Who made biggest improvement, and drop, in strokes gained approach the green in 2019?

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 11: Henrik Stenson of Sweden plays his second shot on the par 4, 10th hole during the second round of the THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 11, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Who made biggest improvement, and drop, in strokes gained approach the green in 2019?

By The Numbers

Who made biggest improvement, and drop, in strokes gained approach the green in 2019?

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Last week, Golfweek revealed the players on the PGA Tour who made the biggest leaps in strokes gained off the tee and noted that while Cameron Tringale made the biggest year-over-year improvement, Rory McIlroy went from being an elite driver to the best on planet Earth.

This week, in the second of our four-part series, we focus on which players made the biggest strides (and the largest drops) in strokes gained approach the green. This stat measures how a player compares to other golfers on shots hit off the tee on par 3s, as well as non-tee shots hit beyond 30 yards of the green. In other words, it gauges the quality of a player’s fairway wood and iron game.

For decades, many golfers felt that to be successful in golf a player needed to be an outstanding putter, but more and more pros have come to understand that ballstriking is the real key. No one would argue that putting is meaningless, but consider this: The average Official World Golf Ranking of the golfers who finished in the top 10 in strokes gained putting last season was 151 and they averaged $1,239,126 in PGA Tour earnings. The average world ranking of players who finished in the top 10 in strokes gained approach the green was 34 and they earned an average of $3,338,488 in PGA Tour prize money.

By the way, Brooks Koepka and McIlroy finished 11th and 12th last season in strokes gained approach the green, respectively, and they are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world. Combining their prize money and FedEx Cup winnings, they won about $35 million in prize money.

Based on that, improving in strokes gained approach the green would benefit any player. The chart below shows all the players who had official PGA Tour stats at the end of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, along with how they either improved or worsened in strokes gained approach the green. Hover your mouse over a dot or touch it to see each player.


The dot on the far right of the graph is Henrik Stenson, who finished No. 1 in strokes gained approach the green. As you can see, the Swede was a solid iron player two seasons ago and improved from the fairway last season by nearly 0.2 shots per 18 holes. His 1.149 average means that over the course of a 72-hole event, he typically gets an edge of about 4.6 shots over the average player based on the quality of his approach shots.

The most-improved player was J.T. Poston, who went up by 0.596 to an average of 0.223 last year. After giving away shots from the fairway two seasons ago, he’s now gaining shots. It’s no coincidence that Poston’s world ranking has also improved since the start of the year, rising from No. 347 to No. 72 in 2019, and he won the Wyndham Championship in August.

Other strong improvements were made by Emiliano Grillo (0.581), Trey Mullinax (0.576), Kevin Kisner (0.573) and 49-year-old Jim Furyk (0.562). Koepka went up 0.404, McIlroy improved by 0.364 and Jon Rahm’s strokes gained approach the green average went up 0.358 last season.

Phil Micklelson

Phil Mickelson reacts after playing his second shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2019 Desert Classic. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

On the other side of the ledger, the players on the bottom of the chart saw their performance from the fairway drop. Among them is Phil Mickelson, who went from being a strong iron player with an average of 0.555 to a player who gave away shots and averaged -0.065. Lefty made the second-largest drop in strokes gained approach the green last season (-0.62). Only Tyler Duncan’s drop of -0.628 was worse.

Jordan Spieth struggled nearly as much as Mickelson, finishing the year down -0.607. He ended the year ranked 145th in strokes gained approach the green and for the first time since he has played enough to have official year-end stats, Spieth finished with a negative average.

Other well-known players who experienced drops in strokes gained approach the green last season were Brendan Steele (-0.559), Dustin Johnson (-0.541), Patton Kizzire (-0.513) and Rickie Fowler (-0.336).

Next week: The biggest movers in strokes gained around the green.

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