Significance of approach play at Muirfield Village
June 01, 2021
By Justin Ray, Twenty First Group for PGATOUR.COM
- June 01, 2021
- The 16th hole of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide at Muirfield Village Golf Club. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
While the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus and the trademark milkshakes are often the first connotations made with the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, one course trait deserves comparable high billing when thinking about Muirfield Village.
Course changes aside, consistently the Memorial Tournament is among the sternest ball-striking tests on the PGA TOUR. Elite approach play, while always valuable, takes on a special significance when the world’s best arrive annually in Dublin, Ohio.
Twenty First Group analyzed more than 6,400 rounds played at the Memorial Tournament in the ShotLink era to quantify just how important this statistic is on this specific golf course.
Approach Play Paramount
Over the last 10 years at the Memorial Tournament, the winner has had an average Strokes Gained: Approach rank of 6.4. When surveying all PGA TOUR courses over that span, that is among the smallest numbers you will find for an average winner. Since 2011, the only tournament to yield a smaller number is the Sentry Tournament of Champions (4.6), a limited field event.
The illustration is even more vivid if you consider that the average Strokes Gained: Approach field rank for PGA TOUR winners overall in that span is 13.4. Over the last 10 years, more than 40 percent of PGA TOUR winners ranked outside the top-10 that week in Strokes Gained: Approach. Only once has that happened in the last 10 Memorial Tournaments – three years ago, when Bryson DeChambeau ranked 24th in the field.
Approach play has proven to be the most significant factor to go low at Muirfield Village. There have been 68 rounds of 66 or lower at the Memorial Tournament the last five years. In 64 of those rounds, the player had positive Strokes Gained: Approach. The players in that group have averaged +2.63 Strokes Gained: Approach per round, more than half-a-stroke more than putting (+2.15) and more than two strokes higher than off-the-tee (+0.51).
Over the last 15 years, there have been more than 400 players inside the top-five (including ties) after any given round at the Memorial. In those rounds, players gained 40.2% of their strokes against the field on approach play, by far the highest percentage of any group of shots (nearly 1.7 Strokes Gained: Approach per round).
Penalizing Misses at Muirfield
One of the reasons Strokes Gained: Approach numbers are more significant this week comes from how penalizing a missed green in regulation can be at Muirfield Village.
Consider this: the tournament with the lowest scrambling percentage on the PGA TOUR last season was the Memorial Tournament, at 48.4%. The second-toughest week all season was the tournament before – the Workday Charity Open – also held at Muirfield Village. In all, players had just a 50.3 scrambling percentage last season at Jack’s place. For all other PGA TOUR courses combined, that number was 59.1%.
Last year’s field scrambling percentage was just the second time in the last five seasons a non-major on the PGA TOUR yielded a number lower than 50 percent. Avoiding the greenside chaos altogether with precision approach play is the best way to get a leg up on the competition.
Not a Putting Contest
Perhaps the strongest validation of the Memorial Tournament’s ball-striking test is how players have been able to win, consistently, without spectacular putting performances.
Since 2011, the average Strokes Gained: Putting rank for winners at the Memorial is 21.0. Of all events on TOUR in that span, that ranks as the fourth-worst average ranking, better than only the Barbasol Championship (29.2), The Honda Classic (23.4) and THE PLAYERS (21.4). The average Strokes Gained: Putting ranking for PGA TOUR winners overall in the last decade is 13.4 – a stark contrast from the numerical company Memorial winners keep.
Looking at every round played by those to finish in the top-five at the Memorial since 2011, the numbers are pronounced. In more than 27 percent of those more-than-200 rounds, players lost strokes to the field putting. In less than 19 percent, players lost strokes to the field on approach shots.
None of the last 10 winners at the Memorial Tournament led the field that week in Strokes Gained: Putting. However, three times in that same span, the winner ranked 41st or worse in the field in that statistic.
Even with the renovations to the golf course, the integrity of the ball-striking test at Muirfield Village should be unwavering. Terrific iron players like Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry and Hideki Matsuyama are all past champions at this prestigious event. After diving into the advanced statistics, it’s easy to see why that is the case.