I.T.N. No. 14
PUBLISHED August 27, 2019
Inside The Numbers ...
is a brief numerical summary of the current happenings in the world golf, published every Monday — hopefully.
In the fourth round of the 2017 RBC Canadian Open, my brother and I had a front row seat to Ollie Schniederjans’ tee ball on the 14th hole at Glen Abbey. A tough dogleg to the right, the hole requires an aggressive line up the right side if a player chooses to let the Big Dog eat. Schniederjans took driver, and hit a nasty low pull hook into the hazard that sits through the fairway. It was a shot that stuck with me in part due to my own battles with golf — the flight of this drive was so uncharacteristic of a tour professional that I felt it had to be a sign of some mental demons in Ollie’s off-the-tee game — something I’ve had plenty of experience with.

Flash forward to the present moment, and Schniederjans heads into the final week of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals with only a 6.7% chance of regaining his PGA Tour card for next season. Not that long ago, Schniederjans was playing to a standard well above that of the average PGA Tour player (see below); but, things can and do change quickly in professional golf. Unlike other professional sports, when things go awry in golf there is no safety net to catch struggling players. You have to earn your position on the PGA Tour every year; hopefully Schniederjans puts together a good one next week and accomplishes just that.
With one week remaining in the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, our model indicates that there are just 13 cards up for grabs out of the initial 25 that were on offer to begin The Finals. Further, Justin Harding and Grayson Murray have all but locked up their cards with probabilities of 99.7% and 97.8% respectively of obtaining them next week. Of the remaining players, just two (Curtis Luck and Rob Oppenheim) have more than a 50% chance of earning their spot on the PGA Tour next season.
Joseph Bramlett has averaged -0.15 true strokes-gained in the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour season. There are just 8 KFT golfers who managed a better season-long average than Bramlett; despite this, Bramlett finished outside the top 25 in regular season points to miss getting his card. Last year was very much the same story, with Bramlett having one of the better strokes-gained averages on the year but again narrowly missing out on his card. If you think about golf the way we do, which is (roughly speaking) that the ordering in which a golfer’s performances actually occur is basically random, Bramlett has been very unlucky the last two seasons.

Through two events of this year’s KFT Finals Bramlett ranks 17th amongst players who are not already exempt, and we have his chances of obtaining a card for next year as basically a toss-up.
There is a strong case to be made that Viktor Hovland is the best player to ever play in the Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour Finals. Our model currently estimates that Hovland is 1.36 strokes better than an average PGA Tour player (and therefore about 2.6 strokes better than the average Korn Ferry player), which places Hovland as the 16th best player in the world according to our metrics. If there has been a better player to tee it up in The Finals (as indicated only by their performance data leading up to The Finals), one certainly isn’t coming to mind at the moment.
As we’ve discussed in a past blog post, it is not common for golfers on the development circuits to perform at the level of an average PGA Tour professional for an entire season. With one event remaining in this year’s Korn Ferry Tour season, just 3 golfers have managed to do it: Scottie Scheffler (+0.51), Cameron Percy (+0.33), and Xinjun Zhang (+0.31). In addition, two golfers, Kristoffer Ventura and Harry Higgs, are a rounding error away from accomplishing this feat, having averaged -0.01 true strokes-gained per round this year according to our estimates.