PGA – MY 2017 FRANKENGOLFER

For the last 6 years since I’ve been writing this column, my intention has been to piece together the perfect PGA golfer in 4 major areas of the game, based on the previous year’s statistics.

I’m going to do that again this time, but with a twist.

I was so impressed with Justin Thomas’ phenomenal success in 2017, that I wanted to take a closer look at how he stacked up against the best in the field statistically.

The 24-year-old American won 5 times last year, posted a score of 59, won the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup title, $10 million bonus, and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

Remember when I speculated last January if we were “witnessing the birth of another American superstar” when Thomas tore it up during the Hawaiian swing?

Yeah, it’s safe to say, that he has indeed put himself in esteemed company after the tremendous season he had.

So, once again I’ll analyze who the “best” players were statistically last year and create this four-headed monster I call the perfect “Frankengolfer”, while also comparing Justin Thomas’ performance.

  • Driving – DUSTIN JOHNSON
  • The Approach – JORDAN SPIETH
  • Short Game – RICKIE FOWLER
  • Intangibles – JUSTIN THOMAS

Driving –

In each of the prior Frankengolfer articles I’ve written, I put a lot of emphasis on being more accurate off the tee rather than long.

(Previous Frankengolfer posts: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.)

However, Dustin Johnson’s stats during the 2017 season changed my way of thinking about the advantages of having more distance with the driver over better accuracy, particularly on how it impacts scoring.

I realized that while Johnson only hit the fairways 56.97% of the time (ranked 143rd), he was the best in: Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee (1.002) on all par-4s and par-5s; Strokes Gained – Tee-to-Green (1.809); and Strokes Gained – Total (1.905).

That means he gained a little over 1 more shot per round than all other players off the tee and almost 2 from the tee to the green.  He was also outscoring the field by almost 2 strokes per round last year.

Obviously, it helped that he has an extremely long driver.  He was the 2nd longest on Tour in 2017 with 315 yards on average and, he had 3 of the top 10 longest drives last year.

So, while Johnson’s driver wasn’t exactly precise, his ability to put himself closer to the hole helped him to score better than the rest of the field which gave him a major advantage.

Compare that to Keegan Bradley, who once again came in as the best Total Driver overall last year (Distance + Accuracy).  I picked him as the Driving portion of my Frankengolfer in 2016 over DJ because of his excellent accuracy.

This year, Bradley hit the ball 299.8 yards on average, had a 66.78% accuracy rate, and his Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee was .598 or 12th best, meaning he gained about half a stroke off his tee shot per round.  But, he was also ranked 43rd in Birdie Average, and 30th in Tee-to-Green.

When we look at Justin Thomas, he hit the ball 299.6 yards on average last year (7th ranked) and had an accuracy of 55.05% (162nd).  So, in Total Driving, he ranked 66th.

As for Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee, Thomas ranked 32nd (.398) and 6th in Tee-To-Green (1.330) in 2017.

But, when I dug deeper, I saw that Thomas ranked 1st in another stat called Total Driving Efficiency.  It combines the player’s rank of Carry Efficiency + Total Distance Efficiency.

Not to get too technical here, but it essentially means that Thomas achieved maximum “launch conditions” (via club head speed and spin rate to distance) off the tee better than any other Tour player last year.

This is excellent news for amateurs, because despite the fact that Thomas comes in at 5’10 and 155 pounds and is not the most accurate guy, he showed us how he could harness his power, swing technique and proficiency with equipment for maximum efficiency and length.

Interestingly, Thomas’ 2016 stats reveal that he actually lowered his spin rate and gained club head speed this past year which helped him get better in SG-Off the Tee (ranked 97th in 2016) and SG-Tee to Green (ranked 53rd).

Now, this sounds pretty good.  Wouldn’t we want to be that guy off the tee, who can get the most out of launch conditions, “pound for pound”?

For me, I only know what I can control at this stage in my golfing life.

And, that is, I don’t have the resources yet to figure out how super precise I can be with spin rate, launch, etc.  Plus, I don’t have the funds to purchase the best equipment for those purposes.

However, I can simply focus on hitting the ball farther off the tee rather than concern myself with perfect accuracy.

So, for those reasons, I will stick with DJ over JT as the Driving portion of my Frankengolfer this year.

But, let’s check back in with my 2018 Frankengolfer and see if I was able to get to GolfTEC this year and have an expert analysis done of my swing, which is a big goal of mine.

The Approach –

Moving on to those players who were best with their irons, and who also put themselves in the best position to score in 2017, the stats zeroed in on Jordan Spieth.

The 24-year old has been known for his putting prowess since he turned pro in 2012.  But, in 2017, Spieth’s ball striking took center stage.  Perhaps more so than putting, this area of his game helped put him in contention for his 3 wins.

In 2015, Spieth ranked 9th in Strokes Gained -Putting.  This past year, he finished 42nd in this category.

Still, Spieth was no slouch with the putter and came in 2nd in Putting Average and 7th in 3-Putt Avoidance.  Who could also forget his putting performance at The Open at Royal Birkdale which of course he won?

But, in his work around the greens in 2017, this is where Spieth really excelled.  He came in 1st in Strokes Gained: The Approach (.906), meaning he gained almost a shot on the field in this area of play alone.  The reason was his excellence in the Approach from 200-225 yards and 150-175 yards, both of which he came in 1st in as well.  In 2015, he ranked 11th in The Approach.

Also, Jordan T-10 in Proximity to Hole this year, and came in 1st when hitting from the rough in Approaches from 200-225 yards (RGH); >200 yards (RGH); and 4th in Approaches from 175-200 yards (RGH).  He also finished 4th in Greens in Regulation and 3rd in Greens or Fringe in Regulation.

In 2015, Jordan ranked 49th in GIR and was not as good in similar stats around the greens as we saw in 2017.

He realized this about his performance mid-season when he said before the British Open, “I haven’t been making as many putts as I did [in 2015] this year.  I’ve struck the ball better than I did in ‘15. I’ve actually been in better position. If you took hole by hole, I’ve been in a better position tee to green than I was that year. If I putted the same as ‘15, I’d be having a better year right now. It’s hard to do.”

Another player that excelled in the Approach last year was the 40-year-old Englishman Paul Casey.  He is not very long and not the best putter, but he was one of the best iron players in the world last year which the stats proved. Casey finished 2nd in Strokes Gained – Approach, 3rd in Greens in Regulation, 7th in Scrambling, 3rd in Ball Striking, and 6th in Strokes Gained – Total.

And, his proficiency with irons helped him make the cut 23 out of 24 events, finish in the Top 10 nine times, and finish in the Top 25 seventeen times.  Casey also came in 6th at the Masters, T-11 at The Open, T-13 at PGA Championship and 5th in the Tour Championship.

Justin Thomas capitalized on his superior play with the driver when it came to approaching the greens as well.

He came in 6th in Strokes Gained – Approach the Green, 14th in Going for the Green, 1st in Approach from 50-125 yards, 2nd in Approach from 100-125 yards, 3rd in 50-125 yards (RGH) and 3rd in 75-100 yards (RGH).

His ability to get close to the hole and his overall clutch iron play at the big events helped Thomas also finish 2nd in Birdies, 2nd in Eagles, and 3rd in Scoring Average.

Short Game –

This category was a tough one to choose this year.  It came down to Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas.

Statistically, across the board, Fowler impressed me with how well he putted and improved in this category, but Thomas was also good and particularly, in the big moments when he needed birdies.

For the purposes of my Frankengolfer, I went with the more consistent player here and that was Fowler who soared in his short game last season.  I was also blown away by how much better he did in this area than in 2016.  See the chart below:

2016 –

Fowler

2017 – Fowler

SG – Putting

64th

2nd

Total Putting

35th 5th

Putting Ave

80th

4th

Putts Per Round 98th

9th

Overall Putt Ave

98th 10th
One-Putt % 125th

3rd

Sand Save %

71st 1st
SG – Total 6th

4th

Birdies Per Round 42nd

4th

Birdie Conversions

71st 5th

Scoring Ave

14th

2nd

Top 10 Finishes

8th

4th

World Ranking 10th

7th

SG – Off the Tee

15th

36th

SG – Around Grns

11th 25th
SG – Tee to Grn 8th

16th

It is remarkable to note that while Fowler brought his short game stats up drastically in 2017, he regressed in driving the ball and around the greens.  At the same time, he improved his scoring and won more this season.

This reveals how much Fowler relied on the putter last year.  He got his first PGA win in 2 years (The Honda Classic) and had a win on the European Tour (Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Champ.).  Fowler also finished T2 in the BMW Champ and the Memorial.

Finally, it is significant to mention Fowler’s Sand Save percentage (68.66%).  It was not only his best performance in this area during his entire career, it was also the best sand save percentage by any player on Tour since 2001.

When we look at Justin Thomas and how he putted, the stats that stick out are Birdie Conversions, which he finished 1st in, as well as Par 4 Birdies, and Par Breakers.

As for Strokes Gained – Putting, he came in 47th.  But, it is telling that at times during the season, that putter got red hot.

For instance, at the PGA Championship, Thomas converted 12 of 40 putts over 10’, which is a rate of 30% made from that distance.  The rest of the field? 13.63%.

Thomas was also very good with Putts Made Per Event Over 10’.  He finished T-7th overall.  Guess who came in 1st in this category? Rickie Fowler.

Intangibles –

We already know that Justin Thomas has a well-rounded game of golf.

He’s mastered his driving technique, plays his iron shots with precision, and has a clutch putter at his disposal.

But, a lot of golfers on the PGA Tour are super talented and don’t have as much to show for it.  Take Ricki Fowler, for one.

So, what set Thomas apart from the others last season?

Maybe being a third-generation member of the PGA of America helped.

Or perhaps he wanted to have the accolades his good friend Jordan Spieth did when he broke out in 2015 with his crazy successful year.

Quite possibly, it could be his golf pro father’s influence who gave him his affinity for the game and some tough love about his technique along the way.

Then again, it doesn’t hurt that he has a youthful optimism, incessant drive to be the best, and isn’t afraid to work very hard for his achievements.

Likely, it’s a combination of all those things that makes Justin Thomas so special and helped him break out in 2017.

But, I have a hunch it’s that last intangible that gives him the passion to want to win on an accelerated level: The drive to be the best.

In August, he said, “You know, it’s in my own hands. I want it badly, I’ve wanted it badly for a while… I feel like the sky’s the limit. I can do a lot of great things but none of them will happen if I don’t continue to work hard.”

It’s a motivation similar to what Jordan Spieth seems to have and what sets him apart as well.  The two childhood friends are similar in that way and it is reflected in their ability to score.

Take last year’s Final Round Scoring Average.  Spieth finished 1st; Thomas was 3rd.  In Late Scoring Average, Thomas was 1st and Spieth 2nd.  Stroke Gained Total – Spieth was 2nd; Thomas 5th.  In Scoring Average, Jordan was 1st; Thomas 3rdBirdie or Better % – Thomas 1st; Spieth 2nd.

Beyond the immense talent and special traits that both Thomas and Spieth have, a friendly competition between these 24-year-olds may drive their individual games to new heights as we move into the future.

They could be like other famous rivalries between sports friends who respected and pushed one another to succeed: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer; Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio; Larry Bird and Magic Johnson; Lynn Swann and John Stallworth; Tom Brady and Peyton Manning; Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, etc.

So, will Thomas and Spieth be added to this honorable list?

I have a feeling they will be, and I can’t wait to find out.

 



Source : PGA STATS

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