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Culp's Corner

Consistent Gains: Around-the-Green

by Josh Culp
Updated On: April 14, 2020, 4:15 pm ET

The PGA TOUR pushed pause on the season but our research department is still clicking away. This current research series is looking the most consistent golfers in each of the four sub-categories of strokes gained. 

In part one we looked at strokes gained off-the-tee and then we moved to approach play last week. Now we'll put our focus on around-the-green performance.

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. 

67% - 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: We saw Reed show up on the approach list and now here he is again with his around-the-green consistency, gaining around-the-green in two-thirds of his measured rounds. As you see above, we haven't even gotten to his best category yet (putting). Will he also make the consistency list when it comes to putting or is he more boom/bust when it comes to the flat stick? 

67% - Russell Henley

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 2
SG Off-the-Tee: 176th
SG Approach: 20th
SG Around-the-Green: 57th
SG Putting: 152nd
Par Breakers: 199th
Strength of Field: 100%

Notes: Henley took a dip last year when he missed the cut in 12 of his 25 starts. That's nothing new for Henley whose career appears to be riding a roller-coaster. He missed 12 cuts in 2014 and followed that up with 11 top 25s in 2015. After missing 12 cuts in 2016 he responded with 11 top 25s in 2017, as well, posting a career-best season in terms of money earned and final FedExCup position. Basically, gamers shouldn't be too turned off by his disappointing 2019 performance and his current approach and around-the-green numbers suggest a few big finishes could be just around the corner. 

67% - Charles Howell III

Starts: 12
Cuts Made: 9
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 5
SG Off-the-Tee: 147th
SG Approach: 159th
SG Around-the-Green: 23rd
SG Putting: 126th
Par Breakers: 95th
Strength of Field: 123%

Notes: CH3 is the model of consistency over the course of his career but his season-to-date stats are nothing to write home about with the exception of his around-the-green play. Is he just working through a few kinks or is the 40-year-old entering a downward trend that becomes the new norm? 

67% - Kevin Tway

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 0
SG Off-the-Tee: 208th
SG Approach: 26th
SG Around-the-Green: 46th
SG Putting: 164th
Par Breakers: 173rd
Strength of Field: 123%

Notes: You would think someone that ranks top 30 in approach play and is one of the most consistent around-the-green performers would have at least one top 25 at this point in the season. Yet, here we are, looking at just four top 40s in 11 starts. 

69% - Brandt Snedeker

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 4
SG Off-the-Tee: 196th
SG Approach: 124th
SG Around-the-Green: 3rd
SG Putting: 20th
Par Breakers: 30th
Strength of Field: 109%

Notes: Sneds is known for his lights-out putting but it is short game in general that fits into his cup of tea. Snedeker ranked 3rd on TOUR last year in strokes gained around-the-green, 19th the year before that, and 19th in 2017, as well. You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find him finishing anywhere outside of the top 20 in around-the-green play. Even that year, he managed to rank 40th. It's safe to say he's one of the best around-the-green talents on TOUR.

70% Rob Oppenheim

Starts: 15
Cuts Made: 9
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 4
SG Off-the-Tee: 186th
SG Approach: 130th
SG Around-the-Green: 9th
SG Putting: 195th
Par Breakers: 192nd
Strength of Field: 87%

Notes: His steady around-the-green play has kept him floating through cut lines but hasn't helped him create many scoring opportunities. Oppenheim ranks 195th in par breakers this season. Is around-the-green play something he normally does well? In his two previous seasons on the PGA TOUR he ranked 48th and 85th in strokes gained around-the-green. It was his best sub-category of strokes gained in each of those seasons. 

70% Adam Hadwin

Starts: 8
Cuts Made: 7
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 2
SG Off-the-Tee: 82nd
SG Approach: 32nd
SG Around-the-Green: 45th
SG Putting: 27th
Par Breakers: 64th
Strength of Field: 119%

Notes: Looking at the last five years of data, Hadwin has been on a roller-coaster when it comes to around-the-green play. He ranked outside of the top 115 in three of the last five seasons but 88th and 25th in the other two. Last year was his worst of the bunch, losing 0.227 strokes around-the-green per round, 161st on TOUR. Perhaps this is a case of him working harder on his weaknesses or maybe it's just a smaller sample of decent results that will regress by season's end. Something to watch closely because the rest of his game is well-balanced.

71% Mackenzie Hughes

Starts: 12
Cuts Made: 3
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 1
SG Off-the-Tee: 213th
SG Approach: 175th
SG Around-the-Green: 14th
SG Putting: 144th
Par Breakers: 188th
Strength of Field: 97%

Notes: We didn't see these kinds of (sub-par) results from anyone on the off-the-tee or approach lists. Hughes is proving that you can be elite at one category and still miss a majority of your cuts. For Hughes, it's strange to see him pop in this department. The Canadian ranked 108th around-the-green last year, 144th in 2018, and 82nd in 2017. He's never showcased elite short game over an entire season so gamers should look for him to regress as the season goes on. On the flip side, we should see the rest of his game improve. 

72% - Byeong Hun An

Starts: 13
Cuts Made: 10
Top 10s: 5
Top 25s: 6
SG Off-the-Tee: 72nd
SG Approach: 46th
SG Around-the-Green: 4th
SG Putting: 216th
Par Breakers: 64th
Strength of Field: 118%

Notes: The young Korean is known as one of the best ball-strikers on TOUR but hardcore fans will not be surprised to see him on this list. In fact, he finished 1st on TOUR last year in strokes gained around-the-green. If you want to throw out some theories, you could argue that his elite iron play combined with course management allows him to manage his misses better than others. If you give yourself a lot of manageable short-game shots over the course of an entire season then those small edges start to add up. I have nothing to back that up except for intuition. 

74% - Fabian Gomez

Starts: 13
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 3
SG Off-the-Tee: 163rd
SG Approach: 150th
SG Around-the-Green: 33rd
SG Putting: 117th
Par Breakers: 133rd
Strength of Field: 84%

Notes: The Argentine hovered around TOUR-average, around-the-green, in 2016 through 2018 but really excelled last year to gain 0.222 strokes around-the-green per round (39th on TOUR). He's maintained that pace early in 2020, as well. The rest of his game has been nothing to write home about. 

75% - Brian Stuard

Starts: 15
Cuts Made: 11
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 5
SG Off-the-Tee: 155th
SG Approach: 141st
SG Around-the-Green: 20th
SG Putting: 75th
Par Breakers: 148th
Strength of Field: 100%

Notes: Stuard has impressed with top 25s in one-third of his starts this season while playing a perfectly average strength of schedule. Is this a normal spot for Stuard to be ranked around-the-green? If we look at his median ranks over the last five years then we see him 151st Off-the-Tee, 84th on Approach, 93rd Around-the-Green, and 76th Putting. Based on those numbers, around-the-green play is not an area where we'd expect him to finish ranked inside of the top 25 by season's end which means regression may be around the corner. 

76% - 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: The star from Japan has been better than TOUR average in every season he's played on the PGA TOUR, when it comes to around-the-green performance. Similar to the theory I threw out for Ben An, does Hideki's elite ball-striking help him keep it below the hole, in more manageable up-and-down situations? It's possible but you also don't showcase this kind of prolonged consistency without being really good with your wedges. 

87% - Aaron Baddeley

Starts: 10
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 1
SG Off-the-Tee: 209th
SG Approach: 142nd
SG Around-the-Green: 2nd
SG Putting: 98th
Par Breakers: 57th
Strength of Field: 103%

Notes: The Aussie has been a short-game king for years now. Looking at his season-by-season performance, Baddeley has ranked 20th or better in five straight seasons when it comes to strokes gained around-the-green. Does that translate to consistency in earning paychecks? Since the start of that 2015 season, Baddeley is 74-for-128 in making cuts (57.8%). Could definitely use some improvement in the off-the-tee and approach departments.


Other Notables: If we look at names that would have made the list but their samples feel in the 15-to-19 round range then we see Tony Finau, Peter Uihlein, Alex Noren, Matt Kuchar, and Adam Scott all appear. 

I thought Finau was a very interesting name to show up on the list. How did he do around-the-green during the 2019 season? He ranked 86th while gaining in just 47.7% of his rounds. Not as impressive as the current 84.2% mark in 19 measured rounds. This goes to show why sample size is so important when looking at stats. Long-term trends typically win out in the end, with the exception of an odd case here or there where a golfer makes a noticeable improvement in a particular area. 

Another interesting name was Viktor Hovland who hilariously said this after winning the Puerto Rico Open, "I just suck at chipping!" That checks out in the stat sheet as he's gained strokes around-the-green in just 2-of-14 measured rounds this season (14%). Last season he lost 0.259 strokes around-the-green, per round. If he can even become TOUR-average around-the-greens then he'll be winning quite a few PGA TOUR events. 


Final Thoughts: In parts one and two we saw that consistent driving and consistent iron play lead to consistent cut-making. That doesn't hold as true when it comes to consistent around-the-green play. Comparing the performance stats from the three areas so far, the around-the-green standouts easily has the worst numbers of the bunch, basically across the board. If you were to "Create a Player" that you want to have a successful career, then you'd want to allocate most of your skill points to driving and iron play with around-the-green play being a "nice to have" feature that you layer in with the remaining credits. 

Josh Culp

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