Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Examining DL III's Ryder Cup Picks

US Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love, made his 4 captain’s picks on Tuesday. They are:

Jim Furyk
Dustin Johnson
Brandt Snedeker
Steve Stricker


Before I delve further into the picks, I have a few general guidelines for quality captain’s picks:


VERSATILITY IS KEY

A good pick will be a player who does not do 1 or 2 things exceptionally well or is very inaccurate off the tee. In the future, I would be against using somebody like Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson as a captain’s pick because they are too difficult to pair up with somebody in the alternate shot format. In the case of a Mickelson or Watson (both of whom made the team outright), it’s too difficult to pair them up with a player that is not used to having to play tee shots that they hit off the grid. Mickelson and Watson can play them because they are used to playing that bomb-n-gouge style of golf. But somebody like Zach Johnson would probably be a very poor fit.

Furthermore, I would be a bit skeptical in putting them in the best ball (aka low score) format because it adds pressure to a golfer when their partner is out of the hole off the tee. That being said, Paul Azinger showed in the ’08 Ryder Cup that you can pair an extreme bomb-n-gouger up with a great, pure ballstriker with success. Azinger did this with Boo Weekley, one of the greatest ballstrikers in the past ten years and JB Holmes, one of the longest hitters in the last ten years. Weekley hits it long and straight and would tee off first, routinely blasting it past Lee Westwood and split the fairway. Once he did, JB Holmes could let the shaft out and hit drives 375+ yards long. It’s a real nightmare for an opponent.

Versatility is important because the captain will likely have to make some adjustments on the fly. Perhaps riding a hot hand and knowing when to bench a player who is cold. Or possibly stumbling across a pairing that works great or abandoning a pairing that doesn’t gel. For the most part, I think Love did a very good job here.


PUTTING

If you look at the history of the Ryder Cup and the best players, typically they have been very good putters. Recently, the unstoppable Ryder Cup player has been Luke Donald, the greatest putter on any Tour for the last five years. Before we had great Ryder Cuppers like Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Raymond Floyd and Billy Casper; all of whom known as great putters.

My guess is that this level of play, a pairing can usually get one of the players to hit a quality shot and thus putting becomes the deciding factor. Believe it or not, I think Love has done a good job here as well.


AVOIDING BOGEYS OVER MAKING BIRDIES

One thing people don’t realize is that the best players on Tour typically do a good job of avoiding bogeys. However, there are certainly players who are more in the mode to make a birdie than to avoid a bogey. But the key for the average Tour player, year in and year out, is to do a better job avoiding bogeys than making birdies. Put it this way, Phil Mickelson’s best seasons were when he did a better job of avoiding bogey than he usually has done, rather than making more birdies than he normally makes.

Again, excellent job in the picks from DL III when it comes to this part of the game.


FIND PLAYERS WHO ARE PLAYING WELL GOING INTO THE RYDER CUP

To me, this is a tried and true philosophy. All players on Tour tend to go thru little streaks of good play, then go into a stanza of fairly average play, then have some struggles and eventually cycle back to a good streak of play. I believe the key for Tour success is to still be able to make cuts when going thru the bouts of mediocre play.

But for the Ryder Cup, I think it’s paramount to find players who are playing well. Again, this was a good job by Davis Love III, who decided against the popular Rickie Fowler, who has struggled mightily over the past 2+ months.


WHEN IN DOUBT, YOUTH OVER EXPERIENCE

The problem with experience is that it does not do you much good if the player is an experienced, but poor Ryder Cup player. All a captain has with an experienced poor Ryder Cup player is a poor Ryder Cup player. IMO, captains should strive to avoid these guys because they KNOW that this player has been unsuccessful instead of the UNKNOWN youthful player who may be an excellent player. I think Love made a bit of a questionable pick in Furyk, but I will go into that in a moment. Also, I like youth because a captain won’t have to worry if they need a player to play 36 holes in a day or if a player on the team suffers an injury.



JIM FURYK

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Advanced Total Driving Rank: 37th

Putts Gained Rank: 31st
Short Game Rank: 25th

Bogey Avoidance Rank: 2nd

Birdie Zone Rank: 79th
Safe Zone Rank: 38th
Danger Zone Rank: 21st

Furyk’s lack of success in the Ryder Cup has been an enigma because his metrics tend to look similar to this year after year. He drives it well due to his uncanny accuracy. Hits it well from each zone, particularly the Danger Zone. He’s got a very good short game and is typically a fine putter.

However, I can understand the pick because he has played very well in the 2nd half of the season and it’s difficult to debate his metrics. Where I see negatives are in his folding down the stretch in the US Open and in the Bridgestone. Again, this is unique for a guy who has such a repeatable, homemade golf swing.

I would probably look to pair him with a good, clutch putter. Preferably somebody who is just money from 6-feet and in. Somebody who can always keep the team in the hole, perhaps win some holes early on and give Furyk the confidence to contribute. That being said, I would have picked Bo Van Pelt. He’s younger, has struck the ball better and putted better this year and is much longer off the tee.


DUSTIN JOHNSON

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Advanced Total Driving Rank: 25th

Putts Gained Rank: 52nd
Short Game Rank: 162nd

Bogey Avoidance Rank: 33rd

Birdie Zone Rank: 92nd
Safe Zone Rank: 68th
Danger Zone Rank: 34th

I was iffy on Johnson a few weeks ago as he was still recovering from his injuries early in the year. But, he’s finished in the top-10 in his last 5 events, which those finishes being in the British Open, The Barclays (held at a Major type venue in Bethpage) and Deutsche Bank Championship.

While he’s a bomber, he’s not a reckless bomber as he tends to keep the driver reasonably in play due to his boring ball flight. Many consider him the longest player on Tour into the wind. But where Johnson appealed to me is that he’s simply putted fairly well for almost the entire year. Since week 7, he’s been no higher than 77th and no lower than 50th in Putts Gained. That resembles solid putting, week after week.

I would try and pair Dustin with somebody who hits a lot of greens in the alternate shot format, particularly from the rough, so you don’t have to worry about him having to hit a chip or a pitch close. Perhaps somebody like Dufner (5th in GIR) or Bubba (2nd in GIR).


BRANDT SNEDEKER

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Advanced Total Driving Rank: 90th

Putts Gained Rank: 1st
Short Game Rank: 31st

Bogey Avoidance Rank: 22nd

Birdie Zone Rank: 21st
Safe Zone Rank: 63rd
Danger Zone Rank: 115th

Snedeker is #1 in Putts Gained and that gives Love 3 of the top-10 ranked players in Putts Gained. Had he picked Van Pelt, he would have another top-10 ranked player in Putts Gained.

Snedeker picked up the pace in his last 7 tournaments, with 3 top-10 finishes and having the lead on Sunday at the British Open before collapsing. I would wonder how well he will hold up in Ryder Cup in tense situations. But, if he can play well early on that could give the US team an insurmountable lead and be good enough to lead the team to victory. Here is how his rankings in Putts Gained have been over the last 12 recorded weeks:

21st
15th
13th
12th
11th
4th
5th
3rd
5th
2nd
1st
1st

While his Danger Zone lay is a little worrisome, he has improved that dramatically as well as only 5 weeks ago he was ranked 150th and he’s a fairly noticeable improvement in the area.

In the alternate shot format, I would probably pair him with a very good short game player to take care of any time that he has a shot in the Danger Zone. However, in the best ball format I would stick him with a very good Danger Zone player so the team has a shot on those long par-3’s.



STEVE STRICKER

[image]

Advanced Total Driving Rank: 75th

Putts Gained Rank: 45th
Short Game Rank: 155th

Bogey Avoidance Rank: 3rd

Birdie Zone Rank: 1st
Safe Zone Rank: 11th
Danger Zone Rank: 1st

I think Stricker was a foregone conclusion given his stature in the game and the only reason why he did not qualify was due to his light schedule. However, if I were Love I would keep a close eye on Stricker as his putting and Short Game play are not exactly what I would have expected.

The biggest alarm is the Short Game play. Not only is it where Stricker ranks worst, but he was ranked 1st in Short Game play in Week 20. He then had a bunch of disastrous weeks with his short game. Thankfully he hits it so well that he’s finished in the top-25 in 7 of his last 8 tournaments, which included the US Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

I don’t see any reason to not play him early on, but I would be curious if his small downturn in his putting and his dramatic regression in Short Game would affect how he plays with other partners. If he were Steve Wheatcroft posting these numbers instead of Steve Stricker, I would say that as it stands he should be paired with a very good and accurate driver who racks up the GIR’s. And yes, he and Tiger look to be a good fit, again.

Overall, I'm satisfied with the picks because so far Love has not relied on the 'they are good friends' or the 'they are from the same part of the country' approach. He apparently has done some research on who is putting and playing well and it happens to coincided with other favorable metrics. And even with the Furyk pick, I can see some logic in it as he's playing well and there was not a big pool of other players to choose from.

The key now become how well the pairings work together and how well Love can make adjustments on the fly.






3JACK

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