Some stats can help tell the story

By John HawkinsJanuary 18, 2012, 8:26 pm

Only in recent years has the PGA Tour developed a statistical database befitting of an elite sports league. ShotLink is comprehensive and user-friendly, and from a journalistic standpoint, there is no better resource when it comes to qualifying a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Some old-schoolers will tell you the only number that matters is the one you shoot, but information is knowledge and knowledge is credibility.

Perhaps there is nothing to be learned from the fact that Tiger Woods is slightly more prone to missing left than right off the tee, or that Woods’ sand-save percentage has fallen in each of the past four years. If everything happens for a reason, however, there’s a reason why everything happens. ShotLink illuminates a Tour pro’s competitive DNA. It can’t measure a player’s heart rate or the severity of a lie in a greenside bunker, but it does document the outcome of every shot struck in a game where the difference between first and 125th is less than two strokes per round.

Every statistical profile tells a story, some being easier to read than others, as my examination of six prominent players might attest.

Jim Furyk: We start with the 2010 FedEx Cup champion because his performance dipped so sharply in 2011: three wins to zero, seven top 10s to four, three missed cuts to seven. Furyk actually drove it five yards longer last year, remained in the top 20 in driving accuracy and hit more greens than he has since 2007, but his putting, which always made him one of the game’s top control players, more or less ruined his season.

From every distance, in just about every category, Furyk went from ranking among the Tour’s top 25 percent to the bottom 25. He finished 160th in birdie-conversion percentage, a crucial stat which basically combines how close you hit it and how often you convert the opportunity. Perhaps it was an equipment change that did him in. Perhaps something does happen to a man once he’s past his 40th birthday. Regardless, a player of Furyk’s ilk cannot overcome his length deficiency unless he holes putts. Doesn’t matter how straight you hit it.

K.J. Choi: You look at some statistical profiles and wonder why the guy isn’t winning $6 million a year. Other players accomplish far more than the numbers would suggest, which is a good way to describe Choi. He is a remarkable golfer in a very unremarkable way, an underrated overachiever whose ability to economize strokes can be difficult to quantify. Driving distance? 134th. Greens in regulation? 81st. Birdie conversion? 141st. Par-5 scoring? 93rd.

More than just getting a lot out of it, Choi wins tournaments, usually on challenging courses, with each win seemingly bigger than the one before. For all his relative mediocrity in the statistical breakdown, he finished 19th in scoring average, seventh in FedEx Cup points and fourth in money last year. How does Choi do it? He hits the ball close. In every distance category from 50 to 200 yards, he ranked no worse than 42nd in proximity to the hole. He is exceptionally precise, and if he’s not the most opportunistic putter who ever lived, he avoids the throwaway strokes that derail many of his peers. There are worse traits to have when you’re playing a difficult venue.

Webb Simpson: That big year was no accident. Simpson led the Tour in scoring average by a comfortable margin over Luke Donald despite playing 25 more rounds than the Englishman. He also led in the all-around ranking, an accumulation of the eight primary stats, so on paper and grass, he’s really good. You can look all you want, but there are no weaknesses. More than Donald, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan or any of the emerging young players, Simpson has the ability to dominate.

He’s not crazy-long (296.2), but he’s definitely long enough. In 2011, Simpson’s proximity-to-the-hole rankings were outstanding: third on the tour from 150-175 yards, fourth from 50-125. Unlike most bombers and tall guys, his half-wedge game is superb. My favorite number in his profile is his scrambling rank – 16th behind a bunch of singles hitters and little guys. Simpson is simply the complete package. There is absolutely no reason to believe he won’t become America’s best player.

Dustin Johnson: Another prodigious talent with more big-game experience than Simpson, almost all of it best forgotten. Johnson isn’t a very good bunker player and finished 142nd on par 3s in 2011. His GIR percentages from 75 to 125 yards were atrocious. Some people think he’s a good putter, although ShotLink begs to differ – Johnson was among the Tour’s worst in numerous categories last year. We’re talking about a guy who has a lot to improve on, yet Johnson finished fifth in money and fourth in FedEx points.

Length can solve a lot of problems, but Johnson is not without a multitude of other strengths. He birdied par 4s more often than anybody in ’11 and ranked eighth in birdie-conversion, so if he’s not a good putter, he knows what to do when opportunity knocks. There is no stat to chronicle the “killer miss” – one of those Tiger drives that ends up closer to another fairway – but Johnson consistently puts his ball in play and is strong enough to hit greens from almost any rough. A good player who could get a lot better.

Phil Mickelson: Still real long, still hits lots of greens and makes lots of birdies, but at age 41, Philly Mick comes off a down year (one victory) by his hall-of-fame standards. He ranked sixth in GIR from off the fairway and third in scrambling from the rough, affirming his penchant for finding scoring opportunities when in trouble. Widely recognized as one of the best mid-range putters ever, Mickelson ranked no better than 66th from any distance last season, which explains a lot of things.

I sometimes get the sense that Mickelson is as good as he wants to be, supremely gifted but not always focused as he enters his 20th season on the Tour. Major championships aren’t all that matter, but it’s fair to say Lefty packs an extra bag of desire four times a year. The fact that he ranked 169th and 157th from between 10 and 20 feet in 2011 led him to try a long putter, leading some to believe his best days are behind him, but this is a guy who has spent much of his career in the Land of Peaks & Valleys. As good as he wants to be. We’ll let Mickelson take it from there.

Luke Donald: Those who followed him in college probably aren’t shocked by Donald’s high level of consistency, although it does seem a bit funky that a guy ranked 147th in driving distance has become the No. 1 player in the world. To rank as the Tour’s best putter in back-to-back years is quite an accomplishment, but in 2011, Donald’s ball-striking is what got him to the highest level. From 152nd to 41st in GIR, from 120th to 57th in driving accuracy despite adding seven yards – when you hole 15-footers the way he does, it’s all about a smooth ride getting there.

The interesting thing about Donald’s future is to see what happens if the hole suddenly gets smaller. Swing coach Hank Haney will tell you putting is the great unreliable – you can win tournaments on the greens and lose them on the greens, but great careers aren’t built there. There are too many uncontrollable variables involved in what is a very exact science. Ball-striking is a subjective procedure, putting an objective one. Either you miss or you make, and when you think about it, the length of that putt represents the quality of your work from the tee.

Donald’s career progression is quite admirable. He has become a control player with an outrageously tidy short game, and the longer you look at his profile, the more you realize how good he has gotten.

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Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

THE MAJORS

Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

AT&T Pebble Beach

Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

Travelers Championship

Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


PHOTO GALLERIES

Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 12:30 pm