Rookie of Year Xander Schauffele could reap big benefits with small change

Sep 24, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Xander Schauffele looks over his putt on the 15th green during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of Year Xander Schauffele could reap big benefits with small change

By The Numbers

Rookie of Year Xander Schauffele could reap big benefits with small change

After winning the Greenbrier Classic as a rookie in July, Xander Schauffele was able to do something even more impressive: shoot 69-66-65-68 and hold off Justin Thomas at the Tour Championship to win by a shot.

Even though Schauffele became the first player to win the Tour Championship as a rookie, his triumph at East Lake was partially overshadowed because Thomas’ second-place finish was good enough to earn him the overall FedEx Cup title and the $10 million first prize that goes with it.

A former standout at San Diego State, Schauffele was the clear choice to win the 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award. Going inside the numbers reveals Schauffele is a player who can be very inconsistent but who has undeniable talent.

Schauffele, who had 28 starts last season, missed the cut in six of his first 12 events. He’s a reliable driver and putter, as the chart on these pages shows, but he finished the year with a negative strokes gained average in both approach-the-green and around-the-green.

Schauffele enjoyed a 0.505 strokes gained: off-the-tee average last season, which means that in a 72-hole event he had more than a two-shot advantage over the average PGA Tour player based solely on his driving.

Typically, when players have a significant edge in driving, they also have an advantage from the fairway. For example, Dustin Johnson’s strokes gained: off-the-tee average last season was 1.002 (ranked first on Tour), and his strokes gained: approach-the-green average was 0.702 (ranked fifth). Kyle Stanley was 0.659 (seventh) off the tee and 0.562 (13th) in approach, and Charley Hoffman was 0.557 (15th) off the tee and 0.27 (55th) in approach.

But Schauffele’s strokes gained: approach-the-green average was -0.067 (122nd).

Part of the problem last season was that while Schauffele was productive off the tee, and he hit 68 percent of the greens in regulation (26th), he typically did not hit the ball close to the hole. His average proximity to the hole was 36 feet, 4 inches (107th).

Throughout the season, excellent driving and putting offset Schauffele’s deficiencies in the fairways and around the green. His weaknesses did not magically transform into strengths, but they did not hold him back, and that was good enough to bring him two victories.

The chart shows that at the Greenbrier Classic, Schauffele was marginally better than the field around the greens, but nearly 17 percent of his strokes gained: total advantage came from approach shots. At the Tour Championship, the chart reveals that his approach game accounted for only 2.58 percent of his 9.533 strokes gained: total for the week, but his short game came alive and accounted for 37 percent of his overall advantage.

Schauffele had a better strokes gained: putting average last season than Jordan Spieth and better strokes gained: off-the-tee average than Adam Scott. A pessimist might look at Xander Schauffele’s overall stats and say he overachieved during the 2016-17 season and just got hot a few times. An optimist might see the same numbers and imagine what Schauffele’s 2017-18 season might be like if he can tighten up his iron game, start hitting approach shots a little closer and develop a better short game.

(Note: This story appears in the Dec. 18, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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