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Cameron Champ
Culp's Corner

Consistent Gains: Off-the-Tee

by Josh Culp
Updated On: March 26, 2020, 5:43 pm ET

There are PGA TOUR leaderboards for nearly every stat imaginable these days. That includes all four sub-categories of strokes gained (off-the-tee, approach, around-the-green, and putting) but the overall rankings don't always tell us the whole picture. It's fun to look at things from a different lens. That is what we're going to do here. 

Rory McIlroy may have led the TOUR in strokes gained off-the-tee last year but did he do so by gaining huge chunks in particular events while losing to the field in others? The answer to that one is no, but there are definitely golfers that get the job done in different ways. 

In particular, this next series of articles is going to look at round-by-round consistency in each of the four sub-categories of strokes gained. I looked at the current 2019-20 season and required a minimum of 20 measured rounds to qualify.

At the end of the series, I will combine the data to see if any trends start to appear based on which area of the game each golfer excels. I will start with strokes gained off-the-tee which measures how well a golfer is driving the ball. 

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. 

80% - Ryan Palmer

Starts: 9
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 6 
SG Off-the-Tee: 19th
SG Approach: 75th
SG Around-the-Green: 197th
SG Putting: 155th
Par Breakers: 29th
Strength of Field: 127%

Notes: The 43-year-old is still hanging with the youngsters. The 80% number next to his name indicates that he's gained strokes off-the-tee in 80% of his measured rounds this season. His off-the-tee numbers dipped in 2018 and 2019 (ranked 59th and 52nd) but are back inside the top 20 which is where he's lived for the majority of his career. The elite ball-striking is necessary for Palmer who has landed outside of the top 90 in both around-the-green and putting performance in four straight seasons.

80% - Danny Lee

Starts: 12
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s:3
Top 25s: 4
SG Off-the-Tee: 33rd
SG Approach: 65th
SG Around-the-Green: 190th
SG Putting: 181st
Par Breakers: 52nd
Strength of Field: 117%

Notes: Lee was 86th in strokes gained off-the-tee last season and outside of the top 110 the year prior. From a wide-lens view, you might credit this to a small sample size in 2020 but his coach switch to George Gankas plays a key part. He was always on the shorter side of the distance spectrum but rocketed up to 42nd on TOUR in driving distance last season and currently ranks 35th in distance this season. Just a few years ago, the 29-year-old was ready for a career change but now he's hitting it better than ever off the tee, making him a high-upside fantasy option any time he pegs it.

81% - Bubba Watson

Starts: 9
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 3
SG Off-the-Tee: 9th
SG Approach: 136th
SG Around-the-Green: 174th
SG Putting: 16th
Par Breakers: 116th
Strength of Field: 131%

Notes: It's no surprise to see big-hitting Bubba as a steady off-the-tee performer but Watson hasn't ranked inside of the top 110 in approach performance since the 2015-16 season. It's hard to trust him as a consistent option these days but he's surely going to pop a few times a year for top-heavy finishes.

82% - Corey Conners

Starts: 12
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 6
SG Off-the-Tee: 14th
SG Approach: 24th
SG Around-the-Green: 205th
SG Putting: 212th
Par Breakers: 88th
Strength of Field: 129%

Notes: The Canadian become a first-time winner last year and as a result, he's playing a tougher schedule than year's past. It hasn't impacted his ability to hang with the elites off-the-tee (or on approach). He remains a wildcard in the short-game department but his ball-striking numbers have been proven to be world-class.

83% - Scottie Scheffler

Starts: 13
Cuts Made: 11
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 7 
SG Off-the-Tee: 8th
SG Approach: 64th
SG Around-the-Green: 100th
SG Putting: 129th
Par Breakers: 4th
Strength of Field: 102%

Notes: The 23-year-old phenom has been a breakout star this season, posting top 25s in more than half of his starts. He's done so in pretty mediocre fields (just 2% tougher than TOUR-average field strength). These results are not shocking for any gamers that have watched his rise up the amateur ranks or watched him last year on the Korn Ferry circuit. The Texan has all the tools to post those kind of numbers against the world's best so I'm not discounting his numbers too much based on the strength of his opponents so far this season. Scheffler has already vaulted inside of the top 50 in the OWGR so we will see how his game stacks up against the best of the best, very soon. 

85% - Harry Higgs

Starts: 15
Cuts Made: 11
Top 10s: 2
Top 25s: 6
SG Off-the-Tee: 22nd
SG Approach: 153rd
SG Around-the-Green: 153rd
SG Putting: 66th
Par Breakers: 63rd
Strength of Field: 93%

Notes: The 28-year-old is doing all his heavy lifting with the driver. On the season, he is averaging 0.540 strokes gained total per round and 0.539 off-the-tee. As you can see from his strength of field number, he hasn't played the strongest of schedules but he's gaining strokes off-the-tee in 85 % of his measured rounds which is impressive, regardless of the competition. Higgs racked up top 25s in 13-of-22 starts on the Korn Ferry circuit last year and already has six top 25s this season. The PGA TOUR rookie is proving that doing one thing really well is sometimes all it takes. 

85% - Bryson DeChambeau

Starts: 7 
Cuts Made: 6
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 5
SG Off-the-Tee: 3rd
SG Approach: 66th
SG Around-the-Green: 75th
SG Putting: 22nd
Par Breakers: 13th
Strength of Field: 124%

Notes: There must be something in the water down at SMU as Higgs and Bryson both excel in the off-the-tee department. DeChambeau has ramped up his workout routine to beef up and it's really showing with his off-the-tee numbers. He was already a +0.42 SG Off-the-Tee performer over his first three seasons but he's currently gaining more than a stroke per round over the field this season. It may seem like a small boost but when you apply that over four rounds he instantly gains two strokes per event compared to his previous Off-the-Tee baseline. Huge potential for the Mad Scientist if he can maintain these driving numbers.

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: We know JT is a very goal-oriented player so it wouldn't surprise me if he had a 2020 goal of something like "gain strokes in 75% of my rounds." He gained off-the-tee in 69% of his rounds during the 2018 campaign and 71% last year. We should expect a bit of regression from this lofty 85% number but something around 75% is very realistic for a player of his caliber.

85% - Harris English

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 10
Top 10s: 5
Top 25s: 7
SG Off-the-Tee: 28th
SG Approach: 41st
SG Around-the-Green: 69th
SG Putting: 39th
Par Breakers: 53rd
Strength of Field: 98%

Notes: We've mentioned this in news blurbs and articles over the last few months, but it's worth revisiting the off-the-tee revival for English. The Georgia Bulldog finished outside of the top 100 in strokes gained off-the-tee in every season from 2015 through 2019 but here he sits at 28th in the SG OTT ranks so far this season. It's likely not a coincidence that the 2014 season was the last year that English won an event. As you can see above, he's gaining strokes off-the-tee in 85% of his measured rounds so it's not a fluky ranking based on a few standout weeks. Gamers should continue to ride this revival until/unless they start to see a reversal in his driving numbers. 

86% - 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: Definitely the most surprising on the list for me was Dahmen. He's not particularly long off the tee (112th in distance) so to rank top 25 in off-the-tee performance means that he's been laser-sharp with his accuracy (and strategy). His confidence on the tee box is likely allowing him to take a few more risks where others might decide to lay back with an iron or 3-wood. Seeing Dahmen on the list may not have been that surprising for many gamers because he was top 55 in SG Off-the-Tee in each of his two full seasons on TOUR. 

86% - Cameron Champ

Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 8
Top 10s: 1
Top 25s: 5 
SG Off-the-Tee: 2nd
SG Approach: 110th
SG Around-the-Green: 196th
SG Putting: 149th
Par Breakers: 17th
Strength of Field: 109%

Notes: If Dahmen was the most surprising name on the list for me, Champ would be the opposite. The big-hitting Texan ranked 6th off-the-tee during his first full TOUR season and he was dealing with back injuries for much of the season. If he can stay healthy then look out. Is this 86% number a realistic target for Champ? Well, last season he gained off-the-tee in 73% of his rounds so it would be a huge increase but not unfathomable. Rory McIlory, for example, gained off-the-tee in 94.7% of his measured rounds which was best on TOUR by a wide margin. 


Other Notables: Names like Jhonattan Vegas and Jon Rahm would have been at the top of this list but didn't meet the minimum measured-round threshold I set of 20 rounds. It was also a bit surprising to see Rory McIlroy sit at just 66.7% consistency after 15 measured rounds. The sample is way to low to worry about. For example, if McIlroy gained off-the-tee in his next five rounds then he'd quickly rise to the 75% mark. Like I mentioned above, McIlroy led the TOUR last year in Off-the-Tee consistency (94.7% of measured rounds). Jason Day is another name that finds his way to the top of these off-the-tee leaderboards each year. It's surprising since his back (and other ailments) give him so many troubles. When he actually pegs it, he's almost as consistent as they come in the off-the-tee department. 


Final Thoughts: The key takeaway for me was that off-the-tee consistency also led to cashing-checks consistency. The overall cuts-made ratio of this bunch exceeds 75 percent which is stellar. How will that stack up against the other categories like Approach, Around-the-Green, or Putting? We'll find out over the next few weeks.  



Josh Culp

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