FedEx Cup - What makes the top players stand out?

What do the top players have in common?

If we look at their Strokes Gained Stats, what skills contribute most to their success?

I take a look at the Strokes Gained Golf Stats of the winner’s after most PGA Tour events. There is quite a variance in how players win on Tour, from the player that has the week of his life with his putter to Patrick Reed gaining most of his shots with his driver just a few weeks ago.

But these are stats for one week at a time, what about over the entire season, what players end up on top of the list over the course of a season?

Here are the Strokes Gained Golf Stats per round, for the top 5 players on the final standings of the FedEx Cup this season.

One thing stands out clearly, 4 of them gained most of their shots with their Approach Play and Rory was up there too. Seems like you can be a below average putter, but no chance of being a top player if you are not a great Approach Shot player.

Knowing that Tiger topped the Approach Shot rankings for all those years he dominated the game and looking at the difference in Jordan Spieth’s breakout season in 2015 vs. his lacklustre 2019 campaign, it also becomes clear.

Approach Shots are key to being one of the world’s best.

So why is this the case?

If we take a closer look at the 4 basic skills, Driving, Approach Shots, Short Game and Putting and what they actually are, we can see that Approach Shots have the most amount of variables which makes it the toughest skill to master.

Let me show you what I mean.

Driving - it’s played with the same club (mostly), from an identical lie and you have to perform the same shot over and over, with little regard as to controlling the distance the ball travels. The key is to make it go straight and as far as possible.

Short Game - club speed is slow, which makes it easier to control. In top level golf, they simply don’t hit that many short game shots, so even if you are great at it, it doesn’t count for that much.

On top of that, most short game shots happen from about 15 yards. This effectively makes the penalty for a poor shot, count less. With basic chipping technique, most players get pretty good at this.

Putting - the club and lie is always the same. The ball never gets airborne. A player basically has to get the correct line, control the start line and control the speed of the ball.

I’ve seen 70 year old golfers as well as 13 year old juniors putt very close to PGA Tour level. Again, it’s pretty simple technique to get proficient at and not all that difficult to master. The ball also rolls over an uneven surface, with many perfect putts missing. So it’s very hard to use putting as a separating factor.

And then we get to Approach Shots.

Approach Shots are played from different lies, with different clubs, over different distances. The club speed is high, which makes it more difficult to control. Being able to control the strike on the club face becomes very difficult from different lies, with high club speeds and using different clubs. The sheer magnitude of variability means that it takes a lot of practice to get good at.

The top players have developed their skills to a higher level and this being the most challenging aspect of the game is therefore the area where the top can separate themselves.

So what, you might say, how does this help me?

The point I’m trying to drive home is that if you have a good understanding of what is needed to achieve your specific goals in golf, then you certainly have a better chance of spending your practice time more accurately.

This will give you an opportunity of achieving your golf goals, no matter what your skill level.

Try Golf Stats Coach it’s the perfect tool to show you exactly what you need to work on to improve your game.

Till next time.