By the numbers: Justin Thomas' ups and downs

By the numbers: Justin Thomas' ups and downs

PGA Tour

By the numbers: Justin Thomas' ups and downs

This story originally appeared in the July 3 digital issue of Golfweek.

After shooting 63 in the third round of the U.S. Open, Justin Thomas probably left Erin Hills frustrated with his final-round 75 that dropped him into a tie for ninth. Missing the cut the next week at the Travelers Championship and again at last week’s Quicken Loans National could not have been fun, either.

The 2016-17 PGA Tour season has been a roller coaster for the 24-year-old from Louisville, Ky. He has won three times, was ranked fourth in scoring average on the PGA Tour heading into last week’s Quicken Loans National (69.711) and was first in birdies per round (4.69).

Thomas is not among the most accurate off the tee, hitting just 56.42 percent of the fairways (161st on Tour before the Quicken Loans event), but he is one of the longest hitters on Tour, averaging 306.2 yards (ninth before Quicken Loans, in which he missed his fifth cut of the season) even though he weighs just 145 pounds.

So what’s the difference between the Justin Thomas who won the CIMB Classic, the SBS Tournament of Champions and shot 59 en route to a win at the Sony Open in Hawaii, and the guy who missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Honda Classic, Valspar Championship and Travelers Championship? What explains the peaks and valleys?

Statistically, one can look at Thomas’ strokes gained averages for the entire 2016-17 season and the weeks he excelled versus his cumulative average in the same categories in events where he missed the cut (before the Quicken Loans, for which data was not available at press time). The Tour did not provide ShotLink stats from the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which Thomas won, so the chart shows his cumulative average in strokes gained in his three best finishes with data available: the wins as mentioned above in Hawaii and a fourth-place finish at Memorial. Strokes gained measures how much better or worse a player is, in strokes, versus the field average.

Thomas has a solid strokes gained: off-the-tee average of .363, and his .668 strokes gained: approach-the-green average ranks 11th on Tour. Statistically, his ballstriking is better than an average Tour player and he has improved his putting this season.

When he plays his best, Thomas’ short game numbers do not tend to rise much, but he drives the ball a little better and his strokes gained for approach-the-green and putting drastically improve.

However, in the four events where Thomas missed the cut before the Quicken Loans, his strokes gained: approach-the-green and putting numbers were dramatically lower than his season average. His combined strokes gained: approach-the-green average when he misses the cut was 1.433 shots worse than his season average, meaning that over the 36 holes before the cut, he gave up almost three shots versus his season average. He was more than two shots per round worse in weeks he misses the cut versus weeks in which he contends or wins.

His strokes gained: putting average when he missed the cut is 1.06 shots worse than his season average, which translates to more than two shots over 36 holes. And he is more than two shots per round worse with the putter in weeks he missed the cut versus weeks in which he won or contended.

Thomas is the embodiment of a growing trend on the PGA Tour. Clubhead speed and the ability to hit the ball a long way off the tee are something pros can bring with them week in and week out – Thomas’ driving stats don’t fluctuate much. And when elite ballstrikers improve  their putting, as Thomas has, they can take advantage of more opportunities created by driving and iron play. However, if their iron game falters, few have the short game or putt well enough to make up for the deficiencies.

Statistically, Justin Thomas is a much better player this season than last. As he improves, his “off weeks” get better and his putting continues to progress, he could become a fixture on leaderboards.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home