Golf by the numbers: How Justin Thomas uses analytics to set goals for success

Ian Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports

Golf by the numbers: How Justin Thomas uses analytics to set goals for success

Digital Edition

Golf by the numbers: How Justin Thomas uses analytics to set goals for success

Back in 2017, after winning the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize that came with it, Justin Thomas flashed his iPhone to members of the media after his press conference. There, on the screen, were the goals he had set out for that season.

Several of his 2016-17 goals were result oriented, like making it to the Tour Championship (check), winning a major (check) and getting a top-10 finish in half his starts (almost, 12 out of 25). Others were statistically driven, like ending with a strokes gained putting average of 0.25 (check) and a strokes gained tee to green average above 1.0 (check).

Last Thursday, Thomas took to Instagram and revealed what his goals for the recently concluded 2017-18 PGA Tour season had been. Next to most of the goals were Ys or Ns, indicating if he had achieved what he set out to do.

View this post on Instagram

Every year/season my team and I come up with goals for the year… it’s something I’ve always found important. A few goals that are very attainable, some that are going to require some hard work, then some that are extremely difficult. I ask every person in my on course team (caddie, dad, putting coach), to make a their own list. This keeps us all accountable the entire year that everybody is doing what they should be doing on and off the course to make sure we are as ready as possible every time I tee it up. Time to get started on next years list! (And no I will not share it until the season is over 😜😜) I challenge you guys to make your own list of goals and see how many you can achieve!

A post shared by Justin Thomas (@justinthomas34) on

Again, several of the top goals were result oriented, like making the Ryder Cup team (check), making every cut (no) and winning a major (no). But it is interesting to note which statistically based goals Thomas tried to repeat and which goals he added for the 2017-18 season.

Thomas aimed to finish the year with a strokes gained putting average of 0.25 or better again. While repeating that goal may not sound especially lofty, consider that two years ago Thomas ranked 131st on the PGA Tour with an average of -0.185. He eliminated that weakness in 2017 by raising this average to 0.308, a massive increase for a player whose game is based on power off the tee and precision from the fairway.

But why not aspire to get even better at putting? Thomas’ driving and iron game create a lot of birdie chances, and while he certainly wants to make as many birdie putts as can, he does not have to putt like Jason Day to be effective. His scoring average last season, after finishing with a 0.273 average in stroke gained putting (44th), was third best on Tour at 69.118.

As can be seen in the table below, among the players who are in the top 10 on the Official World Golf Ranking, Thomas is already among the better putters.

Another of Thomas’ goals for last season was to hit 60 percent of his fairways. Again, that goal does not sound especially hard when you consider that Henrik Stenson, the leader in that statistical category, hit 74.79 percent and the PGA Tour average was 61.17 percent. Thomas wasn’t even aspiring to be Tour average. Regardless, he failed to accomplish this goal and finished with a driving accuracy percentage of 57.83 percent (T-141).

Since 2015, Thomas has been among the 20 longest hitters on the PGA Tour and last season ranked 11th with an average of 311.9 yards. Like other big hitters, his advantage off the tee comes from length, not pinpoint accuracy. While every player would rather hit the fairway off the tee than send his ball into the rough, as can be seen in the chart below, most of the players with the lowest scoring averages are not among the leaders in driving accuracy.

The driving accuracy percentage average for the players who finished last season ranked in the top 10 in scoring average was 59.63 percent, while their driving distance average was 308.22 yards, which was about 4 percent longer than the Tour average.

To hit more fairways, Thomas would have to refine his technique, play more conservatively or both. The trouble is that playing conservatively, by swinging slower or hitting more 3-woods and driving irons instead of drivers, would reduce the edge Thomas’ power gives him. It’s doubtful the tradeoff would be worth it. His goal needs to be to increase his driving accuracy without sacrificing distance, and that goal is going to be achieved by continuing to hone his swing.

Thomas’ post provided a great look inside the mind of an elite player. He wrote that he is resetting his goals for the 2018-19 but won’t share them until after the season. If Thomas continues to putt at the same level he has displayed over the last two seasons and starts hitting more fairways with his driver, don’t be surprised if there is a Y next to “Regain the No. 1 ranking.” Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home