Love takes statistical deep dive to help make picks

By Rex HoggardAugust 31, 2016, 7:00 pm

Davis Love III looks like neither Billy Beane nor Brad Pitt, the actor who played the trailblazing baseball executive in the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” but the American Ryder Cup captain sounded like a man in search of golf’s version of on-base percentage on Monday.

On-base percentage, or OBP, was Beane’s magic statistical bullet in the film, which was based on the Oakland Athletics success in the early 2000s despite a small-market budget.

It seems Love and the PGA of America are sparing no expense in their quest to make the United States relevant in the biennial matches that have gone Europe’s way in eight out of last 10 meetings.

“You know, we've run a lot of stats, numbers and looked at how to set up the golf course and how do we match up and what their team is like and what our team is like,” Love said on Monday after his eight automatic qualifiers had been set.

Love hired Scouts Inc. to crunch the numbers for him heading into next month’s matches, and although he was reluctant to give specifics one can probably figure out what the captain’s OBP might be as he inches closer to making his captain’s picks.

Love, unlike his Continent counterpart Darren Clarke, has the advantage of experience, with just a single rookie among his qualifiers (Brooks Koepka), so there probably won’t be a lot of debate over whether he needs to make a veteran one of his picks.

He also enjoys a solid balance of power (Dustin Johnson and Koepka) and precision (Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson), which will likely make the final four selections (three picks will be made on Sept. 12 and the final player will be named on Sept. 25) a combination of specific performances and individual preferences.

Two statistics are most often cited in these situations – final-round scoring average and birdie average.

Final-round scoring average is often applied to these picks because playing the Ryder Cup is akin to the pressure a player faces on Sunday with a title on the line, but that pressure is applied from the opening hole onward.

Among the leading candidates for a pick, Jim Furyk leads the field on this front at 18th on the PGA Tour in final-round scoring, followed by Bubba Watson (19th), Rickie Fowler (21st), Matt Kuchar (55th), J.B. Holmes (83rd), Scott Piercy (119th) and Bill Haas (128th).

Birdie average, however, paints a vastly different picture, with Holmes (seventh) leading the way, followed by Kuchar (14th), Watson (28th), Fowler (44th), Piercy (84th), Furyk (177th) and Haas (183rd).

Hazeltine National, site of this year’s matches, is going to be an exceedingly long layout (7,628 yards), which would, in theory, give long hitters like Watson and Holmes an advantage, but on Monday Love – whose reputation as a “player’s captain” is why he was brought back for a second turn – didn’t seem interested in the “horses for courses” philosophy.

“If my team needs a quarterback and I draft a running back, they are going to be mad at me,” Love said. “I have to make sure if they say, we want this guy, that he pairs well with this other guy, that we pick that guy. I can't say it enough: It's their team.”

Perhaps, but the decision, and the inevitable post-match critique, will fall to Love – it’s the price of sliding behind the wheel of Team USA’s golf cart. And it’s why Love hasn’t left a single Pro V1 unturned in his pursuit of the best team.

Every scrap of information, every opinion, every conceivable vantage point has been studied. It’s why the PGA created a task force and overhauled the selection process. And why Love told anyone who will listen that his picks, like everything else, will be a team decision.

“The statisticians are going to help us with this, but those eight players on our team and the four assistant captains, they are pretty good golfers,” Love said. “They know what's going on. They know the players. They know who they want to play with.”

The importance of getting the captain’s picks right is always relative to the outcome, but consider that in 2012 when the Continent rallied to win by a point, Europe’s two picks won 5 points out of a possible eight (a 62 percent winning clip); while the four American picks won 6 points out of a possible 14 (43 percent).

So forgive Love if he sounded a little like Beane on Monday as he mulled his potential picks and provided a glimpse into what has become a surprisingly scientific process.

“I think there's going to be two obvious picks and there's going to be two we're going to have to waffle about a little bit,” he said, “and the stats will help us narrow that down.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.