Seeking Success in New Orleans: Using Ryder Cup Formula to Predict Best Pairings

April 24, 2019
Jake Nichols

The introduction of the team format at the Zurich Classic brought new energy to the event and changed the conversation surrounding it. The fields for the last three stroke play editions of the Zurich ranked 8th-weakest, 4th-weakest, and 9th-weakest among regular Tour stops, and the 2016 event ended after 54 holes with a Monday finish.

Now, the event features a unique foursomes/four-balls team format – which provides a rare opportunity to apply the intelligence behind 15th Club’s consulting work with Ryder Cup Europe to a different arena.

Team competition is all about combining the skills of players into something greater than the individuals involved. Our remit at the Ryder Cup is to take the abilities of 12 players and combine them into winning teams in two different formats. At it’s best, you get a combination like Europe’s ‘Moliwood,’ where two virtuoso ball-strikers combine on a course that rewarded ball-striking above all else. Other times, it’s covering-up a weakness or allowing an under-valued player shine where their skills fit best.

In four-balls, the desired skill – especially at a course which yields low scores like TPC Louisiana – is birdie-making. More chances should be taken throughout the match to chase birdies, knowing your partner is mathematically likely to be there with a par if things go wrong. This format can mean taking driver more often and being more aggressive towards certain pins in pursuit of birdies.

In alternate shot, the name of the game is tailoring the specific shots each player plays to their individual skills. At Le Golf National, that meant recognizing more key drives came on the odd holes, while more key approaches would be played by those teeing off the even holes. From 13 to 17, the player teeing off the evens would play four of five approach shots (and potentially a fifth if forced to lay-up on the 14th hole). At TPC Louisiana, the player teeing off odd holes faces more approach shots and – crucially – plays all three par 3s which have water in play.

Digging deeper, our course intelligence shows TPC Louisiana rewards those who are wilder off the tee as the waste bunkers and rough don’t play particularly penal.

With that in mind, we’ve identified the five most synergistic pairings in this year’s event. These aren’t necessarily the five most likely to win, but the five with the best opportunity to combine their individual skills into a team.

Brian Harman & Patton Kizzire

Looking at their respective strokes gained performances, they have played as mirror images of each other since the start of 2018. Harman has been over a quarter of a shot better off the tee than with his approach shots, while Kizzire has really struggled off the tee, but has hit his irons/wedges well – leading to a gap of nearly a full shot between those areas.

Adam Scott & Jason Day

Jason Day is world-class on and around the greens and he hits it about 10 yards longer than Tour average which is a potent combination that sees him ranked 7th in our Performance Index. The one (performance) area holding him back from dominating the Tour is his ball-striking. Enter one of the best in the world at that in Adam Scott and this team are deserved favorites.

Ian Poulter & Sam Horsfield

Poulter is the inverse of Day, in that he complements his short game skills with strong ball-striking and accuracy off the tee. Horsfield’s main weakness – from 1.5 years of strokes gained data mainly from the European Tour – has been his approach play. However, he does possess the power to give Poulter more of an advantage playing into the green.

Scott Stallings & Trey Mullinax

In the last few years, Stallings has made his money from really solid approach play, while Mullinax’s primary skill so far in his young career has been driving it well. At 103rd and 122nd in 15th Club’s Performance Index neither would be in the discussion at a regular Tour stop, but a dose of synergy could set them up well this week.

Max Homa & Andrew Putnam

Putnam has really established himself as a solidly above-average player in the non-driving aspects of the game. In three Tour seasons he’s gained +0.5 SG (2015), +0.6 SG (2018), and +1.0 SG (2019) per round if you ignore SG Driving. His below average distance and accuracy off the tee hold him back. Homa’s not fantastic driving the ball, but his primary weakness has been an inability to find fairways. His power will play up more at this course.