Inside the numbers: Investigating key stats behind each Ryder Cup roster
7 Min Read
Written by Justin Ray, @JustinRayGolf
Both rosters for this week’s Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club are packed with names that produced memorable statistical performances in 2023.
Scottie Scheffler assembled ball-striking (2.62 Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green) and bogey avoidance (10.7%) numbers not seen in a full PGA TOUR season – not since Tiger Woods’ prime years. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy finished the TOUR Championship averaging 326.3 yards off the tee, most for any player in a single season all-time. And don’t forget about the historically hot start Jon Rahm had this season, winning three times in a calendar year on the PGA TOUR faster than anyone since Johnny Miller in 1975.
It takes more than just the biggest names to win a Ryder Cup, though. From players one through 12, both teams are loaded with numbers to know about their games before play begins Friday.
1. Aberg's ascent: Since turning professional in June, Ludvig Aberg has enjoyed quite the ascent from Lubbock, Texas, to representing Europe in Rome. When Aberg tees it up at Marco Simone, he will be the first player to compete in a Ryder Cup before ever teeing it up in a major championship.
From the week of the RBC Canadian Open – Aberg’s pro debut – through the TOUR Championship, there were 100 players with 20 or more rounds measured by ShotLink. Of that group, no player averaged more Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee per round than Aberg with 1.20. The next two names on that list are McIlroy (1.08) and Scheffler (0.88). On a golf course that’s expected to reward elite driving, Aberg has an opportunity to shine in his Ryder Cup debut.
Get to know: Texas Tech's Ludvig Aberg
2. Hojgaard set to impress: Like Aberg, fellow Ryder Cup rookie Nicolai Hojgaard finished in the top five at both the D+D Real Czech Masters and Omega European Masters on the DP World Tour, an exclamation point on a season with a bushel of impressive results. At just 22, Hojgaard will be the youngest competitor for either side at Marco Simone.
While Aberg is incredibly impressive off the tee, Hojgaard isn’t too far behind. This season, he ranks second on the DP World Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee per round (0.90) and eighth in average driving distance (317 yards). His approach numbers are excellent, as well: third in greens in regulation (73.1%) and 13th in SG: Approach per round (0.67).
3. Hovland's short-game revelation: For the first few years of his burgeoning pro career, the weak spot in Viktor Hovland’s near-flawless on-course arsenal has famously been his short game. But in the last several months, that has actually turned into a strength.
Entering the PGA Championship in May, Hovland ranked 170th on the PGA TOUR in SG: Around the Green per round (-0.24). But since that week at Oak Hill began, Hovland has gained 0.30 strokes per round in that statistic, good for T-18th among players with 20 or more measured rounds in that span.
|Viktor Hovland's Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green this season|
|Category||Entering PGA Championship||Since|
4. Straka's strength: Sepp Straka was one of the most improved players on the PGA TOUR in the 2022-23 FedExCup season, vaulting up more than 60 spots in SG: Total per round over a season ago. One of the biggest reasons why was his vastly improved approach play. Straka ranked 21st on the TOUR in SG: Approach just one year after sitting in 164th place in that metric.
Straka’s improvement of 0.77 SG: Approach per round was the third-largest among players who qualified for official stats in both seasons. The two players who improved more will be teeing it up for the U.S. Team at Marco Simone: Rickie Fowler (0.89) and Wyndham Clark (0.84).
|Biggest improvement in Strokes Gained: Approach Average — 2022 vs. 2023|
5. Fleetwood on a roll: Entering his third career Ryder Cup, Tommy Fleetwood is arguably playing the strongest golf of his career. The 2022-23 FedExCup season was the third consecutive year Fleetwood significantly improved his ranking in SG: Tee-to-Green – from 92nd back in 2020 up to ninth in 2023. One of Fleetwood’s most impressive statistics reflects both great decision-making and shot execution.
On the PGA TOUR this season, players who go for the green in two on par fives, or for the green with a tee shot on par fours, have made birdie or eagle 57.5% of the time. Fleetwood makes birdie or eagle at a 68.1% rate – best of any player on TOUR through the TOUR Championship. That’s a stat to keep in mind as the European Team attacks the pair of short par fours on the back nine at Marco Simone.
1. Fowler's turnaround: It’s almost impossible to overstate how impressive Rickie Fowler’s statistical turnaround has been from 2021-22 to 2022-23. He went from a below-average approach player (-0.16 SG: Approach per round, 151st on TOUR) to one of the best on the planet (+0.73, T-6th). He improved his scoring average by almost a stroke and a half, vaulting from outside the top-100 on TOUR to inside the top 10. His putting numbers aren’t quite up to where they once were – leading the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained on the greens – but he improved by more than 100 spots in that statistic, too.
|Rickie Fowler's PGA TOUR rankings in the last two seasons|
Fowler made his Ryder Cup debut in 2010 at age 21, the youngest player on the American roster. Thirteen years later, he’s the second-oldest player on the U.S. Team.
2. Homa's putting strides: For the second season in a row, Max Homa had positive Strokes Gained averages in every category, a telltale sign of a player who’s strong through the bag. Homa’s best weapon, though, is his putter – not that it’s always been the case.
Just two seasons ago, Homa ranked 118th on the PGA TOUR in SG: Putting per round, losing nearly half-a-stroke to the field every 72 holes. He ranked 146th on TOUR in putt make percentage from 4-8 feet, a critical range when it comes to saving par and keeping rounds on the right track. This season was a different story: He was eighth on TOUR in SG: Putting, jumping more than 100 spots in putting from 4-8 feet. The result: going from 85th on TOUR in bogey avoidance to seventh.
3. Harman's scrambling success: Brian Harman’s epic performance at Royal Liverpool this summer won’t easily be forgotten. His six-shot margin of victory was the largest by any American at The Open since Woods won by eight in his historic 2000 season. His ability to keep bogeys off the scorecard was obviously paramount during his preservation of the lead that weekend: He got up and down at a rate of 75% for the week, the fourth-best rate of any player who made the cut.
Brian Harman’s recipe for clutch putting
Harman will enter the Ryder Cup not just as the best scrambler this season on either team, but the best on the entire PGA TOUR in the 2022-23 FedExCup season. Harman ended the season with a 67.7% scrambling rate, best on TOUR. For context, the PGA TOUR average rate is about 58.5%. Harman also ranked third in sand-save percentage (64.4%) and second in scrambling from 10 to 20 yards away (77.3%) in 2022-23.
4. Clark crushes driver: There are myriad numbers that point to why Wyndham Clark is having a career year in 2023. His iron play went from weakness (173rd in SG: Approach last season) to strength (27th). That led to a 105-spot leap in SG: Tee-to-Green per round. Oh, and making 419 birdies in the FedExCup season – third most of any player – certainly helps.
One thing Clark has always been able to do since turning pro is absolutely crush his driver. In each of his first three full seasons on the PGA TOUR, Clark ranked between 15th and 30th in clubhead speed. Over the last two years, though, he’s kicked it up a notch, ranking in the top 10 on TOUR in both average clubhead speed and average distance of all drives. Clark launched 38.7% of his drives this season 320 yards or further – just about double the TOUR average (19.5%).
5. Burns' putting prowess: Plenty will be made this week of some of the player-specific skill sets on display: McIlroy with the driver or Scheffler’s incredible iron play, for example. One under-the-radar weapon for the Americans this week, though, will be the putter of Ryder Cup rookie Sam Burns.
Burns is the only player to rank in the top 15 on the PGA TOUR in SG: Putting each of the last three seasons. In 2023, he’s been elite from short range (17th in make percentage inside 10 feet), mid-range (12th putting from 15 to 20 feet away) and long distance (40 made putts from 20 feet or longer). In the FedExCup season, he was in the top 15 in total putting, one-putt percentage and putts per round, too. Don’t be surprised if Burns is rolling them in all over Marco Simone this week, too.