THE STEVE STRICKER MAJOR THEORY

@Jalnichols posed a good question about whether or not there is any meaning to Steve Stricker’s underperformance in major championships compared to dominance against similar fields in the FedEx Cup.

Over a 5-year period, Stricker’s average is -.64, only topped by Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and edged slightly by Phil Mickelson. In majors that falls to -.55 over 66 rounds in the same period.

In the golf world of super-gritty Graeme McDowell and where Tiger’s “aura” has been exploded by off the course transgressions the first and most reasonable answer for this isn’t the most popular: his worse play in majors cold be just randomness. That would be a performance around 1 standard deviation below the mean or 21st percentile. Meaning Stricker’s performance is basically about as poor as 1-in-5 golfers would do in relation to their average. Nothing to write home about. In fact with players over 50 rounds in majors during that time only 6 players are better than Stricker. The above three, plus Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen.

I think that’s a pretty good indication that Stricker’s play in majors is just the poor fortune of not playing well when it “matters most.”

But, what if there is something to it?

Stricker, in fact seems to have an opposite game of most of golf’s elite player. He excels at chipping and putting (The best in the world, the last two years on tour) and is not up to par with the names above in ball-striking (both in terms of hitting greens and the ability to hit long, high golf shots to tough greens).

Does the variance of shots around the green change at all during majors? For example, mid-range putts seem to be a toss-up at a normal venue, but what if the faster and more sloped greens at majors make putting harder for everyone. Stricker’s advantage of making lots of putts and chips is hurt by this.

If you don’t catch my drift look at the variance between putts made per 1000 at 3-feet, 10-feet and 25-feet on the PGA Tour.

distance

st dev.

average

3-feet

4.70

99.19

10-feet

81.49

41.43

25+ feet

15.32

5.48

As you can see, when the putts were basically a toss-up there was a wide variation between number made. That’s when the really good putters (Stricker) can pick up a nice advantage. However, as it gets way easier, or way harder the difference is less evident.

In a major, I’m guessing putting gets a lot harder for everyone because of the conditions so Stricker starts to lose his edge on the mid-range putts that really matter. Of course, as the easy putts get harder too, he would pick up some advantage there, but it’s probably worth noting that it’s also harder to get the ball close to the hole at majors because of the overall conditions.

So, when the 10-footers are harder to make, and there are a lot more of them, that could really play to the disadvantage of someone who makes up their strokes on the greens.

There’s really no reliable data, other than guesses, but I would assume that great ball-strikers like Tiger and Phil actually have an advantage on major courses that feature more difficult conditions. If an average tour event is won with a score of -20, then hitting the greens is probably pretty easy for most pros. However, when you grow the rough out, narrow the fairways and -2 is the winning score, you might assume that the bombers can use their skills and strength to pick up an advantage over lesser hitters. Stricker certainly can’t overpower the course so he might lose some of what advantage he has by the course conditions.

To take a look at this I compared how Stricker fared at majors of different at different majors over the last 5 years.

Augusta

-0.28422

US Open

-0.63275

British

-0.55382

PGA

-0.64546

I’m not sure exactly what this means. Augusta is certainly famous for its hard greens and that is where Stricker has fared the worst as I speculated above. But, it’s not exactly like that is founded in anything other than golf media hype and reputation. I’d love to see some data from Augusta about the difference in putting compared to an average tour event.

The other US majors Stricker has basically played to his five-year average and the British, which Stricker usually plays the week before, is only slightly below and could probably easily be explained by randomness/jet lag.

I don’t know if you have any other brilliant ideas, let me know in the comments.

ROUND 2 of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Player

total wins

odds

Jim Furyk

12.77%

683

Steve Stricker

12.75%

684

Jonathan Byrd

8.82%

1034

Ben Crane

8.24%

1114

Charley Hoffman

6.51%

1436

Matt Kuchar

6.28%

1492

Carl Pettersson

4.93%

1928

Francesco Molinari

4.92%

1932

Bill Haas

4.70%

2029

Ian Poulter

3.88%

2475

Anthony Kim

3.83%

2514

Hunter Mahan

3.02%

3211

Dustin Johnson

2.85%

3414

Bubba Watson

2.47%

3942

Zach Johnson

2.22%

4396

Graeme McDowell

1.78%

5524

Robert Garrigus

1.52%

6462

Ryan Palmer

1.31%

7545

Ernie Els

1.22%

8124

Heath Slocum

0.98%

10125

Tim Clark

0.77%

12820

Stuart Appleby

0.76%

13058

Camilo Villegas

0.76%

13128

Jason Day

0.53%

18911

Adam Scott

0.49%

20392

Bill Lunde

0.46%

21830

Jason Bohn

0.38%

26216

Derek Lamely

0.25%

39270

Justin Rose

0.22%

46196

Cameron Beckman

0.17%

58040

Arjun Atwal

0.15%

66567

Matt Bettencourt

0.07%

146959

Rocco Mediate

0.00%

2499900

 

 

 

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