The Tour’s Top Newcomers
The early stages of the PGA Tour season have been dominated by jockeying for the world #1 ranking and an unprecedented wave of twentysomething winners. At the same time, a number of tour newcomers have been making their presence felt as a new generation emerges.
Three particular players have stood out for a variety of reasons: Jon Rahm – who earned his card with a superlative run after turning professional last year – won at Torrey Pines; Wesley Bryan – a three-time Web.com Tour winner in 2016 – enters this week with two straight top five finishes; and Bryson DeChambeau – who earned his card through the Web.com Tour Finals – has struggled to adapt to the Tour with only three made cuts in 10 events so far.
Rahm’s immediate success has propelled him to #25 in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he’s performing at a level that indicates he’s a top 10 golfer in the world by our Performance Index. When we examine his game, no clear weaknesses have yet emerged over the 45 rounds the data covers between 2016 and 2017. He rates as average with a wedge in his hands, on putts between 12-30 feet (medium putts), and with his driving accuracy. When we rank the weakest part of every golfer on Tour’s game, Rahm’s weakest element comes out equal to the weakest element of all-around talents like Spieth, Fowler, and Kuchar in terms of having the smallest negative impact on his performance.
Rahm’s strengths, on the other hand, make a huge impact. Since the start of 2016, he ranks 6th best on Tour on driving distance (adjusted for the field) and third best in Strokes Gained with long irons. Rahm also ranks in the top 10% in terms of aggressiveness in hitting driver, which allows him to use his superior distance to gain even more on the field. In statistics, a cut-off of one standard deviation better than average indicates you’ve beaten roughly 83% of your competitors (a top 30 on Tour level). Rahm has achieved that level on six of the 10 main stats we track in his graph above – the most of any of the 201 qualifying golfers.
Rahm’s two best comparisons so far when we examine the entirety of their games are Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, so he’s already in elite company.
Bryan started slowly on Tour with only one top 10 in eight starts in 2016 and three straight missed cuts to start 2017, but has paired back-to-back top five finishes at Riviera and the Honda Classic. Like Rahm, he has a few clear strengths: wedge SG (2nd best), short iron SG (3rd best), and around the green SG (2nd best). He’s one of the most similar golfers on Tour to the current version of Luke Donald who gets by with putting, short game, and good close iron/wedge play.
His clear weakness is distance off the tee (177th of 201 golfers), which combined with his mediocre driving accuracy leaves him a clear negative off the tee.
Bryson’s primary weakness so far has been putting. He spent the end of 2016 putting conventionally, introduced the face-on method for 2017, and then abandoned his new method at Riviera. It’s not even that a single element of his putting performance has stood out; he’s struggled equally at each length of putt so far. With these putting issues being combined with poor ball-striking (both on wedge shots and long iron shots), it’s easy to see why he’s struggled to make much of an impact to date.
On the positive side, DeChambeau has shown a clear ability to move the ball off the tee – thanks in large part to aggressively pulling driver when the field is more likely to lay-up. He’s also been a clear standout chipping and pitching around the greens.
To date, the most similar players to him are staunchly middle-class PGA Tour golfers like Tyler Aldridge and Sung Kang. If Bryson can find success with his putting experimentation, he could emerge as being similar to Patrick Reed – longer, but wild off the tee, a mediocre ball-striker, and good around the greens.