Golf By The Numbers: Matsuyama’s problems extend far beyond green

Getty Images

Golf By The Numbers: Matsuyama’s problems extend far beyond green

PGA Tour

Golf By The Numbers: Matsuyama’s problems extend far beyond green

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama started his 2016-17 PGA Tour season playing some of the best golf of his career, finishing in the top 10 in each of his first five events and winning the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions and the limited-field Hero World Challenge. He then won the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and after finishing tied for second at the U.S. Open to Brooks Koepka, the Japanese star rose to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking before he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

But after a disappointing tie for fifth at the PGA Championship, where he was tied for the lead midway through the final round, Matsuyama’s game went into a tailspin. He started the FedEx Cup Playoffs ranked No. 1 on the point list, but missed the cut at the Northern Trust and failed to earn a top-20 finish in any playoff event.

Matsuyama’s formula for success epitomizes the modern approach to golf on the PGA Tour. He is an elite iron player, ranking in the top 10 in each of his four full seasons on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green, averaging 0.769 in that period. He is a reliable driver and gained 8.8 yards off the tee last season, stretching his driving distance average to 303.3 yards (26th on Tour). Even his short game is statistically better than average.

What Matsuyama does not do well is putt. He finished the 2016-17 Tour season ranked 173rd in strokes gained: putting with an average of -0.383. That means over the course of a 72-hole tournament, Matsuyama loses more than 1.5 shots to the average player based on his putting. Rickie Fowler, who finished second in strokes gained: putting last season (0.761) has more than a one-shot advantage on the greens over Matsuyama in every round.

Matsuyama’s putting during his slump in the four-event FedEx Cup Playoffs was worse than his season average, culminating in an awful performance at the Tour Championship, where he finished last in the 30-player field in strokes gained: putting with an average of -2.462.

But going inside the numbers reveals poor putting may not have been the most significant cause for concern.

Matsuyama overcomes poor putting at many events with superior driving and iron play, but during the FedEx Cup Playoffs he was inconsistent with his woods and irons. As seen in the chart on these pages, Matsuyama’s strokes gained: approach-the-green average was erratic, and in two of the four events he had a negative average off the tee and around the greens.

Unlike Jordan Spieth, who finished first in strokes gained: approach-the-green last season, if Matsuyama has a poor week off the tee or from the fairway, his putting is not going to save him from high scores. When he won last season, Matsuyama turned in a solid performance with his woods and irons, caught hot weeks with his putter and capitalized on birdie chances. That’s his recipe for success.

It would be great for Matsuyama and his fans if his putting improved in 2018, but he does not need to putt as well as Fowler or Spieth to win. He proved that by winning the 2014 Memorial with a strokes gained: putting average for the week of -0.033. His strokes gained: tee-to-green average that week of 3.211 led the field. He also won he 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open with a strokes gained: putting average for the week of -0.235.

What the numbers show Matsuyama can’t do, if he wants to contend, is overcome poor performances off the tee and from the fairway. 

(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 30 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home