10 remarkable season-ending stats from a strange year on the PGA Tour
The 2019-’20 PGA Tour season, complete with the big interruption and the semi-miraculous resuscitation, officially came to an end on Monday at the Tour Championship. It seems strange to say, considering we still have two more majors on the 2020 calendar, but they are part of the 2020-’21 “super season” that begins Thursday with the Safeway Open. The quick turnaround provides a brief moment to look back at the statistical feats and anomalies of the past wrap-around year and pick out the most intriguing numbers of the bunch. The huge caveat, of course, is that our sample size is smaller than usual because of the three months lopped off by COVID-19. That affects all stats, but it affects the non-cumulative ones, like strokes gained, the least.
With that, let’s look at the most remarkable statistical feats of the 2019-’20 season, from the impressive to the heartbreaking to the weird.
1. Jon Rahm wins the strokes-gained crown in a down year
Jon Rahm’s average strokes gained against the field, in 57 measured rounds, was a very solid 1.823, nosing ahead of Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau. But what’s interesting about Rahm’s total is that it’s the lowest winning number since Steve Stricker was No. 1 in 2010 with 1.818. Only twice in the last 10 years has the strokes gained/total leader won with a number lower than 2 (the average for the last 10 winners, including Rahm, is 2.22). It’s hard to know exactly why this happened; perhaps the tournaments that were canceled due to COVID-19 trended a bit easier. In any case, it’s Rahm’s first overall SG crown, and it adds a subtle reason his fellow tour pros might consider him for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
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2. Bud Cauley makes the “2/3” sand-save club
It’s one of the oddities about sports that for certain feats, there are seemingly arbitrary numbers that turn out to be useful cutoffs for separating the good and the great—like, for instance, a .300 batting average. For sand saves, it turns out that anyone who averages better than 66.67 percent, i.e. someone who makes better than two out of every three sand saves, has attained an elusive level of excellence. That’s what Bud Cauley accomplished in 2020, going 69/103 from the sand for a 66.99-percent rate. Before him, the list of those who had beaten the “2/3” mark this millennium is short: Rickie Fowler (2017), K.J. Choi (2013), Tim Clark (2007), Franklin Langham (2001) and Fred Couples (2000).
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3. Martin Trainer and the year of the hellish approach
Since the PGA Tour started keeping SG/approach stats in 2004, no player has ever averaged more than two strokes lost (as in -2) per round for a whole season. Until 2020, that is. Martin Trainer, who was dead last on the 2019 list, too, lost 82.502 strokes to the field in 39 measured rounds, for an abysmal -2.115 average. It’s a big reason why he missed the cut in 19 of 21 starts, and it makes his 2019 win at the Puerto Rico Open look even more anomalous. This is a year he’ll be eager to forget, but as Brendon Todd has shown us, twice, you’re never truly dead in the game of golf.
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4. Bryson DeChambeau hits the sixth-longest putt since 2003
DeChambeau made a ton of news this year, but not much of it for his putting. Still, on the 18th hole Saturday in the PGA Championship, he did this:
The PGA Tour has longest-putt stats going back to 2003, and only five people have made a longer putt than DeChambeau’s 95 feet, five inches. The longest was Craig Barlow at the Buick Open in 2008, and it remains tragic to me that no footage of this exists. For what it’s worth, Bryson missed the top five by two inches—Nick Watney made a 95 foot, seven incher in 2017.
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5. Jason Kokrak is the four-foot prince of the millennium
Every year, there are a group of players who make every single putt from three feet—this year, there were 20, including Phil Mickelson, who went 419-for-419—but once you move back to four feet, perfection is a tantalizing impossibility. Every year since 2003, when Shotlink distances were first measured, no player has made every four-foot putt in a season. The top guys always come close, missing just one or two, but nobody runs the table. This season, Jason Kokrak led all comers, hitting 101 of 102 four-footers, for a 99.02 percentage. As it turns out, that’s the second-best number ever, trailing only Jim Furyk’s 99.12 (113-for-114) from 2011. This is one spot where the COVID stoppage may have kept him from all-time glory—a few more putts, and he would have nudged ahead of Furyk.
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6. Beau Hossler is the three-putt avoidance prince of the millennium
This season, Hossler three-putted just 16 times over 1,206 total holes, for a 1.33 percent three-putt rate. Like Kokrak and his four-footers, that was nearly enough to secure the best rate of the 2000s. And like Kokrak, he only fell short of a 2011 performance, in this case Luke Donald and his 15 three-putts in the exact same number of holes. Just one fewer three-putt, and Hossler would have shared the crown.
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7. Jim Furyk tops the GIR list at age 50
Time has clearly not taken hampered Furyk’s maddening consistency, as he proved this season with his tour-leading 74.22 percent greens-in-regulation rate. To find a better percentage, you have to go back to 2001, when Tom Lehman averaged 74.53 percent. Now, going back to sample size, we have to note that Furyk only had 39 rounds, which is about half as many attempts as the typically leader in this category would post. Then again, when you’re twice the age of some of your competitors, maybe you should be allowed to make your point in half the time.
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8. Bryson DeChambeau joins an elite driving group
The big man again! Since 2004, when the PGA Tour first began keeping strokes-gained stats, there have been only four men who have averaged more than one stroke gained against the field off the tee for a full season. Three of them are obvious: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson. The fourth is Sergio Garcia, who squeaked in with a 1.003 SG/off-the-tee number in 2005. This year, Bryson DeChambeau became the fifth in the +1 Drivers Club, with 64.417 strokes gained over 62 measured rounds, for an average of 1.039 per round. Clearly, at least off the tee, his bulking routine paid dividends. Interestingly, Cam Champ came up just shy, with an average of .999.
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9. Webb Simpson wins the scoring average title
In beating Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas for the best scoring average for the season, Webb Simpson did so by dipping (albeit just barely) into 68 territory with a 68.978 average through 52 rounds. That puts him in pretty exclusive company. In the last decade, only Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose have maintained a sub-69 average in a single season. Johnson had the lowest average in 2018, and if you’re wondering if anyone has ever beaten 68, the answer is yes—it’s Tiger, of course, in 2000 (67.749) and 2007 (67.794).
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10. Denny McCarthy repeats as SG/putting champ, puts up second-best mark ever
As with the other strokes-gained stats we’ve looked at so far, the PGA Tour’s SG/putting rankings only go back to 2004. In that time, only one man has averaged better than one stroke gained against the field for a full season, and that was Jason Day in 2016. This year, Denny McCarthy got awfully close, averaging .988 per round in another brilliant season, second all-time. He also became just the third repeat winner since the stat was kept, joining Luke Donald (2009-2011) and Ben Crane (2005-2006). Interestingly, those gaudy numbers from McCarthy were only good for four top-10 finishes this season, highlighting his struggles elsewhere. For two years, McCarthy has been the tour’s equivalent of a one-trick pony, but he’s very good at that one trick.