I.T.N. No. 9
PUBLISHED July 2, 2019
Inside The Numbers ...
is a brief numerical summary of the current happenings in the world golf, published every Monday — hopefully.
Last week Nate Lashley became the second golfer to win on the PGA Tour this season after playing in the tournament’s Monday Qualifier earlier in the week. (Corey Conners also did it at the Valero Texas Open.) This seems to have reignited the sentiment among golf pundits that anyone can win on the PGA Tour, even those golfers who are in the unfortunate position of having to play in Monday Qs on a weekly basis. We are here to push back on that misguided notion. Margins are not that small in professional golf. Golfers on the PGA Tour are head and shoulders above the average player on any other professional tour. For example, we estimate that the average golfer competing in last week’s Utah Championship on the KFC (Korn Ferry Circuit) has a baseline skill level that is 1.5 strokes per round worse than the average PGA Tour field in 2019. That is not a small difference.
When professional golfers really lose it, it usually shows up in the form of apocalyptic off-the-tee numbers. Smylie Kaufman, who made his first cut since January of 2018 at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, was averaging -2.80 strokes-gained off-the-tee in his most recent 50 measured rounds leading into last week (which should be considered close to apocalyptic): Kaufman beat that baseline by 2.76 strokes at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, performing just below the level of an average PGA Tour pro for the week (-0.04 SG:OTT per round). As someone with a self-diagnosed case of the driver yips, I’m really hoping this is the start of an upward trend for Smylie’s long game.
Nate Lashley and Christiaan Bezuidenhout both won last week by 6 strokes, and both gained about 4.3 strokes per round over their respective fields (Lashley at the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, and Bezuidenhout at the European Tour’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters). How can we directly compare the quality of these elite performances? True expected wins (True xWins) provides one method for doing so. True xWins measure the likelihood that a given performance would have resulted in a win at an average PGA Tour event. Lashley’s strokes-gained performance last week would be good enough to win an average PGA Tour event 65% of the time, while Bezuidenhout’s performance would get it done just 21% of the time — a difference of 0.44 true xWins.
With his T3 finish at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Rory Sabbatini moves up 9 spots to 27th in the Data Golf Rankings. This continues a hot stretch of play which has led to a true strokes gained average of +1.98 over his last 5 events. For the 2019 season, Sabbatini is now gaining 0.18 strokes per round on the greens, and while this may not seem all that impressive, ‘Sabbs’ has managed to gain strokes on the greens in just 1 season over the past 12 years.