2018 U.S. Open preview: Shinnecock Hills by the numbers

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 09: Justin Thomas of the United States plays a shot during practice rounds prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 9, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

2018 U.S. Open preview: Shinnecock Hills by the numbers

By The Numbers

2018 U.S. Open preview: Shinnecock Hills by the numbers

Major championships, and the pressure that comes with playing in them, are supposed to test every part of a golfer’s game.

But a quick statistical study of the golfers who earned a top-10 finish the last time the U.S. Open was contested at Shinnecock Hills  in 2004 reveals that’s not always the case.

Back then, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els – who finished second and tied for ninth, respectively – each were ranked in the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking.

They arrived at Shinnecock Hills in strong form and had length off the tee, were solid iron players, displayed touch around the greens and made putts. The other nine golfers who would go on to earn a top-10 finish (including ties), however, had an obvious weakness.

Retief Goosen, the tournament’s winner who one-putted the wickedly fast Shinnecock greens 11 times in the final round and who had 32 one-putts for the week, entered the tournament putting poorly. The South African had a strokes gained putting average of -0.155 before the tournament. That means over the course of a typical 72-hole event, he would lose about half a shot to the field’s scoring average based on his performance on the greens.

Goosen was not the only poor putter who earned a high finish in 2004. Chris DiMarco ranked 100th in strokes gained putting heading into that U.S. Open (-0.023) and Robert Allenby ranked 151st (-0.268).

Short game, also long thought to be critical for success at the U.S. Open because the greenside rough is famously thick, was an obvious weakness for five players who earned top-10 finishes in 2004. Jeff Maggert, Shigeki Maruyama, Fred Funk, Allenby and Stephen Ames had strokes gained around-the-green averages that were negative.

Jay Haas, who finished tied for ninth, had a negative strokes gained off-the-tee average heading into the 2004 U.S. Open.

Where all the players who finished in the top-10 did shine was from the fairway. Their combined strokes gained approach-the-green average was 0.61, and their average PGA Tour rank in that category was 24.08. Three players—Haas, Els and Mickelson—ranked in the top 10.

While the driving-distance average (284.6 yards) for players in the top 10 at the 2004 U.S. Open was almost identical to the PGA Tour’s average heading into that event (284.7), they collectively averaged 67.88 percent in greens in regulation heading into the U.S. Open. That was 4 percent higher than the Tour average. Mickelson ranked No. 3 (71.35 percent) in that category, Goosen was fifth (70.32) and Ames was sixth (70.27).

Those stats are 14 years old. While historical stats can be valuable, there have been some changes made to Shinnecock Hills that could put an even greater emphasis on ballstriking.

Golfweek

The par-70 course played to 6,996 yards in 2004, but 449 yards have been added to bring the total length to 7,445 yards. U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis said the length is intended to bring back the shot values that were originally intended to allow for more creativity around the greens and to put cross bunkers and other hazards back into play.

It seems that if you want to use stats to create a group of logical contenders, you want to find the best putters among the great ballstrikers. Leading a list like that would be Henrik Stenson, Mickelson and world No. 1 Justin Thomas.

Big names you might want to shy away from based on their ballstriking include Jason Day, who ranks first in strokes gained putting (1.414) but 153rd in strokes gained approach the green (-0.226), and Brandt Snedeker, who ranks 53rd (.281) in strokes gained putting and 130th (-.099) in strokes gained approach-the-green. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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