Stats & Info: Golf

New metric: Strokes Gained, Tee-To-Green

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4

AP Photo/Mark DuncanRory McIlroy is 1 of 4 players to rank among the TOUR's top 10 in SGT2G in each of the last 3 seasons.
In 2011, the PGA TOUR introduced a new metric, Strokes Gained: Putting (SGP) to better evaluate players’ putting performance.

Now, in an attempt to measure who’s the best on all the parts of the game that take place before the putting surface, the TOUR has added Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green (SGT2G).

Both metrics are founded on the principle of strokes gained (or lost) against the field - a player who shoots 68 in a round when the field average was 71 has gained 3.0 total strokes on the field. A player who shoots 72 in that same round has lost 1.0 stroke.

Using historical putting data, SGP assigns a value to a player’s putting performance in a given round (i.e. +1.7 strokes), meaning the rest of the player’s strokes gained (or lost) for the round are attributed to his play from tee to green, or SGT2G.

If Rory McIlroy gains 4.0 shots on the field in a given round, and his SGP is +1.5, then simple arithmetic says that his SGT2G is +2.5 for that round.

Winning happens off the green
The old saying “Drive for show, putt for dough” suggests that the putter is the most important club in the bag, but SGT2G indicates otherwise.

Of the top five players on the PGA TOUR in SGT2G this season (entering the BMW Championship), three have won at least once, and they have combined for five victories and 38 top-10 finishes.

Compare that to just one win (Matt Every) and 21 top-10 finishes combined for the top five players in SGP.

In each of the last five years, the PGA TOUR Player of the Year ranked fourth or better in SGT2G. But only two of those players (Tiger Woods in 2009 and Luke Donald in 2011) also ranked inside the top 20 in putting.

In 2012, when he won four times on TOUR, Rory McIlroy ranked a dismal 82nd in strokes gained putting.

Distance required?
Four players have ranked among the TOUR’s top 10 in SGT2G in each of the last three seasons: McIlroy (World No. 1), Adam Scott (World No. 2), Justin Rose (World No. 5) and Jim Furyk (World No. 7).

Length off the tee certainly helps in this category (two of those four players are averaging more than 300 yards per drive on the PGA TOUR this season), but it’s not everything. Rose (293.9) is 58th on TOUR in driving distance, and Furyk (278.7) is 161st. In fact, Furyk continues to rank among TOUR’s elite in SGT2G, despite finishing the year outside the top 150 in driving distance every year since 2004.

Of the top 10 players in SGT2G this season, four rank in the top 20 in driving distance, two are in the top 20 in fairways hit, and the remaining four rank outside the top 30 in both categories.
Admittedly, the best storylines from Darren Clarke's win at the Open Championship are those that can't be quantified. The story of Clarke's long road back from the 2006 death of his wife has been told elsewhere. And while Clarke's first major championship is above all a personal triumph, we would be remiss to not examine its implications for his homeland of Northern Ireland.

With Clarke's win, golfers from Northern Ireland have now three of the last six majors. That means that over the last 13 months, Northern Ireland (population approximately 1.8 million) has won exactly as many major titles as the rest of the globe (population approximately 6.9 billion).

Clarke's win comes less than a month after his countryman Rory McIlroy's U.S. Open win at Congressional. Northern Ireland is the first country other than the U.S. to have different golfers win consecutive majors in more than a century. Prior to Sunday, it hadn't happened since 1910, when Scotland's Alex Smith and James Braid won U.S. Open and Open Championship, respectively.

If a golfer of Clarke's nationality winning a major title isn't unusual, one of his age and recent major pedigree certainly is. At 42, Clarke is the oldest first-time major champion since Tom Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open, also at 42. And the sight of Clarke near the top of a major leaderboard on Sunday is something that hadn't been seen in quite some time entering 2011. Clarke played in 12 majors from 2006-10, missing the cut 12 times and never finishing better than his tie for 22nd at the 2002 Masters.

Then again, predicting major champions is harder than ever. After Clarke's win, 12 different golfers have now won the last 12 majors, including six straight first-time major winners.

Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson shared runner-up honors at 2-under, leading the pack of five Americans who finished tied for fifth or better. Despite the multiple American flags near the top of the leaderboard, the U.S. now has no wins in the last six major championships, a streak that started after Mickelson's win at last year's Masters. It's the longest streak of majors played ever without an American winner.