As you probably could’ve gathered, I’m of the belief that golf statistics are incredibly revealing. The sheer amount of information at your fingertips on the PGA’s website is breathtaking, and it really gives you some good insight as to how the best players in the world get it done. You can see right away why certain players are consistently contending because the sample size is so huge that you can easily piece together where a player gets his advantage.
If you’ve been following along, I value certain stats in concert that almost invariably highlight a group of players that are at the top of the scoring leaders, the money list, the FedEx Cup standings and usually a few big wins and/or high finishes in a major. Rarely do you see a player do well in these stacked tournaments that is completely mediocre statistically…in fact, in 2011, only one player fits this criteria amongst the final 30 at the Tour Championship, the last round of golf’s playoffs, Camilo Villegas.
I believe that if a player is long off the tee (but not necessarily accurate), make birdies from the rough while hitting a lot of greens in regulation, can save strokes around the greens and get the ball in the hole with the putter, they’re going to be impossible to beat. And I can hear you snickering too because, truthfully, that’s the video game player.
Unfortunately, if you only watched golf’s majors this year, you probably missed this guy entirely considering he finished 46th in the Masters, missed the cut in both Opens before finishing a respectable 12th at the PGA. However, if there’s one player I think is poised to step up and become a major player in the game, not just contending for majors, but becoming a staple atop the PGA Tour and one of America’s best players for the next half decade, it’s Nick Watney.
Driving and Approaches
Watney is 16th in driving distance and is typically an excellent driver of the golf ball, as most Butch Harmon students seem to be. And while he hits fewer than 60% of his fairways, he was 6th overall in distance from the centerline, so when he misses, it’s not by much. But the real reason I’m so bullish on Watney is because he’s 3rd in GIR’s from the rough and when he misses a fairway, he’s still 20th on Tour in making birdie.
There aren’t many weaknesses in Watney’s long game at all, and even if he had Dustin Johnson-esque stats with his scoring clubs, he’d still be incredible successful since he’s the prototype for the modern golfer. There aren’t any courses too long for him, and he’s so consistent in hitting greens from both the rough and fairway that you’re rarely going to see him leave himself with a difficult up and down. If you play the probabilities, eventually it’s going to pay off.
It needs to be said that at his first tournament in Hawaii, his driving was atrocious. But he has the track record of being one of the better overall drivers on Tour and every golfer, no matter how talented, has a dip in performance every now and then.
Scrambling and Putting
Simply put, he’s one of the best on Tour, ranking 12th overall in both scrambling and putts gained. The best scramblers are typically the best putters, where only Woody Austin and Rod Pampling could be considered below average (Charles Howell III’s an underrated putter, believe it or not). Putts gained separates itself from scrambling, but strong wedge play definitely helps you cut down on total putts taken.
Watney is an incredibly consistent wedge player that can border on spectacular on occasions and it’s the same story with the putter, where when he gets hot, he makes every putt he looks at. When it comes to short game, Watney’s every bit in that elite class with Luke Donald, Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Brian Gay and Zach Johnson, and he’s BY FAR the best of that group with the longer clubs. Day’s as long, but not nearly as accurate and doesn’t hit many greens, Donald and Stricker aren’t in his class with the driver and both Gay and Johnson are amongst the shortest hitters in the game.
Watney was hurt by a poor performance in the majors this year, where he looked like he was still thinking about his meltdown after leading the 2009 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits after 54-holes en route to the second of the string of 80′s by young guns with the Sunday lead (Dustin Johnson was the first that year at the US Open and Rory McIlroy had that horrible Sunday at Augusta).
But stats don’t lie when they’re backed up by big wins, and Watney’s got a few under his belt. He might’ve had a year to forget in the majors, but he still won a WGC event as well as the ATT National, which might as well have been the US Open Jr. last year, considering the quality of both the field and the course. Everything you look at objectively leads you to believe that this is a guy on the verge of something big, and considering his past where he’s represented the US in team events and gone toe-to-toe with Phil Mickelson at a WGC event, he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the spotlight next time he’s in it.
When you have a player that’s an elite driver, an elite iron player and has a world class short game, it’s only a matter of time until they come through in a major. Even the prospects that we expect to be world beater’s have holes in their game. From Adam Scott and Sergio’s putters to Dustin Johnson’s head to Hunter Mahan’s ballsack to Rickie Fowler’s trophy case to Rory McIlroy’s maturity, there are only players out there you can say doesn’t need to improve in at least one area of their game…one is Charl Schwartzel and the other is Watney. And of the two, Watney’s the better putter and has a more complete résumé.
He might not be the flashiest player or be the most marketable or have the most Twitter followers, but there isn’t a player out there with the statisticular fortitude that Watney has. I didn’t predict a major for him this year, but the more I think about it, the more I should.
So in an attempt to inject a bit more life and interest into tournaments, and because we're all inveterate gamblers who are one bad card from being out on the streets, Jay Busbee, Jonathan Wall and I are playing a golf version of a football suicide pool: We each pick one golfer per tournament and see how they do against each other, straight up. Victory over the other guy gets...
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