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

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

By The Numbers

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

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This is the third piece in a four-part series on the biggest improvements made by PGA Tour players in the strokes gained stats last season, and while it might seem contradictory to popular wisdom, the numbers indicate that short game is not nearly as important to success as we have been led to believe.

One of the biggest differences between the pros and recreational players is the game’s best players usually get up and down to save par, turning three shots into two, while hackers struggle and typically make bogeys when they miss the green. But when you statistically compare pros to each other, the aspect of the game where they are most alike is short game.

Rory McIlroy’s strokes gained off the tee average last season of 1.195 led the PGA Tour and that figure means the 29-year-old gained more than a full-shot advantage over the average player over 18 holes because he was so much better with his driving. Henrik Stenson led the tour in strokes gained approach the green (1.149), while Denny McCarthy topped strokes gained putting average of 0.926.

Byeong Hun An led the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green (SG: ARG), a stat that measures shots hit from within 30 yards of the green but not on the putting surface. His average: 0.631.

Byeone Hun An

Byeong Hun An led the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green last season. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Pros work on chipping, pitching and bunker play a lot and become proficient at hitting shots in thick grass, sand and from awkward stances. For that reason, they get really good at it, so the difference between the very best and the average player decreases. The same thing would happen if everyone on the PGA Tour were able to hit 320-yard drives down the fairway; McIlroy would still be fantastic but the difference between him and the average player would be smaller.

We also need to remember that pros hit 14 tee shots to par 4s and 5s, 18 approach shots and about 29 putts in every round. They hit a lot of greens in regulation, so most only play five or six shots that contribute to strokes gained around the green. As a result, there is less opportunity for variance throughout the season.

With that understood, getting better at chipping, pitching and bunker play can still help a golfer be successful. The chart below shows the SG: ARG average, and how that number changed from last year, for every PGA Tour player who had official stats in each of the last two seasons.

The dot in the top-left corner of the chart represents Satoshi Kodaira. After winning the 2018 RBC Heritage, his game has not been sharp and he has missed 18 cuts in 34 starts. His season-ending SG: ARG two seasons ago was the worst among the 193 players who had official PGA Tour stats (-0.93), so there was nowhere for him to go but up last year. He improved by 0.516, the biggest upgrade on the Tour, but he still has a long way to go in order to be an average player.

The dot in the top-right corner represents An. He finished 54th in SG: ARG two seasons ago and improved by 0.464.

Other notable improvements were made by Rod Pampling (0.441), Brian Harman (0.341), Jason Dufner (0.302), Xander Schauffele (0.238) and U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland (0.236).

Several big-name players saw their SG: ARG drop last season, including three major winners.

Jason Day finished 100th in SG: ARG after his average dropped by 0.454. It’s the first time since 2010 the Australian, who has finished in the top 10 in SG: ARG six times, has finished 100th or worse.

Justin Rose tumbled from sixth to 92nd in SG: ARG after his average dipped from 0.45 to 0.036.

Former Masters and British Open champion Zach Johnson fell from No. 7 (0.425) to No. 72 (0.095).

Next week: The biggest movers in strokes gained putting.

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