2017 U.S. Open: Are Jason Day's stats misleading heading into Erin Hills?

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

2017 U.S. Open: Are Jason Day's stats misleading heading into Erin Hills?

Professional

2017 U.S. Open: Are Jason Day's stats misleading heading into Erin Hills?

 

Jason Day was the No. 1 player in the world a year ago, and from a statistical perspective he was on his way to having a historically great season on the greens. Day became the first PGA Tour player to finish the season with a strokes gained: putting of more than one. One top of his length off the tee and outstanding iron game, his 1.13 final strokes gained: putting average meant that on the greens alone, the Australian was almost four and a half shots better than the average PGA Tour player over 72 holes.

This season, however, Day has come back to earth, and the reasons are understandable. A level of regression in his putting performance is not surprising, but more importantly, Day’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2017 and underwent surgery in March. His main concern, rightfully, was on her and his family and not on his game.

“When someone has cancer and you don’t know whether or not they’re going to survive or what the outcome is going to happen, and plus with my mom, who sacrificed a lot for me to be in this position today, it was tough,” Day said Tuesday during his press conference at Erin Hills, site of this week’s U.S. Open. “I don’t wish it upon anyone. I didn’t want to focus on golf. I didn’t want to be on the golf course, because I knew she was at home.”

Day’s mother had been recovering in Australia but is at Erin Hills this week, and the 29-year-old has been in good spirits. And his game is rounding into form over the past few weeks – Day was the runner-up at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and finished tied for 15th at Memorial.

Making an analytically based prediction about how well Day might play this week forces a comparison between the performances and stats he has posted this season and what a clear-minded, healthy and focused Day likely would have done heading into this season’s second major.

The two biggest drop-offs in Day’s game have been with his irons and his putter.

Day ended the 2015-16 PGA Tour season ranked 34th in strokes gained: approach-the-green (.426) but is currently 163rd (-.327). His greens in regulation percentage has dropped from 67.23 (ranked 53rd) to 64.87 (113th).

While he is still a good putter, Day’s drop-off on the greens has been more dramatic. His strokes gained: putting average is .269 (54th), which is a decrease of .861. Over 72 holes that is 3.444 shots worse than last season.

Jason Day's putting performance

Jason Day’s putting performance before the 2016 and 2017 U.S. Opens

As the chart shows, the drop-off can be attributed mainly to a decrease in the number of long putts Day is making this season. From 10 to 15 feet he is making 10 percent fewer of his total putts, and instead of making a gaudy 20 percent of his putts from 20-25 feet, he is now making 4.76 percent.

Some people might think a U.S. Open course is the worst place to try turning a season around or regaining form. But if Day has recovered from an emotional spring and is focused on golf again, do not be surprised if his final result outperforms his early season stats.

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