 2013, but did not do much well beside that. He performed poorly in each of the zones and was the second worst on Tour on short game shots from 10-to-20 yards. He was also a mediocre putter.

That does not make for good prospects in 2014, and he finished out the 2013 missing nine of his past 13 cuts with a best finish of T-44th. One of the big things Ernst has going for him is his world-class club head speed. If he can use that speed to his advantage and start bombing shots off the tee, all he needs is one good week of golf and he can get into contention for another victory. But since he does not hit it as far as his club head speed indicates, I have my doubts that will happen.

HUNTER MAHAN

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Table 11

Mahan’s game has always been his impeccable driving of the ball. He generates about average club head speed and is above average in distance off the tee. But, he has an uncanny ability to hit a ton of fairways (66.6 percent) given his distance off the tee. The problem for Mahan has been his Danger Zone play and his Short Game from 10-to-20 yards. Mahan is an underrated putter, but was also saved by ranking 39th in Putts Made Percentage from 15 to 25 feet. That should regress toward the mean in 2014 and that means that his performance should dip as well if he everything remains the same. I still see him as ranking in the top 100 on the Money List, if not the top 50. But, I feel he will have a down year when I look at the data.

CHRIS STROUD

Chris Stroud

Table 12

Stroud had that incredible chip-in on the 72nd hole of the Travelers to force a playoff, and had a fine year overall as he finished 55th on the PGA Tour money list.

We can see some of the reasons why I do not favor his prospects in 2014. He drove it poorly (164th) and he is a short hitter off the tee. He also performed poorly from the Danger Zone. Where he made it up was from the Safe Zone and with his putting and short-game play. So he did a good job of getting the ball up near the green in regulation and could often putt and chip his way to par and birdie.

Most of his driving issues were consistency related. He hit a decent amount of fairways (62.4 percent), but ranked 137th in Fairway Bunker Percentage and 147th in Missed Fairway — Other Percentage (shots that find the water, trees, O.B, result in rescue shots, etc). Short and crooked is a hard way to make it on Tour.

Stroud also ranked 50th in make percentage on putts from longer than 15 feet. That should regress toward the mean and will cost him strokes in 2014.

JONAS BLIXT

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Table 13

If you look at Blixt’s 2013 season, we see a golfer that only played well in four tournaments. He had a T-26th finish at the British Open, a T-11th finish at Colonial, a fourth-place finish at Oak Hill and a victory at The Greenbrier. Outside of those tournaments, he usually missed the cut or finished poorly.

Blixt did this through good, but streaky putting and a good short game. The chart below shows Blixt’s streaky putting throughout the year:

Table 14

Anything below -0.5 is quite poor and above +0.5 is quite good. Blixt ran through some extreme highs and lows throughout the season, which created a trend line that was very streaky. He was on fire with the putter after Sawgrass and it is very unlikely he will be able to keep up that pace in 2014.

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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 [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | Golf Gear Select

  2. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | GolfClick.net | Blog

  3. AIPM

    Mar 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Good call on John Senden… Stats only go so far, but so far these have been pretty well judged.

  4. topnotch17

    Jan 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Nerd alert!

  5. AHG Anderson

    Jan 10, 2014 at 8:42 am

    I like the use of stats in this way and since Tour pros and caddies and others subscribe to them then that tells us all we need to know; they work and they help the pro focus on where he needs to improve or consolidate. Of course there’s speculation in all sports or all walks of life but having access to such data can only be a good thing; it doesn’t promise how the future season might pan out but then unless you have a crystal ball then nothing else can either. Those guys who don’t rate what they are being told here are those I’d imagine who flunked out at school in math; they can’t interpret the data so they diss it as being useless – open your minds to the 21st century you cavemen!

  6. Brian

    Jan 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Any thoughts on Graham Delaet for 2014? He seemed to do well in 2013, especially after he went to the short putter.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jan 9, 2014 at 10:22 am

      He should do well because he typically performs well in the key metrics to being consistently successful…driving and Danger Zone play. He’s one of the very best ballstrikers on Tour.

  7. gunmetal

    Jan 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I think these data would be pretty valuable to the players. I would want know where I need get better. I agree with everyone on the list except for Colsearts and Mahan. I watched Nicolas at done event in China a few weeks ago and wasn’t at all impressed. One week at the Ryder cup (thanks for that timing, btw) isn’t enough to convince me. I do live to watch him swing, though. Mahan knows how to win. I think this was his first year not winning in a long time. He’ll be fine.

  8. Mike

    Jan 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Well numbers don’t lie. It’s like making your pick in horse racing. Look at the numbers and you are right with some luck.

  9. JnRadioActive

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    If i had a dollar for everytime I heard it was going to be the year of Chucky 3 Sticks… well I’d have 6 or 7 dollars anyway…

    • Jeff

      Oct 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Great comment. Chuckie 3 sticks saves his best for practice rounds at Isleworth.

  10. Homer Simpson

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Here we go again…useless speculation exactly.

  11. Evan

    Jan 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Useless speculation. The players create the data, not the data creates the player. Player’s 2014 season success will depend upon:

    1. Talent
    2. Hard Work
    3. A little luck

    That’s it, that’s all… good luck digging into the stats after the tournament has left town.

    • JM

      Jan 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      I think all the writer is saying is that the data is a reflection of the players game as far as strengths/weaknesses

      The stats show how a particular player “should” fare over the course of a year long season given past performance metrics and trends.

      Of course, some players will just get hot some weeks and it may be enough to win or skew overall stats.

      And of couse some players will improve parts of their game and others will regress in certain areas. It is the players who can improve in certain key areas that may be weak, without having their areas of strength regress that will have successful seasons typically

      • Evan

        Jan 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        Yes, I know what the writer is saying… what I am saying is that even with stats in hand, it is still pure speculation. Does he probably have a slightly better chance at predicting success on tour considering he follows these guys and studies the numbers? Sure, but it’s still pure speculation. RH might be a wealthy man if he had a formula to pick success in golf… he’d live in Vegas, not Orlando.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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