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Past Issues
57. Bryson 4.0 (2024-06-19)
56. Newsletter No. 56 (2024-06-12)
55. Valhalla Delivers? (2024-05-22)
54. Major Expectations (2024-05-15)
53. Major Moves (2024-04-17)
52. Masters Tidbits (2024-04-10)
51. On Site at The Players (2024-03-21)
50. Still Top Scheff (2024-03-13)
48. Taylor Triumphs (2024-02-15)
47. DG PIP Rankings (2024-02-07)
46. California Kids (2024-01-23)
45. Yuan Goes Yard (2024-01-17)
44. Brain Drain (2024-01-03)
43. LIV Fever (2023-12-06)
42. Nothing Major (2023-11-15)
41. Driving Machine (2023-11-08)
40. How's Traffic? (2023-10-18)
39. Lucky Luke (2023-10-11)
38. Postmortem (2023-10-04)
37. Ryder Cup (2023-09-27)
36. Letzig Returns (2023-09-20)
35. That's a Wrap (2023-08-29)
34. Pick 6 (2023-08-23)
33. Tale of Two Glovers (2023-08-16)
32. Forecasting the FedEx (2023-08-09)
31. Postseason (2023-08-01)
30. Major Letdown (2023-07-25)
29. Underdogs (2023-07-19)
28. Up and Down (2023-07-11)
27. Validation for Rickie (2023-07-05)
26. The Ams Strike Back (2023-06-27)
25. Wyndham Rewarded (2023-06-20)
24. The Show Rolls On (2023-06-13)
23. Scottie's Scaries (2023-06-08)
22. Grillo, Mi Amigo (2023-05-30)
21. Major Koepka (2023-05-23)
20. Glory's Second Shot (2023-05-16)
19. We Meet Again.. (2023-05-09)
18. Big Tone (2023-05-01)
17. Health Check (2023-04-24)
16. Live From Harbour Town (2023-04-17)
15. Phil Thrills (2023-04-11)
14. Down Magnolia Lane We Go (2023-04-03)
13. Peaking for Augusta (2023-03-27)
12. Fall of The DeChambino (2023-03-21)
11. Top Scheff (2023-03-13)
10. Fore Right! (2023-03-06)
9. CH3.. Wins? (2023-02-28)
8. The Rahm Slam (2023-02-21)
7. Garbage Time (2023-02-14)
6. Little Misery (2023-02-07)
5. Rory Returns (2023-01-30)
4. Rahm Threat (2023-01-23)
3. Rising Maverick (2023-01-16)
2. Morikawa's Meltdown (2023-01-09)
1. Introducing Letzig (2023-01-02)

Career Evolutions

We spent some of our post-Masters time making upgrades to the career evolution page. In addition to no longer taking 30 seconds to load, the updated version includes a few new features:

1) strokes-gained was added as an option in addition to the usual finish positions (wins, top 5s, etc.).
2) major championship and tour filters (only official PGA Tour events for now).
3) by clicking and dragging on the plot, users can highlight a specific part of the selected players' careers (i.e. first 100 starts, starts 150 - 300, etc.).
4) a table summarizing the chart and current filters.

There are a lot of interesting nuggets you can discover with this page, but here are a few that stood out to us:

From April 1999 to September 2009 Tiger Woods won 63 times in 179 starts–a 35% win rate–while gaining 3.4 strokes per round. For reference, Scottie Scheffler has gained 3.4 strokes per round and won 40% of his starts so far this year... just 9.5 more years of that and golf will have its next Tiger.

Through his first 18 major championship starts, Scottie Scheffler has averaged +2.7 strokes-gained per round and won twice. While 7 other players have won twice (shout-out JD), this is the best SG average through a player's first 18 majors since 1983.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele have had near identical careers to this point.


Cantlay has one more win (tied if you include Xander's Olympics win) but otherwise Schauffele has the slight edge by other metrics. Neither has won a major, although Xander has performed much better in the 4 big events (0.6 strokes better per round, 5 more top 5s, and 10 more top 10s).

Lastly, it is apparent that Rory McIlroy is the top dog in the non-Tiger category. In his 248 starts on the PGA Tour and in majors, Rory has won 26 times (10.5%). Other players have had stretches that match Rory's pace, but he is the only one who has sustained it year after year. With Rahm going to LIV, Scheffler poses the greatest threat to Rory. His win rate is 8.3% through 121 starts, but it took him 68 starts to notch his first win—in starts 69 to 121 his win rate has been 19%.


Major Expectations

Allocating future majors to today’s stars is fun, but it almost always results in too many being given out. Here I’ll try to set some realistic major expectations using a combination of this week’s betting odds and basic modeling.

The focus will be on the top 20 players in the PGA Championship according to their betting odds (shown in the table below). If we convert these odds to probabilities, we can get a rough estimate of how many majors to expect from each player in the near future. Scottie Scheffler’s odds to win this week are 5.35 (+435); this converts to an implied probability of 18.5%, and after removing the bookmaker’s juice we’ll call it 15%. If Scheffler had this win probability at each of the next 23 majors (3 in 2024 plus 4 in each of the next 5 years) we’d expect him to win 3.4 of them. These projections are shown in the table below under the "Naive" header. Using this method we’d project 15.4 total majors for the 20 golfers shown (or 67% of 23, which is equal to their collective win probability this week).

These major projections get the "naive" label because they assume that the best players in the world today will still be the best players in the world in 1-5 years from now. History has shown that this won’t be the case; the best players at any given moment are very likely over-performing (with a few exceptions). Therefore, when projecting their performance forward a few years, we should expect some regression.

This leads us to a second method for projecting majors: we first convert this week’s win probabilities to implied skill levels, then we project these skills forward 1-5 years (taking into account age), and then we convert those future skills back to win probabilities. For example, our projections for Scheffler’s future skill in 2025-2029 are +2.8, +2.6, +2.5, +2.3, and +2.1. These skill levels map to (approximate) win probabilities of 11%, 9%, 8%, 7%, and 5%, which gives Scheffler an expected major haul over the next 23 majors of 2.1 (I used this week’s win probabilities for the rest of the 2024 majors). These projections are shown under the "Basic" column.

Finally, we can improve these projections by accounting for uncertainty in a player’s future skill. While our expectation for Scheffler’s skill in 2029 is +2.1, it’s possible it will be +2.9, or +1.4. And, critically, the upside here is more important than the downside: with a skill of +2.9 instead of +2.1, Scheffler’s win probability moves from 5% to 12%; with a skill of +1.4 instead of +2.1, his probability moves from 2% to 5%. This means that it’s better–in terms of expected major wins–to have an up-and-down career then it is to play solid all the time, which should be pretty obvious. These projections will all be slightly higher than our second set of projections, and are listed below under "Basic + Uncertainty".

While these projections are all only rough approximations, I found it useful to go through this process. The projections are pretty sensitive to a player’s current form as I am using this week’s betting odds as the starting point; this results in (for example) Rahm’s major projection being lower than it probably should be, given he is in a slight performance valley currently. I am also making the (big, in some cases) assumption that these players will compete in every major over the next 5.5 years.


Vetting Valhalla

Luckily the 2014 PGA Championship had shot-level data, which allowed us to add Valhalla to our course stats table. Here are a few quick takeaways:

1. The scorecard yardage in 2014 was 7450 yards, but the course only played to an average of 7280 yards over the four days.

2. The average driving distance (using all holes) was just 277 yards! Part of this is due to the fact that 2014 was 10 years ago and the tour average was only 280 yards (versus 292 today), but DD at Valhalla was still below the 2014 average.

3. Relatedly, Valhalla has the lowest standard deviation in driving distance of any course in our database. Normally this works against the big hitters, as it means they aren’t able to separate as much off the tee. The lowest SD holes were 13, 9, 12, and 6.

4. Valhalla’s fairways were easier-than-average for players to hit and its greens were harder-than-average to hit, but otherwise, Valhalla’s stats read as a pretty normal PGA Tour course.

Points 2 and 3 are surprising given that we know a player’s length off the tee was a very strong predictor of success in 2014. Another course that has this characteristic—good course fit for bombers despite having a low standard deviation in DD—is the South Course at Torrey Pines.

One possibility is that the long hitters gained more of their advantage on second shots in 2014; here’s what the shot distribution looked like compared to the tour average:

Putts: < 5 feet: 7.44 at Valhalla (7.12 tour avg), 5-30 feet: 11.96 (11.57), 30+ feet: 2.76 (3.36)
ARG: fairway: 3.83 (3.99), rough 2.05 (2.12), bunker 1.81 (1.58)
APP: < 100 yards: 1.91 (1.72), 100-150 yards: 3.65 (5.08), 150-200 yards: 6.3 (6.81), 200+ yards: 5.78 (3.52)

Players hit more than 2 extra shots per round at Valhalla from 200+, which could help explain why length was such an important predictor of success. They also hit slightly more greenside bunker shots and short putts than at a typical PGA Tour course.

To finish, here’s a detailed look at the penalty for missing the fairway at Valhalla ("fairway" includes the intermediate rough here):

The most penal fairway to miss was on 13, while the least penal hole was 5. Cumulatively, missing every fairway to the right at Valhalla would cost a player 2.5 strokes compared to missing every one left.


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subscribe to this newsletter.

Past Issues
57. Bryson 4.0 (2024-06-19)
56. Newsletter No. 56 (2024-06-12)
55. Valhalla Delivers? (2024-05-22)
54. Major Expectations (2024-05-15)
53. Major Moves (2024-04-17)
52. Masters Tidbits (2024-04-10)
51. On Site at The Players (2024-03-21)
50. Still Top Scheff (2024-03-13)
48. Taylor Triumphs (2024-02-15)
47. DG PIP Rankings (2024-02-07)
46. California Kids (2024-01-23)
45. Yuan Goes Yard (2024-01-17)
44. Brain Drain (2024-01-03)
43. LIV Fever (2023-12-06)
42. Nothing Major (2023-11-15)
41. Driving Machine (2023-11-08)
40. How's Traffic? (2023-10-18)
39. Lucky Luke (2023-10-11)
38. Postmortem (2023-10-04)
37. Ryder Cup (2023-09-27)
36. Letzig Returns (2023-09-20)
35. That's a Wrap (2023-08-29)
34. Pick 6 (2023-08-23)
33. Tale of Two Glovers (2023-08-16)
32. Forecasting the FedEx (2023-08-09)
31. Postseason (2023-08-01)
30. Major Letdown (2023-07-25)
29. Underdogs (2023-07-19)
28. Up and Down (2023-07-11)
27. Validation for Rickie (2023-07-05)
26. The Ams Strike Back (2023-06-27)
25. Wyndham Rewarded (2023-06-20)
24. The Show Rolls On (2023-06-13)
23. Scottie's Scaries (2023-06-08)
22. Grillo, Mi Amigo (2023-05-30)
21. Major Koepka (2023-05-23)
20. Glory's Second Shot (2023-05-16)
19. We Meet Again.. (2023-05-09)
18. Big Tone (2023-05-01)
17. Health Check (2023-04-24)
16. Live From Harbour Town (2023-04-17)
15. Phil Thrills (2023-04-11)
14. Down Magnolia Lane We Go (2023-04-03)
13. Peaking for Augusta (2023-03-27)
12. Fall of The DeChambino (2023-03-21)
11. Top Scheff (2023-03-13)
10. Fore Right! (2023-03-06)
9. CH3.. Wins? (2023-02-28)
8. The Rahm Slam (2023-02-21)
7. Garbage Time (2023-02-14)
6. Little Misery (2023-02-07)
5. Rory Returns (2023-01-30)
4. Rahm Threat (2023-01-23)
3. Rising Maverick (2023-01-16)
2. Morikawa's Meltdown (2023-01-09)
1. Introducing Letzig (2023-01-02)