Golf by the numbers: PGA Tour players who made biggest improvements statistically might surprise you

ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 11: Jordan Spieth of the United States plays his shot from the 12th tee during the third round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club on August 11, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Golf by the numbers: PGA Tour players who made biggest improvements statistically might surprise you

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Golf by the numbers: PGA Tour players who made biggest improvements statistically might surprise you

I’ve always admired the guys who work at improving their game while playing a full schedule of events on the PGA Tour. Instead of hitting the snooze button on Mondays and Tuesdays, they’re grinding.

Making meaningful improvements as the season plays out is difficult, because taking the new thoughts and feelings that players are developing on the range and incorporating them into their games requires trust. If things don’t happen instinctively and a golfer starts thinking about his swing on the course, it’s extremely tough to play well. That’s why, even for elite players, swing changes and improvements can take several months to pay off.

Looking at strokes gained statistics and seeing how each player on the PGA Tour finished his 2016-17 season and the just-concluded 2017-18 season, it can be seen who made the most substantial improvements.

Many of the most significant year-over-year improvements were made by players who were bad at something but were able to become either Tour-average or less bad. For example, Patton Kizzire was among the worst drivers on the PGA Tour during the 2016-17 season and only improved his ranking by 18 spots last season. However, his strokes gained off the tee average got 0.45 shots better, rising to -0.294. It’s still a weakness, but over 72 holes, Kizzire, who won twice last season and qualified for the Tour Championship, was almost two shots better than he used to be.

It’s worth noting that Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who was under consideration to receive a captain’s pick onto the 2018 European Ryder Cup team, made considerable improvements in his performance off the tee and from the fairway last season. Combined, his average went up 1.272 shots, which translated to more than five shots throughout a 72-hole tournament. Not coincidentally, Cabrera Bello missed four fewer cuts, had top-5 finishes in two World Golf Championships and increased his prize money won by more than $500,000.

Ryan Moore, who lost in a three-hole playoff at the Safeway Open two weeks ago, also made a significant improvement in two strokes gained categories last season. Thanks to improved fitness and fine-tuning his equipment, Moore went from being a Tour-average driver (-0.006) to a good one, improving 0.412 strokes and boosting his ranking from 107th to 29th. At the same time, he boosted his strokes gained around the green performance by 0.446 and finished the season ranked 23rd in the category.

Looking at year-over-year statistical changes can also reveal things that get overlooked. For example, Jordan Spieth is not listed among the golfers who made the biggest statistical improvements because, as can be seen in the table below, he went down in all four strokes gained areas.

One of the storylines that ran throughout much of the 2017-18 PGA Tour centered on Spieth’s putting woes, and the Texan tumbled 97 spots in the rankings. But the more significant drop that most people failed to notice was his 0.513 drop in strokes gained approach the green.

Because Spieth has a reputation for being an elite putter, his poor putting during the first half of the year overshadowed his struggles from the fairway. Spieth was still good with his irons during the 2017-18 season, ranking 26th in the category, but he had been No. 1 and that half-shot drop in average was overlooked by a lot of people.

The time for re-tooling a weakness, getting comfortable with new equipment and recovering from injuries is here. The offseason, what there is of it, starts now because most pros only play a handful of events in late October, November and December before heading to Hawaii and the West Coast in January. Gwk

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