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Bryson DeChambeau
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Culp's Corner

2021 Tour Trends: Off-the-Tee Performance

by Josh Culp
Updated On: December 24, 2021, 12:25 pm ET

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Bryson DeChambeau changed his body and his swing a few years ago to maximize performance with the driver. Has all that work paid off? 

Let's run through some stats from the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season and find out. 

King of the Driver

To start things off, let's look at the top performers from the 2020-21 campaign when it comes to strokes gained off-the-tee, per round. Surprise, surprise, it's the Mad Scientist himself who sits easily atop the list. DeChambeau averaged a whopping 1.162 strokes gained off-the-tee, per round, last season.

The next closest was Jon Rahm at just +0.834 SG:OTT. The gap between Rahm and DeChambeau is the same gap that you find between Rahm and Charles Howell III who ranked 18th on TOUR last season. 

Who else rounded out the top 10 in average strokes gained off-the-tee? 

Bryson DeChambeau
Jon Rahm
Sergio Garcia
Rory McIlroy
Viktor Hovland
Jhonattan Vegas
Brooks Koepka
Corey Conners
Bubba Watson
Cameron Champ
 

Most Consistent Driver

We just established DeChambeau as the King of the Driver, but was he the most consistent from round to round? 

Very close, but surprisingly not. It was actually Jon Rahm that takes that title as most consistent in terms of gaining strokes off-the-tee. Rahm gained strokes off-the-tee in 88.5% of his measured rounds last season while DeChambeau was right on his heels at 88.2% positive. 

Here are the top 10 when it comes to the percentage of rounds gaining strokes off-the-tee during the 2020-21 campaign: 

Jon Rahm
Bryson DeChambeau
Patrick Cantlay
Sergio Garcia
Joaquin Niemann
Mito Pereira
Matthew Fitzpatrick
Charles Howell III
Corey Conners
Viktor Hovland

What are they feeding these kids in Chile? Niemann and Pereria both established themselves as two of the best drivers on the planet. That strong foundation on the tee box should lead to consistent results for years to come from these youngsters.

Fitzpatrick is a surprising name for me to see on this list. He doesn't hang with the big hitters in terms of distance, so how can he find a spot on this list? This could be a case of adding a touch of distance to his arsenal, going lights out in the accuracy department, or having proper tournament selection to highlight his strengths off the tee and not force himself to play courses that force him to pound drivers all day. It's likely a combination of all three of those scenarios that helped him find a spot on this list. 

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Most Improved

We've established the best of the best, but who improved the most, year-over-year? 

The answer to that question is Charles Howell III who averaged +0.505 strokes gained off-the-tee per round last season. He lost 0.132 per round during the previous season. This is a case of regressing back to his usual numbers, rather than finding something special at this point in his career. 

Here are the rest of the top 10 in most improved off-the-tee play when comparing 2020 and 2021: 

Charles Howell III
Andrew Putnam
Patton Kizzire
Michael Gellerman
Bo Van Pelt
Brandon Hagy
Wyndham Clark
Charley Hoffman
Roger Sloan
Matthew Fitzpatrick

Hoffman is an interesting case because he made a clear effort to add distance and it paid off as he went from 104th in driving distance to 28th in just one season. 

 

Biggest Decline

In the section above I just highlighted CH3 regressing back to his mean in 2021. This next list might help us find some regression candidates for 2022. 

The golfer that saw the biggest dropoff in off-the-tee performance in 2021 was Matthew Wolff. He lost 0.333 strokes off-the-tee per round last season. That was a huge drop from the previous year where he was gaining 0.607 strokes per round with his driver. Wolff gained strokes off-the-tee in seven of his last 10 measured rounds to end the year so regression is very likely for the youngster. 

Here is the rest of the top 10 in terms of biggest year-over-year decline in off-the-tee performance: 

Matthew Wolff
Sung Kang
Tommy Fleetwood
Vaughn Taylor
Fabian Gomez
Robby Shelton
Cameron Champ
Chesson Hadley
Xander Schauffele
Doc Redman

Fleetwood didn't get the nickname "Flushwood" for nothing. He has one of the prettiest swings and was always a machine with his driver and irons. We saw a huge decline in 2021 with that driver in hand but I wouldn't expect him to stay slumping for long. 

Redman looked like a prime breakout candidate ahead of 2021 but something got lost in 2021. Fans and gamers will be hoping he finds whatever he lost because the sky is the limit if he can regain that stellar level of ball-striking. 

 

Average Earnings by Tier

For this last checkup, we will divide the TOUR into three groups, based on their 2021 off-the-tee performance. 

Tier 1 consists of the golfers that were at least one standard deviation higher than the TOUR average in strokes gained off-the-tee last season. In other words, the top drivers on the planet. 

Tier 2 is basically the "average" golfer out on TOUR. These are all of the golfers that sit between Tier 1 (elite) and Tier 3 (not elite). 

Tier 3 contains the golfers that struggle with a driver in hand. Everyone that is at least a standard deviation below the TOUR average. 

Now let's see how much money each tier earned, on average, per start last season. 

Tier 1 = $152,546
Tier 2 = $71.727
Tier 3 = $24,741

Talk about a huge gap between the top drivers and the worst! The top three golfers in earnings per start were all positioned inside Tier 1 in off-the-tee performance. 

In the upcoming articles, I will run this same check on each sub-category of strokes gained. Which stat category will prove to have the biggest impact on total earnings? 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.