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Collin Morikawa
Culp's Corner

Consistent Gains: Approach

by Josh Culp
Updated On: April 3, 2020, 3:58 pm ET

This is leg two of a four-part series that will look at the most consistent golfers in each sub-category of strokes gained. At the end of the exercise I will circle back and look for any trends that present themselves. 

In part one we looked at strokes gained off-the-tee and now we'll move our attention to approach play. 

As a reminder, I'm looking at the 2020 season only and I'm requiring at least 20 measured rounds to qualify. 

To help with this project, I will be using FantasyNational.com which has opened its doors to all users during this COVID-19 outbreak. It's the perfect time to go check it out for free and mess around with all the stats. 

Strength of Field Note: All of the stats listed can be found on the PGA TOUR stats page with the exception of the strength of field stat. This looks at the field strength of all events played in 2020 and compares it to the average event so far this season. A TOUR-average schedule would be listed as 100% while a slightly tougher schedule may be shown as 110%. On the flip side, a golfer that only plays in weak-field events would be well below the 100% threshold. 

71% - Patrick Reed

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 7
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 6 
SG Off-the-Tee: 109th
SG Approach: 38th
SG Around-the-Green: 38th
SG Putting: 3rd
Par Breakers: 7th
Strength of Field: 140%

Notes: This one is a frame-it-on-the-wall moment for David Leadbetter. Starting in late 2018, Reed went on a stretch where he lost strokes on approach in 11-of-14 measured events. It was after that missed cut at the 2019 Valspar when Reed hooked up with Leadbetter to figure things out. Since then, the Texan has gained strokes approaching-the-green in 14-of-18 measured events. 

72% - Hideki Matsuyama

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 10
Top 10s:4
Top 25s: 8
SG Off-the-Tee: 38th
SG Approach: 11th
SG Around-the-Green: 11th
SG Putting: 198th
Par Breakers: 11th
Strength of Field: 129%

Notes: Seeing Hideki-bot on this list will surprise no one. He's been one of the best iron players on TOUR since he arrived in the States. On top of consistency, he's also gained at least 5.8 strokes on approach in three of his last six starts and was leading THE PLAYERS before it was canceled. We should see him back in the winner's circle sooner rather than later.  

73% - Russell Knox

Starts: 14
Cuts Made: 9
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 4
SG Off-the-Tee: 140th
SG Approach: 15th
SG Around-the-Green: 121st
SG Putting: 127th
Par Breakers: 108th
Strength of Field: 98%

Notes: Knox gained attention from his plan to add distance off the tee this year. It was working out well and he was picking up steam. Then he went and lost 11.7 strokes putting over his last seven measured rounds to miss four straight cuts. We'll need to see him fix the flat stick before we reinvest with confidence. 

74% - Tom Hoge

Starts: 13
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 3
Top 25s: 6
SG Off-the-Tee: 91st
SG Approach: 17th
SG Around-the-Green: 150th
SG Putting: 29th
Par Breakers: 60th
Strength of Field: 97%

Notes: Iron play has always been a strength for the man from Fargo. Short game has not. That changed this year as he ranked top 30 in putting and has gained in the putting department in five of his last seven starts. 

74% - Marc Leishman

Starts: 9
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 3
Top 25s: 3 
SG Off-the-Tee: 96th
SG Approach: 5th
SG Around-the-Green: 132nd
SG Putting: 85th
Par Breakers: 123rd
Strength of Field: 125%

Notes: There were injury concerns in the fall but he's dismissed those worried by gaining strokes on approach in all five starts since the calendar flipped to 2020. It's been a steady stream of positive SG Approach rounds, gaining 4.6 or more strokes on approach in four of those five starts. The Aussie was very steady on approach last season, as well, but was a coin flip to gain with his irons the season before that. It looks like 2018 was the outlier season (in a bad way) but moving forward we should continue him to thrive with the irons. The approach from outside of 150 yards, in particular, is where he gains his ground. Wedge work would be one spot for him to improve on. 

75% - Joel Dahmen

Starts: 13
Cuts Made: 11
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 6
SG Off-the-Tee: 24th
SG Approach: 22nd
SG Around-the-Green: 61st
SG Putting: 170th
Par Breakers: 140th
Strength of Field: 113%

Notes: We have our first repeat here since Dahmen was also on the most consistent list when it came to off-the-tee performance. When you talk about the best ball-strikers on TOUR, we're going to have to start including Dahmen, especially if he can maintain these early-season numbers. 

76% - Gary Woodland

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 7
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 5
SG Off-the-Tee: 29th
SG Approach: 16th
SG Around-the-Green: 178th
SG Putting: 81st
Par Breakers: 25th
Strength of Field: 134%

Notes: Short game has always been the piece that holds Woodland back from being a top-tier talent. Still one of the best in the world based on ball-striking alone. He gained a whopping 7.2 strokes putting during the week of his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach. He has that ability to pop with the flat stick, gaining 4+ strokes putting in 12 measured events since 2012. 

76% - Xander Schauffele

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 7
Top 10s: 3
Top 25s: 7
SG Off-the-Tee: 18th
SG Approach: 14th
SG Around-the-Green: 58th
SG Putting: 119th
Par Breakers: 31st
Strength of Field: 143%

Notes: X-Man was around 20th on TOUR last season in off-the-tee performance and that remains a strength of his. However, his current consistency level with the irons puts him at 3rd-best on TOUR, gaining strokes on approach in 76% of his measured rounds so far. It's no wonder he's established himself as a big-game hunter because of the strongest-field events are generally played on courses that are set up to reward the best ball-strikers. 

80% - Collin Morikawa

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 11
Top 10s: 3
Top 25s: 7
SG Off-the-Tee: 36th
SG Approach: 4th
SG Around-the-Green: 120th
SG Putting: 174th
Par Breakers: 33rd
Strength of Field: 131%

Notes: During the 2019 season, the youngster gained strokes on approach in 69% of his measured rounds. The names who also landed on that number included Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, and Paul Casey. Not bad company to keep. Morikawa continues to stripe it and has quickly cemented himself as one of the best iron players on TOUR. 

85% - Justin Thomas

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 5
Top 25s: 6  
SG Off-the-Tee: 17th
SG Approach: 8th
SG Around-the-Green: 52nd
SG Putting: 76th
Par Breakers: 2nd
Strength of Field: 136%

Notes: Like Dahmen, JT is another repeat performer when it comes to being top 10 in off-the-tee and approach consistency this season. Last year, Thomas eclipsed the 70% consistency mark when it came to gaining off-the-tee and on approach. It was a small list of names that ended the season in the 70-70 club. It was Viktor HovlandJason Kokrak and Hideki Matsuyama who joined him on that list. Long story short, Thomas has shown no lasting effects of the wrist injury and he'll remain a threat to win any time he tees it up. 


Other Notables: If I pulled the minimum-round threshold down to 10 rounds instead of 20 then names like Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, and Adam Scott would all show up with an approach consistency over 75 percent.

I think Hovland is the most interesting because casual gamers may not realize how steady he is from tee-to-green. During the 2019 season he gained strokes on approach in 79% of his 29 measured rounds. That was the best ratio of anyone on TOUR with Justin Thomas coming in second at 73%. 


Final Thoughts: I highlighted the cuts-made ratio from the off-the-tee list (78%) but this bunch is even better. The 10 names on the approach list above have made it through the cut in 84-of-103 events played. That's good for an 82% rate. I didn't isolate the no-cut events from the sample so that plays a part but even still, a cuts-made ratio over 70% is rock solid. I will be interested to see if the short-game lists also translate to steady paydays. 



Josh Culp

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