THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Els uses analytical approach to guide decisions on captain's picks
November 08, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
International Team Captain's Picks for 2019 Presidents Cup
Coming off a dominant performance in 2017, the United States is heavily favored in this Presidents Cup. Eleven U.S. players, including all four captain’s picks, are ahead of the Internationals’ top player, Adam Scott, in the world ranking.
The challenge for International Team Captain Ernie Els, who announced his four captain’s picks Wednesday, was constructing a roster that is greater than the sum of its parts. Analytics aided his decision-making process, and it looks like putting may have been a determining factor in selections.
His four picks – Jason Day, Sungjae Im, Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann – all are superior in that area to the two players who narrowly missed making the team, Byeong Hun An and Corey Conners.
“I wanted good driving, good ball-striking obviously, but putting is very important,” Els said Wednesday. “In my experience in these Cups, it comes down to pressure putting in a lot of instances.
“Putting is a pivotal attribute that you need, especially in what we play. Putting was very important to me.”
Looking at the Strokes Gained statistics, there were two areas where the four captain’s picks outranked the eight players who automatically qualified for the International Team: off the tee and on the green.
INTERNATIONAL TEAM'S STROKES GAINED RANKINGS Off-the-Tee Approach the Green Around the Green Putting Top 8 80.4 64.0 49.5 71.8 Picks 30.3 88.5 96.5 63.8 Difference -50.1 +24.5 +47.0 -8.0
The average Strokes Gained: Putting rank for the four captain’s picks is a bit misleading and may not accurately represent the putting prowess of those players. Day, Im and Hadwin all rank in the top 50 of that category. Niemann inflated that number by finishing 141st in Strokes Gained: Putting last season, but he’s improved drastically since May.
Niemann ranked 203rd (out of 208 players) in Strokes Gained: Putting through the Charles Schwab Challenge, losing -0.67 strokes per round on the greens. Since then, his average Strokes Gained: Putting per round has improved by more than a stroke per round. Niemann led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting when he won A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
An and Conners assembled strong Presidents Cup candidacies, but putting was the glaring weakness for both players.
Conners was one of just two players to rank in the top 10 in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Approach-the Green last season (Paul Casey was the other). An led the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green while posting solid performances in the two ball-striking stats.
Both players had shown good form before Els made his picks. Conners, who won this year’s Valero Texas Open, posted four consecutive top-20 finishes, including a T6 at the ZOZO Championship. An had two third-place finishes since August and finished T6-T8-T14 in the three TOUR events in Asia.
Conners and An ranked 181st and 182 in Strokes Gained: Putting, respectively, in 2019.
STROKES GAINED OF CAPTAIN'S PICK CANDIDATES Off-the-Tee Approach the Green Around the Green Putting Joaquin Niemann 35 25 102 141 Sungjae Im 33 94 23 39 Jason Day 13 127 100 30 Adam Hadwin 40 108 161 45 Byeong Hun An 29 31 1 182 Corey Conners 8 9 139 181
Assembling teams with complementary skills is especially important in Foursomes (or alternate-shot), the format that has hexed the International Team. The U.S. and International teams have been basically even in Four-ball competition, but the Internationals own a winning percentage of approximately 37% in Foursomes. It’s likely why Els chose to begin this year’s Presidents Cup with Four-Ball. It’s just the third time (1994, 2013) that the Presidents Cup has started with Four-Balls.