Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Looking Back at the 2012 Ryder Cup


I gave some of my thoughts on the Ryder Cup in my ‘Week In Review’ vlog on Sunday which can still be found at http://richie3jack.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=blog&action=display&thread=3848

Going into the Ryder Cup, I looked back at successful and unsuccessful players in each format of the Ryder Cup and wanted to marry that with some statistical examination of what has historically worked well in the Ryder Cup versus what has not worked well.

Some of the key conclusions I came up with is that putting was very important in the Ryder Cup. Typically when I do my weekly PGA Tour picks, I ignore the Putts Gained metric and any other metric with regards to putting. The reason being is that it’s often completely unpredictable to determine how well a golfer will put in a tournament. And what happens more often than not is the golfer starts hitting approach shots closer to the cup than usual and they get their confidence up and start seeing putts drop. Some courses favor players who do well from certain zones than other zones. Some courses tend to favor golfers who hit it far and are effective off the tee. Other courses may favor effective drivers of the ball who are more accurate off the tee than long off the tee. But as far as putting goes in regular PGA Tournaments, there is no rhyme or reason as to who will putt well.

I think that is different in the Ryder Cup. Particularly in the foursome (alternate shot) format because players are inevitably going to be left with some crucial and difficult putts and it’s best to go after those golfers who can truly roll the rock. Also with the foursome format, I think captains need to be careful and pair up golfers whose style of game fits each other. There is no sense in putting somebody like Mickelson, a wild driver of the ball, with somebody like Zach Johnson who is a poor ballstriker on shots from the rough. Or putting somebody like Bubba with Furyk because Bubba is not very skillful from the Danger Zone and on the long par-4’s, the short hitting Furyk may leave his tee shots in the Danger Zone.

As far as the fourball format goes, I looked more at scoring averages on par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s. In particular, par-4’s are important because you will play about 10 of them in a Ryder Cup tournament. Then we want to look at birdie and then bogey percentage. While Furyk’s scoring averages have been good on par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s, he’s a player that doesn’t make many birdies or many bogeys. That’s why he’s traditionally been poor in the fourball format, he can’t make birdies. But, you don’t want to give up holes with careless bogeys either.


As far as the picks go, I mentioned in a previous blog post that I generally liked them. Unfortunately, they did not produce points. But I do not blame a captain for not being to accurately predict how well a player will do in the Ryder Cup. I think if they look at the metrics, keep an open mind as to which players to consider and puts the picks in the right formats with the right teammates, that’s all one can reasonably expect.

I think Stricker, Snedeker and Dustin Johnson were relative no brainers. Each had played well this year and DJ, who had injury issues early on is too big of a talent and had been playing (and more importantly, putting) very well.

The Furyk pick came under criticism for his atrocious Ryder Cup record. But, Furyk had very well in 2012, particularly in the 2nd half of the season. I also ran thru the numbers and Furyk had the game that would work well in the foursome format, which had plagued the US team for years.


Personally, my metrics had 3 of the 4 picks (which was a theme for the Ryder Cup). The only pick I would have made was Bo Van Pelt over Furyk and mainly because Van Pelt’s metrics have been fantastic this year and I think he provided the team with more versatility to play either fourball or the foursome format.

That being said, the metrics I ran had Furyk as the 5th best player available. That was part of DLIII’s problem that he inherited, he didn’t have a long list of players to choose from. Rickie Fowler, who I am a fan of, has been downright awful down the stretch. Hunter Mahan has not been awful, but at best mediocre. Same with rookie John Huh who seemed to be a little out of place in the FedEx cup. Kyle Stanley hits it well, but can’t putt. The options for DLIII were limited and even Van Pelt was a streaky player.

In the end, Furyk played well in the Ryder Cup. He and Snedeker beat what was thought to be the best European team of McDowell and McIlroy. And they lost their first match against that duo on Friday when Snedeker played poorly and hit a terrible tee shot on 18 to lose on the final hole.


At the recommendation of a friend, I decided to run some simulations based on different teams and different metrics and in different formats. The simulations would spit out a projected score for 18 holes since running team vs. team simulations would be impossible as I don’t have data with regards to most of the European teams.

All that being said, I do NOT believe that a Ryder Cup captain should have a rigid set of picks. I think the captain has to set out the picks for Friday morning and from there pick teams based on who the hot players are. I would use my metrics to serve as a guideline, but there is a bit of intuition and feel that the captain has to use in the subsequent pairings.

For DLIII, I thought his main goal on Friday was to play EVERY player on the team because he had the depth for it. Then hopefully stay within 1 point after Friday and then on Saturday, determine who the hot players were from there.

My picks for the Friday AM foursomes were:

Webb Simpson & Jason Dufner
Tiger Woods & Steve Stricker
Bubba Watson & Phil Mickelson
Zach Johnson & Jim Furyk

Instead, DLIII went with:

Jason Dufner & Zach Johnson
Furyk & Snedeker
Tiger & Stricker
Bradley & Mickelson

Out of all of the simulations I had run, I didn’t love the Bradley and Mickelson pairing in the foursome format. The simulations showed they were not a bad team, but merely average. My problem was that I thought there were much stronger pairings out there. The other pairings were not *the* strongest, but fairly strong nonetheless.


In the end, Keegan and Mickelson proved me dead wrong. So did Tiger and Stricker, both of whom played awful on Friday morning. As Erik Barzeski (www.thesandtrap.com) has pointed out, Tiger does not play well in windy conditions and it was quite breezy on Friday.

Still, I would have been ecstatic after the foursome matches if I were DLIII. The US was tied with Europe 2-2, which included a THUMPING by Keegan and Phil over Sergio and Luke Donald, both of whom were dealt their first loss in Ryder Cup foursomes. Even Furyk & Snedeker made Rory and McDowell sweat it out and Furyk played very well on the back nine which would have given me confidence in the pairing for Saturday.


After the Friday morning foursomes, I recommended the following pairings in the afternoon:

Dustin and Kuchar
Bubba and Webb
Mickelson and Bradley
Dufner and Zach

DLIII’s pairings almost matched my recommendations, except he had Stricker and Tiger go out again in place of Dufner and Zach. In the end, Stricker and Tiger were the only team to lose in the Friday afternoon as they were snake-bit by Nicolas Colesaerts hot putter and Stricker was horrendous. The rest of the teams won in convincing fashion, particularly Webb and Bubba, which according to my simulations was only behind Bubba and Tiger in fourball play.


I thought DLIII did a very good job on Friday. He got every player on the team playing, so he could judge who to play on Saturday. He also had a 5-3 lead and one could just get the feeling that Mickelson and Bradley were unbeatable and Bubba and Webb were unbeatable in the fourball format.

I recommended the following AM foursome pairings:

Keegan and Phil
Dufner and Zach
Furyk and Snedeker
Webb and Kuchar

I figured that Furyk and Snedeker showed some fight on Friday. The rest of the players were a bit of slim pickings, but my simulations had Webb and Kuchar as the next strongest foursome pairing.

But once again, DLIII hit 3 of my recommended pairings, this time opting for Webb and Bubba instead of Webb and Kuchar. Bubba is a bit of a difficult foursome pairing because of his wildness off the tee. I would not label Webb and Bubba as an awful foursome pairing, but they were mediocre and actually well below what the simulations had for Webb and Kuchar. And they were the only team that lost, putting the US up 8-4.

In the afternoon fourball I recommended:

Keegan and Phil
Bubba and Webb
Zach and Tiger
DJ and Kuchar

And once again, there was one team DLIII went against and that was going to Tiger and Stricker once again.


I don’t think Tiger has the mentality for the foursome format. He’s built his entire career on making success for himself and from the sounds of it, he never played truly team sports growing up whereas guys like Keegan, Phil, DJ, Kuchar, etc grew up playing sports like baseball, basketball, tennis doubles, etc.

However, Tiger played well in fourball and it took a lot of guts for DLIII to bench Tiger in the morning foursomes simply because it’s Tiger and he’s never been benched in the Ryder Cup before. Stricker didn’t play well in the foursome or fourball format on Friday. Furthermore, Ryder Cup captains really need to junk the theory that President’s Cup play correlates to Ryder Cup play because it doesn’t. It’s about as relevant as Johnny Miller saying everything will break towards Lake Merced.

Anyway, DLIII went with:

Bubba and Webb
DJ and Kuchar
Stricker and Tiger
Zach and Dufner

The Zach and Dufner duo simulations had them as a ‘good’ fourball team. However, they lost along with Stricker and Tiger. And while people harped on Tiger and Stricker pairing up, I harped more on benching Phil and Keegan because they were so dominating that I think they could have had the match won just by showing up on the first tee. Furthermore, they only played 12 holes in the morning and should have had more than enough energy. I think that cost the team at least 1-point, maybe 2-points if they pair Tiger with Zach Johnson. And the US Team could have been up 12-4 going into Sunday.


That being said, anytime a captain gets the team leading 10-6 into Sunday, they have at least done a very good job (unless they make crazy picks that make no sense and they got lucky). I think the team left 2-3 points after Saturday, but there’s no guarantee that a different pairing here or there would have a positive effect or even the same effect.

But, one would think that the US team should be able to win 4.5 points in 12 singles matches. For that, I cannot blame DLIII for the loss and in general, thought he was a very good captain and I would give him a grade of B+.

As per usual, the golf media tends to spoil the fun for everybody. No, this is not the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. The 1999 win at Brookline was. That US team was DREADFUL going into Sunday and Ben Crenshaw was acting like he had a chemical imbalance. I honestly don’t think Justin Leonard could have beaten me going into that Sunday.

Where the similarities between both comebacks is that the eventual winner seemed to be in great spirits going into Sunday. Just like Hal Sutton’s interview with Justin Leonard before Sunday, you could sense the same type of confidence coming from Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell.

The other golf media buzzkill is their incessant desire to paint US crowds as bad. Even the European golf fans that I talked to thought the US crowds were fine.


Because the European fans act the SAME way.

What the world of golf tends to never figure out is that golf works best when parts of the game and the traditions are rare and exclusive. That’s why the Masters works so well, they have certain things going on that no other course or tournament have. Golf is not about moderation, it’s about quality and rarity. That’s why Donald Trump’s insistence of having manmade waterfalls on his courses fall flat. It’s not that the waterfall is not beautiful, it’s just not rare and it comes off as tacky. Often times in golf, less is not only more…but much much more.

If we had Ryder Cup crowds at every tournament, I think it would take away from the game. But once every two years between fans and two sets of 12 golfers that have a GENUINE tension between each other, it makes for a special occasion. Even if the US team loses.


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