Who are the most improved players in 2020?
A look at the players who made the largest leaps in key metrics
May 26, 2020
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Bryson DeChambeau leads the PGA TOUR in driving distance. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The PGA TOUR’s return is right around the corner. Before players tee it up at the Charles Schwab Challenge, we thought it would be good to remind you about what transpired before the coronavirus closed the doors.
In this story, we’ll look at the players who made the biggest year-over-year improvements in several key metrics. Some of the samples are small, so it will be interesting to see if players can keep up the pace when play resumes.
Without further delay, let’s look at the largest leaps made in several statistical categories.
It should be no surprise that Brendon Todd made the biggest move in the FedExCup standings after emerging from a deep slump with an incredible run this fall.
Todd’s 183rd-place finish in last year’s FedExCup was actually his best in his past four seasons. That shows how bad things got.
Between the start of the 2016 season and his win at the Bermuda Championship, Todd missed 78% (47 of 60) of his cuts and didn’t have a finish better than T18. A final-round 62 in Bermuda gave him his second career win. He won his next start, at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, then took the 54-hole lead at The RSM Classic, where he finished fourth.
Todd has earned 1,110 points this season after amassing just 205 FedExCup points from 2016-19.
BIGGEST FEDEXCUP GAINERS Name 2020 rank 2019 rank Improvement Brendon Todd 4th 183rd +179 spots Tom Hoge 22nd 159th +137 Tyler Duncan 27th 163rd +136 Brendan Steele 40th 171st +131 Harris English 24th 149th +125
Some of the game’s biggest names are on the other side of this table, including the 2018 FedExCup champion, and the players who accounted for three of that year’s four majors.
BIGGEST FEDEXCUP DROPS Name 2020 rank 2019 rank Change Brooks Koepka 213 3 -210 spots Justin Rose 205 26 -179 C.T. Pan 171 37 -134 Kevin Tway 163 31 -132 Francesco Molinari 169 40 -129
STROKES GAINED: TOTAL*
Strokes Gained: Total is a great stat. It not only tells you a player’s score in relation to the field average, but it’s also the sum of the four Strokes Gained categories (Off-the-Tee, Approach, Around-the-Green and Putting).
This allows you to see the proportion that each aspect of the game played in a player’s success. You can see that a player gained half his strokes on the greens, or perhaps he putted poorly but finished in the top 10 because his approach play accounted for 75% of his strokes gained on the field.
There is one limitation to Strokes Gained: Total, though. It is limited to ShotLink-measured rounds, even though the calculation is quite simple. Strokes Gained: Total is simply the difference between a player’s score and the field average. A player who shoots 68 on a day the field averages 72 gains four strokes on the field. There is, however, a stat called “Stroke Differential to Field Average” that is basically Strokes Gained: Total for ALL rounds. That’s the statistic I used in this section.
BIGGEST GAINERS IN STROKES GAINED: TOTAL Name 2020 SG: Total 2019 SG: Total Improvement Tyrrell Hatton +2.54 (2nd) +0.59 (45th) +1.95 Harris English +1.62 (11th) +0.08 (108th) +1.54 Tom Hoge +1.08 (21st) -0.40 (159th) +1.48 Note: min. 15 rounds
Tyrrell Hatton won the final event before the season was put on hold, the Arnold Palmer presented by Mastercard. It was the continuation of some really impressive, but underrated, play this season. Hatton’s worst finish in four starts is T14. He had two T6 finishes in addition to his win. The fact that half his starts came in the fall in Asia, and he’s only teed it up twice on TOUR in this calendar year, means it was easy to overlook that good play.
He’s second on TOUR, behind only Rory McIlroy, in Stroke Differential to Field Average.
Only eight of Hatton’s rounds have been measured by ShotLink, so he didn’t qualify for the tables below, but he’s also the most-improved player in Strokes Gained: Approach. He leads the TOUR in that category with +1.4 strokes gained per round. He was 61st in Strokes Gained: Approach last season (+0.2 per round).
The improvements by Hoge and English have paid off with large leaps in the FedExCup (see above). Hoge finished a career-best second at the season-opening A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, and his three top-10s this season already match a career high. He also finished T6 at The American Express and fifth at the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s made the FedExCup Playoffs just once in five previous seasons, finishing a career-best 92nd in 2018. He should beat that this year.
STROKES GAINED: OFF-THE-TEE
Considering all the attention his workout plan has received, perhaps it should be no surprise that Beefed-Up Bryson is atop this list. He’s gaining more than two additional strokes per tournament just with his play off the tee. He’s third on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee this season.
Combine it with nominal gains in the other three Strokes Gained categories and it explains his success this season. DeChambeau had top-5s in four of his final five starts before the season was interrupted.
BIGGEST GAINERS IN SG: OFF-THE-TEE Name 2020 SG: OTT 2019 SG:OTT Improvement Bryson DeChambeau +1.01 (3rd) +0.42 (24th) +0.59 Harris English +0.49 (28th) -0.02 (116th) +0.51 Cameron Champ +1.14 (2nd) +0.66 (6th) +0.48 Note: min. 15 measured rounds
DeChambeau leads the PGA TOUR in driving distance at 321.3 yards after ranking 34th in that category last season (302.5). His gain of 18.8 yards is the largest leap in that statistic over last season.
Champ’s distance is nothing new. It’s received more than its share of attention. He led the TOUR in driving distance last season and is third this year. Champ has still seen an incredible gain in his Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, though. Hitting fewer drives into trouble, especially penalty areas, is likely the explanation. It’s hard for Champ to get much longer than he already is.
He leads the TOUR in percentage of drives hit 330 yards or farther and into the fairway (not including the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the WGC-Mexico since an inordinate amount of the season’s longest tee shots are at those two events). More than 16% of Champ’s tee shots fit those two criteria. That’s five percentage points more than second-place Patrick Cantlay. Only seven players hit more than 10% of their tee shots 330 or longer and into the fairway. At all ShotLink-measured events – outside Kapalua and Mexico – just 3.2% of all tee shots this season were 330+ and in the short grass.
English has jumped 88 spots in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, the largest jump in the rankings. He is 28th this season after finishing 116th last season.
STROKES GAINED: APPROACH-THE-GREEN
English appears on this chart, as well. It’s a testament to his incredible performance. He barely retained conditional status for this season, but came out of the gates with four top-six finishes in his first five starts. His last finish before the season was interrupted was a T9 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. He’s missed just one cut in 11 starts this season and his five top-10s are already the second-most in any of his nine TOUR seasons.
English was coming off three consecutive finishes outside the top 100 in the FedExCup standings. Now he’s on pace for the best finish of his career. He’s second on TOUR in greens in regulation among players who’ve played more than 20 rounds. English is hitting 73% of his greens this season, compared to 67% last season.
BIGGEST GAINERS IN SG: APPROACH Name 2020 SG: Approach 2019 SG: Approach Improvement Harris English +0.42 (41st) -0.44 (171st) +0.86 Brendan Steele +0.39 (47th) -0.32 (158th) +0.71 Alex Noren +0.32 (55th) -0.37 (164th) +0.69 Note: min. 15 measured rounds
When you add together both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach, you see that English is gaining 1.4 more strokes per round with his ballstriking this season. That’s the biggest leap in those ballstriking stats from last season, and by a wide margin. Champ is second in that category, gaining +0.9 more strokes per round in those stats compared to last season.
English also has the biggest year-over-year jump in this category. He is 41st in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green after ranking 171st (out of 188 players) last season.
STROKES GAINED: PUTTING
J.B. Holmes may have won one of the TOUR’s biggest titles last season at the Genesis Invitational, but it came during a season in which he otherwise struggled. He had just two top-10s in 25 starts last season, and none after his Genesis win in February. After his win, he made the cut in just half his stroke-play starts and had just two finishes inside the top 50.
Holmes has three top-20 finishes in his last four starts, however. The biggest difference appears to be in putting from 10-15 feet. He’s second on TOUR from that distance. Holmes has made almost half of those putts (23 of 48) after finishing second-to-last in that category last season, making slightly less than 20% from that distance.
Holmes was second-to-last in Strokes Gained: Putting last season, but ranks 18th this year. He has ranked inside the top 100 in Strokes Gained: Putting just once in his career, finishing 88th in 2010. That also was the only season he gained strokes on the greens (+0.07 per round). His average ranking in Strokes Gained: Putting entering this season was 136.8.
BIGGEST GAINERS IN SG: PUTTING Name 2020 SG: Putting 2019 SG: Putting Change J.B. Holmes +0.64 (18th) -0.75 (187th) +1.39 Bubba Watson +0.68 (16th) -0.34 (167th) +1.02 Patrick Reed +1.09 (3rd) +0.26 (44th) +0.83 Note: min. 15 measured rounds
Like Holmes, Watson has only ranked in the top 100 of Strokes Gained: Putting once in the past decade. Watson’s average ranking in Strokes Gained: Putting before this season was 127.9. He’s 16th this season.
Reed, winner of this season’s World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, is third on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting. He finished a career-best sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2017, but dropped to a career-worst 72nd the following season. He improved to 44th last season. Reed has finished in the top 50 of Strokes Gained: Putting in six of his seven seasons