Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Metamorphosis of John Merrick



Before the 2012 season, I had listed a group of players ‘to look out for’ in 2012 based on their metrics from the 2011 season: http://richie3jack.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=blog&action=display&thread=3130

They were:

Ben Curtis
Ian Poulter
Brendon de Jonge
Kyle Stanley
Scott Stallings
John Merrick


Curtis, Stanley and Stallings all recorded victories in 2012. De Jonge made 27 cuts and over $2 million in earnings. And Poulter established himself as one of the toughest players in the world at the Ryder Cup. That all but left Merrick, who finished 109th on the Money List and 72nd in Adjusted Scoring Average.

I chose Merrick as one of my ‘players to look out for’ because he drove the ball incredibly well in 2011; finishing 2nd in Driving Effectiveness for the year. He also hit the ball high which tends to make him fit more of today’s TPC designed Tour courses which have more forced carries. His iron play was poor, but the faulty thinking was that if a golfer drives it well on Tour, they will be a good Danger Zone player. In the end, that’s often not the case.

So, what were the issues for Merrick?

For starters, he ranked 109th in Average Purse Size per Event. While finishing 72nd in Adjusted Scoring Average is nothing to brag about, there is a correlation between ASA and Money List rankings. But, if your average Purse Size per Event is low, you are more likely to see your Money List ranking not as high as your ASA ranking.

When we look at his scoring average on particular holes, we start to see a better picture. Here were his Adjusted Scoring Average rankings on the holes (placed in order of importance):

Adj. Par-4 Scoring Average: 47th
Adj. Par-5 Scoring Average: 78th
Adj. Par-3 Scoring Average: 174th

Bogey Avoidance: 74th
Birdie (or Better): 70th

What’s interesting here is that while par-3 performance has a lower correlation of the holes when it comes to Adj. Scoring Average; it clearly hamstrung him throughout the 2012 season.

Here’s a comparison of his key ballstriking metrics in 2012 vs. 2011:

Metric………………2012 Rank…………….2011 Rank
Driving Eff……………38th………………………2nd
Birdie Zone………….46th………………………59th
Safe Zone……………104th…………………….156th
Danger Zone………..54th……………………..142nd

His Zone play was much improved from 2011. This raises the question as to why he only went from 117th on the Money List in 2011 to 109th in 2012.

First, we need a little more examination of the ballstriking. In particular, his driving radar metrics.

Metric………………2012………………..2011
Club Speed………113.2……………….110.5
Launch Angle……9.87…………………11.23
Max Height………87.5…………………..97.1
Spin Rate…………2,515………………..2,863

I won’t guess Merrick’s attack angles each year. But, it’s obvious he was looking for more of a penetrating ball flight in 2012. I tend to believe that he started to hit LESS upward with the driver in 2012 to do that. While the spin rate was higher, the launch angle tends to be more telling as far as attack angles go.

Still, we have to remember that he drove it CLEARLY better in 2011. Here’s a look at the key driving metrics.

Metric………………2012………………..2011
Driving Dist………..293.3…………………297.2
Fwy %..................64.5%..................67.3%
D2E of Fwy…………26.0……………………22.0

The problem I believe Merrick had was that he felt he could not continue to swing like he did in 2011. He would simply struggle too much with the irons, particularly the long irons, with that swing. Instead, he altered some of his swing mechanics and produced a more penetrating ball flight and improved his Zone play tremendously.

With that said, it still doesn’t quite answer the question as to why he didn’t improve more on the Money List.

Well, there were a few other reasons.

1. Ratio of Shots from 100-150 yards versus 150-200 yards.

Since Merrick lost a bit of distance in 2012, he ended up hitting more shots from longer distances. In 2011, on all shots from 100-200 yards, 54.5% came from 150-200 yards and 45.4% of them came from 100-150 yards.

In 2012, the splits were 60.6% from 150-200 yards and 39.4% from 100-150 yards. In the end, it was better for Merrick to improve his Safe Zone and Danger Zone play and have more shots from longer distances. But, it also prevented him from making a substantial improvement on his earnings.

2. Less Go For Its

Merrick went from 77th in Par-5 Go For Its in 2011 to 100th in 2012. Despite striking the ball much worse from the DZ and 225-275 yard distances, Merrick was able to finish 68th in Adj. Par-5 Scoring Average as opposed to 78th in 2012. While that may not seem like much, we have to remember that par-5’s have a decent correlation to Adjusted Scoring Average. This seemingly small difference would create a more pronounced effect if it were par-4 scoring average rankings.

3. Putting

Merrick finished 89th in Putts Gained in 2011 and 134th in Putts Gained in 2012. That was the equivalent of losing 20 strokes on the putting green for the year*. This would explain the struggles on the par-3’s where for most of the full-time Tour golfers par-3 play is more about being able to get up-and-down, putt well and make putts from longer distance (Merrick was 159th from 15-25 feet) in order to do well.
*(note: I took the difference in putts gained per round from 2011 to 2012 0.25 and multiplied it by the number of rounds Merrick played in 2012 of 83)

Here’s a look at Merrick’s key metrics for 2013:

Driving Effectiveness: 17th

Birdie Zone: 113th
Safe Zone: 3rd
Danger Zone: 7th

Short Game Play: 11th
Putts Gained: 127th

I think from a ballstriking perspective, Merrick is finally starting to get past those growing pains of finding the optimal swing for him that will allow him to strike it well off the tee and with the irons.





3JACK

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