How do PGA Tour players dominate? Analyzing trends from 2017’s best players

November 8, 2017

How did DJ drive up his earnings? You guessed it: with the big dog.

The PGA Tour’s Shotlink data for the 2017 season tells us so much about the success of the best players, you just have to know how to find it. I began by identifying the year’s best players as measured by money earned per event—and the top five is a who’s who of studs. Together, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler averaged $383,000 per event and racked up 16 wins, including two majors. Their cumulative, astonishing success provides some key insights:

LESSON NO. 1: Ballstriking is the biggest weapon

In 2017, this illustrious group gained an average of 8.88 strokes on the field per tournament. Driving and approach shots (all shots starting outside 100 yards from the hole) accounted for 67 percent of their gain on the field.

LESSON NO. 2: Add a hot putter for the win

Week in and week out, these elite ballstrikers were likely to crowd the leaderboard. What, then, determined who won? I compared the group’s average play over the season with their performances that resulted in wins. In their winning weeks, the group, on average, gained 4.1 strokes on the field per round—1.88 strokes better than their season average. The difference-maker? Better approach shots yielded 36 percent of that 1.88-stroke improvement, but better putting really kicked them into overdrive, accounting for a hefty 45 percent of their added gain.

LESSON NO. 3: There’s more than one formula

DJ’s biggest weapon is his driver. Per event, he gained nearly five strokes on the field. Jordan’s approach and short-game shots were the most impressive in the group. Rickie’s gain from putting was more than double that of JT, who, like Hideki (but with better putting), made balance in his winning formula. So goodbye 2017 season, hello practice range—again!