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Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics

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After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.

Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.

The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.

These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.

There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:

  1. Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
  2. You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
  3. Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
  4. All things being equal, take the younger player.
  5. Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.

A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):

The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).

The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).

It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.

The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.

Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:

Tiger Woods

This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.

Tony Finau

Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.

Bryson DeChambeau

Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.

Patrick Cantlay

This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).

From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.

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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

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Paul

    Aug 25, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Woods has no business being on the team.

  2. Speedy

    Aug 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    TW, XS, KUCHAR, KISNER.

  3. Chris

    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    1. Tiger 2. Kisner 3. Phil 4. Kuchar and Phil is iffy I know he’s a staple and people love him but he’s not playing well but he’s a team guy and his short game helps in these situations. At some point people will have to get used to tiger and Phil not being on these teams though.

  4. Lance Kulman

    Aug 20, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    I would go off the reservation a bit, Tiger, Cantalay, sneadaker(all on Sep 3rd), then shock the world with Andrew Putman(won the stabbleford tourney) and has shown the ability to be birdie and eagle machine. He’s also young and could be the future of the American Ryder Cup team.

  5. Robert

    Aug 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    A point system determined the top 8 at the end of the P. If you extend that point system to the top 12 at the end of the PGA you get Bryson, Tiger, Phil, and Xander. The French and Euros get to see:
    Bryson (young, talented, with a new idea/approach to the game)
    Tiger and Phil (legends – who would not want to see them play?)
    Xander – new, young, talented.
    Go with the point system)

  6. Majduffer

    Aug 20, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Tiger is a real iffy pick as he can’t hit a fairway. If the PGA championship had been at any major type venue instead of the milk toast setup, then I think
    TW would have not made the cut. He would have hit his stinger all day and giving up copious yards to everyone. Im sure euros will tighten the course if TW is
    picked. Note TWs fairway hit stats are inflated as he hits his 2I almost half the time. How would you like to play alt. shot with a guy who is giving up 30yds on holes you should be hitting a driver. Phil has a great short game so he is a natural for the team events. The rest of the picks should be youth.

    • Mike C

      Aug 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      Regardless of how he gets it done, Tiger had the lead on the back 9 Sunday in the British Open a few weeks earlier and the course setup was 180 degrees opposite of that of the PGA Championship. So your argument about course setup is not valid. Tiger has proven he can compete under any conditions.

      • Dreg

        Aug 20, 2018 at 9:19 pm

        Yes, when he is playing by himself for himself, only

  7. Tee-Bone

    Aug 20, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Tee-Bone picks;
    1.Tiger…He’s back, and plus…he’s Tiger
    2.Phil…Has had a great year, including a win. He’s the de facto US leader. Plus, he’s filthy at Ping Pong.
    3.DeChambeau…He’s the real deal. He’ll be on many more teams, so get him in the mix now. Plus, he can teach the other guys how to execute a proper “baseline shift”.
    4.Finau…It’s all about “inclusion” these days. Plus, he shook off a nasty ankle sprain. He’s tough.

    • kileen

      Aug 20, 2018 at 2:40 pm

      what does “inclusion” mean here? pick him because of his ethnicity? if so, wtf is wrong with you

  8. Art Williams

    Aug 20, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    If you don’t pick Phil you’re nuts. The only reason anyone wouldn’t pick Phil is a pent up long standing prejudice against him. It’s only been the last few years that most of the media started to embrace him and his swipe at a moving ball in the US Open has been the catalyst for some members of the media to again find a reason to take a shot at him. It’s like OK we have our leader back ( Tiger) so it’s time to dump Phil AGAIN.Most fans love Phil but the media doesn’t. It’s an old story. Instead of just saying I don’t like Phil you’ll come up with some statistical reason to not pick him. It was evident on air yesterday that there are still many in the golf media who just don’t like him as his name was either ignored or there were questions about his worthiness on the Ryder Cup. Good god guys, he’s Phil Mickelson and he is the Ryder Cup. Cantley, really!

    • Fiorenzo

      Aug 21, 2018 at 2:23 am

      Could not agree with you more ; and this is from many miles away on another continent. leave Phil out and Europe will smile and say thanks.

  9. Jack Nash

    Aug 20, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Just like in the Mutual Fund biz “Past Performance insn’t a guarantee of future returns”. The same can be said about Woods. The article basically went against itself. Just because somebody was great 5-10 yrs ago doesn’t guarantee a winning return. The “afraid”of Tiger effect has gone. There’s more than a few on the Euro team who would relish playing a guy who can’t find the fairway.

    • Mike C

      Aug 20, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Tiger got to 11th on the Ryder Cup points list in just 14 starts. He’s finished 6th and 2nd in the last two majors and has finished in the top 12 in half his starts. Of all the players who aren’t automatically on the team, he has the best stats. What rationale is there to keep him off the team?

      • Matty

        Aug 20, 2018 at 2:02 pm

        He just don’t like him lol, Tiger should be in and Phil should be out, when is the last time PM made a cut?

        • Tartan Golf Travel

          Aug 20, 2018 at 9:42 pm

          They will both make it…..Phil has a win this year and 6 top 10’s.

      • Dreg

        Aug 20, 2018 at 9:21 pm

        Because, Mike C, when it comes to alternative shots, nobody will want to be hitting the 2nd shot after Eldrick’s tee shot

  10. Mike C

    Aug 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Can someone please forward this article to Captain Furyk?

  11. Jay Beezy

    Aug 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    omg this article is ridiculous on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. But I will say given TV rights, team chemistry, history and precedent there is no way PM and TW aren’t on the team so if you want to crunch some nerdy stats to try and make your case (as if golf is something you can predict) – then do it for two players not all 4. I mean Woods and Mickelson are both in the top 12 on the actual points qualifying list. Why would anyone write this article given that fact? And the other two points wise are Schauffele and DeChambeau which would be fine. Just pick the top 12. Stroontz…

  12. Tim May

    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Love how you spell out the quant rules, and then violate two (2!) with the “obvious pick” of Woods.

    1. “Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.”
    Losing record = poor performer.
    2. “All things being equal, take the younger player.”
    Younger = anyone born in/after the Bicentenntial year..

    Really?

    • Fut

      Aug 20, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      Yea, why not? The younguns are the future 🙂

    • Ty Webb

      Aug 21, 2018 at 10:17 am

      I read it as an experienced player with a poor record doesn’t get any extra consideration over a rookie. Fine, TW doesn’t get any props for experience, still a better pick than anyone else.

      And all things are not equal. Tiger is clearly the best player not on the team now and it’s not really close.

  13. Mike Honcho

    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Cantlay? Pace of play headache! DeChambeau? Case of headcase! Replace with Kuchar and Zach Johnson.

  14. Team

    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:09 am

    It can’t be Eldrick. The reason why his record is not good in the Ryder Cup is because he is NOT a team player. He has never been, and never will be, a selfish dog that he is. The smile and joking banter we’ve all seen lately on the course is fake, it’s just idle chit-chat on the course about nothing. He will be a disruptive force, he will not help bind the team together.
    Sneds, Kuch, ZJ, Phil.

    • Mike C

      Aug 20, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      Tiger’s playing too good to leave him off.

      • Dreg

        Aug 20, 2018 at 9:25 pm

        Only for himself! NOT a team player, Team is correct. Eldrick’s presence will disrupt everybody

  15. d

    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Phil is the obvious sentimental pick. Plus, he’s really good at ping-pong in the team locker room.

  16. Tartan Golf Travel

    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    It will be Tiger and Phil for sure. I think Kuchar is out. I’d probably go Xander and Bryson, which is what I think he will do. Finau just hasn’t done much in big tournaments. His only win was an opposite field event. I like Cantlay and Wise but I think given this is probably Phil and Tigers last Cup they will be on plenty in the future. If Sneds gets hot he’s a great pick and Bryson will be out,

    • Keith

      Aug 20, 2018 at 11:03 am

      Finau hasn’t done much in big tournaments, top 10 in the first 3 majors isn’t good enough??? WHAAAATTT?

      Masters 10th
      US Open 5th
      British 9th
      PGA 42nd (Tied the single round birdie record while playing with Furyk)

      Other “Big” Tournaments:
      WGC HSBC 11th
      Farmers 6th
      Genesis 2nd
      Memorial 13th
      WGC Bridgestone 10th

      Let’s see how the “Mad” (as in temper) Scientist has fared in the same events:
      Masters 38th
      US Open 25th
      British 51st
      PGA MC

      Farmers MC
      Genesis 41st
      Memorial 1st
      WGC Bridgestone 30th

      Looks to me like it’s Bryson who’s struggled when the lights have been the brightest…save for The Memorial 3mos ago.

      Bryson will be a cancer in the team room and fodder for the Euro crowds who will eat him up for his selfish antics. Meanwhile Finau is a birdie making machine who has performed the best when the lights were brightest. He’s jovial, friendly, well liked by his peers, etc.

      It’s a no brainer.

      • Tartan Golf Travel

        Aug 20, 2018 at 3:45 pm

        I like Finau but 1 win in an opposite field event is just not enough. I don’t disagree with you on Bryson but he’s won twice already and plays with Tiger all the time. I’d say you might need to get a life looking up all that info! Finau is a pretty poor putter by PGA standards. Outside of Kuchar I do believe they would all be decent pics so if it’s Finau over Bryson I get it.

  17. DL

    Aug 19, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    If anyone says Finau out….you’re crazy. Dude is built for match play! Would like to see the numbers on X-man and why he wasnt selected.

  18. gunmetal

    Aug 19, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Cantlay over Mickelson, Kuchar, Johnson, Snedeker? Numbers are cute but there is no analytic for pressure and four out of five of the guys mentioned above have demonstrated they can handle it. Cantlay won once in Vegas in a playoff with a par iirc with a very weak field. And that’s it. He really hasn’t demonstrated any ability to perform under major championship/Ryder cup level pressure. I’d take Pat Perez and a big list of others over Cantlay.

  19. Alcap26

    Aug 19, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    Kuchar, Finau, and Cantlay

  20. Shu

    Aug 19, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Kuchar, Mickelson, Schauffele IN
    Deschambeau Cantlay Finau OUT

    I would say.

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