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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ryder Cup Musings: Spieth VS Na VS Poulter VS Horschel

In the second of these posts about why I think Team USA struggles at the Ryder Cup I promised you a free-for-all. Today we're going to compare four different players -- two Captain's Picks who I think we can all agree are solid picks and two players who are often considered similar in attitude but have never been picked:

  • Team USA pick Jordan Spieth
  • Team Europe pick Ian Poulter, aka "the Postman"
  • Kevin Na
  • Billy Horschel

The attitude similarity is important. All four of these players are considered 'bulldogs' who never give up. Poulter is the GOAT here with a 14-6-2 record (15 points) in six appearances, four of which required Captain's Picks. He has NEVER been defeated in singles (5-0-1). Jordan Spieth's record of 7-5-2 in three appearances is somewhat amazing in that he has NEVER won in singles (0-3-0).

I'm comparing Na and Horschel to these two, not to try and prove either should be picked for a Ryder Cup team, but simply to compare them to successful Captain's Picks and see if they measure up. The following table compares a variety of aspects in their games. Hopefully we'll discover what makes Spieth and especially Poulter so valuable in a Ryder Cup.

Yes, I know I said that "Statistics lie" in my previous post and here I am posting a bunch of stats. What I've tried to do is pick stats that are basically simple percentages (for example, how many of their drives hit the fairway) or simple averages (total distance of drives hit divided by total number of drives). Averages don't tell you the longest or shortest of whatever is being averaged, of course, so I've tried to add other numbers that might provide a bit more perspective. Still, I mention this to remind you that no stats can tell you everything, no matter how carefully you choose them.

That said, let's take a look at the basic stats I chose. All stats come from the pgatour.com stats pages and show the results at the end of the TOUR Championship.

  • OWGR and FedExCup rankings: At the end of the PGA Tour season.
  • Driving stats: I chose to use the "all drives" stats rather than the stats for specifically measured holes, as those tend to skew longer. I wanted an idea of how the guys play their regular drives.
  • GIR stats: Not only the general GIR stat, but stats from a few specific distances to show how playing from closer to the green improves their percentage. Ideally you'd like all of these percentages to be high numbers. I also added a stat that includes shots that land on the fringe since those lies are often as easy as putts.
  • Proximity to hole: From the fairway, from the rough, and from 50-75 yards.
  • Average approach distance: I find these interesting. How long are their typical approach shots to the green that result in birdies, pars and bogeys? Note that the birdies typically come from longer shots -- perhaps because the shorter shots are the result of bad shots that require scrambling.
  • Scrambling: From 20 yards and in, and from bunkers.
  • Putting: From various distances, plus the length of the putt made for birdie. The Birdie or better conversion stat tells how often they successfully make a birdie putt. And with the Average Distance of Birdie Putts, longer distances mean you make longer putts for birdie.
  • Scoring: Average score for a normal round and for their final round.

The numbers in parentheses beneath the stats show how the Tour lists their rank. I think this is important because it shows how misleading these numbers can be. For example, in the Scoring Average Actual stat, you can see that the difference between #28 and #76 -- 48 players -- is .64, less than two/thirds of a putt. So Horschel really isn't that much worse than Na in this stat.

Now that you know what's in the table, here it is.

PGA Tour
Stat
PGA Tour
Average
Jordan
Spieth
Kevin
Na
Ian
Poulter
Billy
Horschel
OWGR Rank 09/12/21 - 14 25 49 18
FedExCup Rank
(end of season)
- 20 3 77 9
Driving Distance
All Drives
289.8 yd 295.1
(45)
281.9
(T180)
282.4
(179)
290.2
(94)
Driving Accuracy
Percentage
60.69% 53.92%
(180)
66.56%
(35)
66.33%
(36)
65.70%
(42)
Driving %
300+ yds
All Drives
36.10% 44.17%
(51)
22.61%
(176)
23.89%
(T171)
33.75%
(112)
Driving %
320+ yds
All Drives
12.10% 13.98%
(T60)
5.70%
(166)
4.83%
(T178)
10.04%
(T105)
GIR % 65.14% 64.58%
(T139)
64.11%
(152)
60.88%
(190)
66.47%
(86)
Greens or Fringe
in Regulation
71.22% 70.57%
(127)
71.30%
(114)
65.86%
(190)
71.90%
(T105)
GIR %
175-200 yd
54.96% 48.15%
(188)
52.04%
(143)
48.84%
(185)
61.09%
(29)
GIR %
100-125 yd
75.18% 72.97%
(141)
78.57%
(T57)
78.57%
(T57)
81.75%
(15)
GIR %
<75 yd
87.35% 85.04%
(161)
87.92%
(T98)
82.14%
(185)
85.57%
(T151)
Rough
Proximity
45' 7" 44' 9"
(T80)
49' 6"
(T185)
47' 8"
(166)
51' 1"
(193)
Proximity
to Hole
37' 1" 38' 10"
(T167)
37' 0"
(T108)
39' 4"
(T177)
39' 5"
(179)
Average Proximity from
50-75 yd
15' 10" 10' 1"
(6)
18' 0"
(160)
10' 4"
(9)
16' 3"
(124)
Average
Approach
Distance
for Birdie
179.9 174.8
(T51)
180.8
(T105)
183.3
(141)
184.6
(T152)
Average
Approach
Distance for Par
165 yd 169.3
(T180)
169.6
(184)
168.9
(T176)
168.1
(T171)
Average
Approach
Distance
for Bogey
164.7 161.2
(T40)
170.3
(T172)
166.0
(115)
161.2
(T40)
Scrambling %
from 10-20 yd
63.85% 66.15%
(76)
70.48%
(17)
71.75%
(8)
65.54%
(88)
Scrambling %
from <10 yd
85.80% 83.51%
(146)
93.75%
(8)
96.92%
(1)
92%
(T21)
Scrambling %
General
57.94% 61.32%
(42)
65.12%
(4)
64.30%
(9)
59.38%
(85)
Sand Save %
General
50.05% 55.93%
(35)
59.60%
(12)
51.88%
(T79)
61.60%
(8)
Putts / Round 29.1 28.05
(5)
27.91
(4)
27.86
(3)
28.86
(89)
Putting %
from inside 5'
96.70% 96.29%
(145)
96.98%
(T81)
98.03%
(11)
98.56%
(1)
Putting %
from 10-15'
30.19% 29.65%
(114)
33.50%
(52)
31.47%
(77)
35.26%
(25)
Putting %
from <20'
7.18% 9.62%
(9)
7.23%
(T95)
9.06%
(T24)
5.70%
(171)
Average
Distance
of Birdie Putts
9' 5" 9' 3"
(T112)
9' 0"
(T131)
10' 2"
(T28)
8' 11"
(T137)
Birdie or Better
Conversion %
30.23% 36.06%
(4)
32.63%
(43)
31.93%
(T61)
30.51%
(103)
Scoring Average
Actual
70.95 69.94
(31)
69.86
(28)
70.46
(T72)
70.50
(76)
Scoring Average
Final Round
70.62 71.00
(T134)
70.05
(59)
70.69
(114)
71.35
(161)

One thing you'll learn quickly is that, although most of these guys are considered short hitters, look at how long some of their shots are. Take Poulter for example. While his 282 yards of the tee puts him near the bottom of the Tour's distance list, he still hits nearly a quarter of his drives (23.89%) over 300 yards!

In fact, this table makes it very clear why Poulter is so good... and it's neither his driving nor his approach shots. He's actually below average in those areas. Where he excels is in putting and scrambling. He's 9th in Proximity to the Hole from 75 yards and in, no worse than 9th in scrambling from 20 yards and in, 3rd in Putts per Round, T28th in the length of his typical birdie putt, and 11th Putting from 5' and in. And if that wasn't enough, his Final Round Scores are almost identical to his regular rounds, which backs up the idea that he thrives under pressure.

While Spieth isn't as good overall, his stats compare pretty well. There are some where he's better than Poulter and some where he's worse, 

What about our two Ryder Cup wannabes?

Although Horschel compares well in some areas, he has obvious gaps in others. For example, while he's longer overall than Poulter and a good putter from inside 15', he struggles with scrambling and proximity to hole. (If you're leaving your approach farther from the hole, you need to be a better putter from long distance.) And we know from experience that he's a streaky player, so that might count against him.

Then again, when he's on a streak he's gold. He is the defending WGC-Dell Match Play champion and won the BMW PGA at Wentworth, after all. That's some serious playing there!

As for Na, his overall performance is eerily similar to Poulter's. His putting is as close to Poulter's as you're likely to see, and he's better from the sand. But his scrambling isn't quite as good; given his average proximity from 50-75 yards, his wedge play needs some sharpening to catch the Postman. A little wedge work and he could be Team USA's answer to Poulter.

I guess the takeaway here is that distance, while it can be a potent weapon, doesn't seem to be the difference maker at the Ryder Cup. Scrambling and putting seem to be the difference -- and I mean CONSISTENCY across the skills needed around and on the green. And I think Team Europe is a bit better at that simply because the European Tour plays so many different types of course setups, as opposed to the uniformity of PGA Tour setups.

This post is getting awfully long so I'll call it here. I have some ideas about how Team USA could alter its qualification process to try and find players with some of Team Europe's intangibles, but I'll save that for next week.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Could This Be 2021's Killer Christmas Present? (Video)

A $200 golf simulator? MrShortGame Golf tested the tittle X Home Golf Simulator (available from Amazon) against a TrackMan to see if it was any good. Not only can you use it with the included indoor practice club but you can use it with a regular club as well, plus it works with a PC or an iOS device. I don't know whether you'll agree with his conclusions or not, but it certainly looks as if the inexpensive simulator market is starting to get interesting...


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Twofer Tuesday: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Since the Ryder Cup will dwarf everything else this week, Twofer Tuesday gives the ladies some love by devoting some space to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Defending champion Austin Ernst

The Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers AR is the site of this 54-hole event, as it has been since it first began 14 years ago. You may remember that first playing in 2007 because it was an unofficial event -- rain forced the tournament into a mere 18 holes which Stacy Lewis, then a senior at the University of Arkansas, won.

As a general rule, the winners have all been fairly big names... or at least they are now. It seems as if everybody from Inbee Park to Lydia Ko has won here. The defending champion is Austin Ernst, who made this her second LPGA victory.

While I'm going to make two picks this week, like any other Twofer Tuesday, I won't count these against my weekly competition. I limit that to PGA Tour picks, just to keep things simple.

  • My first pick is Jin Young Ko. While that may seem like a no-brainer, the fact is that Ko has only played this event twice. She finished T9 in 2018 and T18 in 2019. But she's coming off a win in Portland and she's well rested. Given that she won the 2020 money list in only four events, I like a rested Jin Young Ko's chances!
  • My other pick is Anna Nordqvist. She took last week off for a well-deserved Solheim Cup break; now she's returning after a runner-up finish in 2020. While Anna can be a streaky player, this streak includes a victory at the 2021 ANA. If she's rested and confident -- as she should be -- she could pick up another win this week.

For obvious reasons the Ryder Cup will interfere somewhat with coverage of this event. But after GC's tape-delayed coverage at 9pm ET on Friday (remember, this is a 54-hole event) most of the Ryder Cup will be broadcast on NBC, so the second and third rounds of the LPGA event will be live on GC. On Friday there will also be streaming coverage starting at 11am ET.

If you don't care for match play, then the LPGA event is just what you're looking for.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Limerick Summary: 2021 Fortinet Championship

Winner: Max Homa

Around the wider world of golf: Jin Young Ko won the rain-shortened Cambia Portland Classic; Janie Jackson won the rain-shortened Guardian Championship on the Symetra Tour; Kristoffer Broberg won the Dutch Open on the ET; Celine Boutier won the Lacoste Ladies Open de France on the LET; Jared du Toit won the ATB Financial Classic on the Mackenzie Tour; Darren Clarke won the Sanford International on the Champions Tour; Hyo Joo Kim won the KLPGA's OK Savings Bank Se Ri Pak Invitational; Yuna Nishimura won the JLPGA's rain-shortened Sumitomo Life Vitality Ladies Tokai Classic; Sang Hyun Park won the KPGA's DGB Financial Group Irvine Open; and Scott Vincent won the ANA Open Golf Tournament on the Japan Golf Tour. [Thanks, IC!]

Max Homa with Fortinet trophy

My Twofer Tuesday picks got off to a rough start this season. I had Jon Rahm (MC) and Will Zalatoris (T11). Jon apparently got sick and Will bogeyed the 15th to drop out of the Top10. I was so close!

  • Top10s: 0 for 2
  • Winners: 0 for 1

There's not much I can add to what Max Homa did. While the rest of the field struggled, Homa calmly went -5 on the final seven holes to win by one. Maverick McNealy's double-bogey on 17 ended his run at the title and will sting for a while.

But what caught my attention was not what Max said about getting his third PGA Tour win but what he said about his wife. Apparently, as pgatour.com summed it up:

Although the Fortinet was his third TOUR win, it was the first witnessed by his wife, Lacey. He joked afterward that she had only seen one top-10 finish from him, so it was about time.
Clearly such an august moment in time cannot be overlooked. Therefore I have devoted his newest Limerick Summary to this significant occasion. Congrats, Max!

The field helped him, that much is true
But Max knew what he had to do…
And do it, he did.
For his wife this was big
Since she finally SAW him come through.

The photo came from this page at pgatour.com.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ryder Cup Musings: Na VS Rahm

Thursday I did a post giving some of the reasons I believe Team USA struggles so at the Ryder Cup. Today I'm staging a big grudge match between Kevin Na and Jon Rahm to test some of those reasons.

This is a long post, folks, so grab a drink and some popcorn and settle back for a while.

Kevin Na and Jon Rahm

The primary reason Steve Stricker gave for not choosing Na was lack of distance... and Kevin issued his own statement that basically said Team USA needed better putting more than extra distance. I agree with Kevin and have expressed this idea many times, from my Solheim Cup post last week to a huge post in September 2014 where I recalculated EVERY SINGLE MATCH TWICE to demonstrate where the points were lost.

But the fact remains that statistics say distance is the key. We hear that drummed into our heads in the coverage of every tournament, don't we? The problem is that statistics lie and I hope to show you that in this post.

I know you'll protest. "Mike, numbers don't lie!" And I agree with you. But the problem is that numbers mean nothing until they're interpreted... and interpretations lie all the time.

Statistics are just interpretations of the numbers. They are an effort to make sense of them, but they can say different things depending on what you're looking at. You need to pick stats that accurately address the issues you're interested in.

My argument in the first of these posts is that we're using stats that DON'T address those issues. In this case, we're using stats that interpret four-round individual stroke play competitions to choose players for single-round match play that involves both single and dual player teams. And as it stands, we can't get direct information on these specific points.

But I believe we have been presented with a unique situation here where we can at least create some stats that are more suited to answering the questions we have. Best of all, we can create these stats using information comparing Na's performance to the #1 player in the world, Jon Rahm!

I'm using the FedExCup Playoffs as the basis for my calculations. Both men played all three consecutive events and spent the first two weeks trying to get as high in the rankings as possible, then trying to win the $15mil the last week. While this isn't exactly match play -- the two weren't trying to beat each other one-on-one -- it's probably as close as we're going to get.

What did the Ryder Cup points list see and use to award Kevin's points? It's very simple:

  • Jon Rahm finished 3/T9/2* for the Playoffs
  • Kevin Na finished T8/T17/3* for the Playoffs

The reason for the asterisks is that, had we not used the staggered start at the TOUR Championship, Na and Rahm would have had the same aggregate score and would have played off for the FedExCup. Based on these stats, Rahm clearly played better than Na... and we all know that, under normal conditions, Rahm is much longer than Na.

But those are 72-hole scores. What happened round-by-round, which is how we determine winners at the Ryder Cup?

I decided to find out... and as you can see, I did so many calculations that my scanner couldn't get all of my writing in these photos.

Two pages of calculations

I'm not going to try and tell you all the things I discovered during this stat gathering project. But what I found makes me question Team USA's criteria for choosing their players.

First, let me make one thing clear: I am NOT saying that my project proves Na should have been chosen for the team. All I'm saying is that the stats currently being used don't give us any real indication of what might happen in match play. Likewise, both Kevin and Jon have great match play records and they might make some different choices if they were actually going head-to-head. But I think this is as close to match play results as we can get from the regular Tour stats.

That said, let's get on with it.

Since match play is built on single 18-hole (more or less) rounds, I broke these three Playoff events into 12 "matches" and compared the scores. We'll start with the stroke play scores:

  • Kevin Na:
    67-66-70-68 || 72-65-69-67-|| 66-67-66-67
  • Jon Rahm:
    63-67-67-69 || 64-66-70-70-|| 65-65-68-68

Just from these numbers we can see some interesting trends:

  • Rahm has the lowest score in the first match of each tournament.
  • Na has the lowest score in two of the second matches of each tournament, Rahm one.

That means that Rahm takes Na 4-2 in the first six matches. But let's keep going:

  • Na wins two of the third matches of each tournament, Rahm one.
  • Na wins all three of the final matches of each tournament.

These are stroke play scores, not match play, but would you have expected Na to win 5 of the 6 weekend matches and all three on the last day? Sounds like Na is quite the closer!

Overall, Na beats Rahm 7-5. Unexpected, to say the least.

Now, if we go through and recalculate all the matches, using the stroke play scores to figure out who would win each hole if this was match play, we see basically the same thing. There are some slight changes simply because -- as I said in the first post -- not all strokes count in match play. Here's a quick example of how it works:

Say Player1 wins the first hole with a birdie and Player2 makes double-bogey. Player2 wins the second hole with a birdie and Player1 makes par. In stroke play Player1 has a one-stroke lead but in match play the two men are even. It doesn't matter how many strokes you win a hole by in match play, you're still just 1up.

Here's how the twelve matches play out:

  1. Rahm wins 4up.
  2. Na wins 1up.
  3. Rahm wins 2up. (He won by 3 in stroke play.)
  4. Na wins 2up. (He actually won by 1 in stroke play.)
  5. Rahm wins 6up. (He won by 8 in stroke play.)
  6. Na wins 2up. (Again, only a 1 stroke win in stroke play.)
  7. Match is halved. (Na actually won by 1 in stroke play.)
  8. Na wins 3up.
  9. Rahm wins 2up. (Only 1 stroke in stroke play.)
  10. Rahm wins 2up.
  11. Na wins 2up.
  12. Na wins 1up.

Overall, Na beats Rahm 6.5-5.5. One of Na's stroke play wins became a half in match play, but Na still comes out on top.

There is, of course, one more question to answer. How long are the Playoff courses where Na won? After all, we know Rahm is noticeably longer than Na and this would be a concern at a long course like Whistling Straits.

Or would it? Here are the lengths of the Playoff courses, taken from the PGA Tour tournament sites:

  • Northern Trust
    Liberty National GC, 7410yds/par-71
  • BMW Championship
    Caves Valley GC, 7542yds/par-72
  • TOUR Championship
    East Lake GC, 7346yds/par-70

Whistling Straits will play 7390yds/par-71.

There are a lot of things that contribute to how long a course plays, like the size, contours and grass on the greens; the bunkering, both in the fairways and around the greens; how narrow the fairways are; how high the rough is; how hilly the course is; and so on. I have no idea how I could possibly compare all those variables... but I do know how to compare the overall length, so that's what I'll do.

Here's my formula: Take the course's par, subtract 36 (that's two putts for each of 18 holes) -- that gives me the number of shots you expect to hit between tee and green. Then divide the course length by that number of shots. I can use that "average yards per shot" to compare the length.

  • Liberty National: 7410/35= 211.7 yards
  • Caves Valley: 7542/36= 209.5 yards
  • East Lake: 7346/34= 216.1 yards
  • Whistling Straits: 7390/35= 211.1 yards

Hmmmm. It would appear that Whistling Straits is the second SHORTEST of the four! The longest, East Lake, is where poor shortknocker Kevin Na matched the low score of the much longer Jon Rahm. In fact, Na performed his best on the longest course. Hmmmm...

I've proven my point. While this post doesn't prove that Team USA should have picked Kevin Na, I think I have proven that, on a round-by-round basis -- which is how match play is done, after all -- Kevin Na doesn't seem to be at any real disadvantage on a long course against a long hitter when both are playing well, and that perhaps Team USA needs to reevaluate the stats it uses to choose its team.

And that leads into my final post. Look for it sometime next week.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Before You Go for a Fitting (Video)

Planning to get new clubs? Before you go to be fitted, take a look at this video from Golf Monthly. It will acquaint you with the main things you should know before you go to ensure that you get the best results possible.


Friday, September 17, 2021

How to Pick the Best Golf Ball for Your Game (Video)

Rick Shiels's new video is a test of a golf ball you've probably never heard of, the Titleist ProV1x Left Dash. But more importantly, he included a link to MyGolfSpy's 2021 test of a large number of golf balls. It's a long article but it'll teach you all kinds of things about what makes a golf ball suitable for your game. Watch the video and then skip on over to the MyGolfSpy page for a real education!