2021 Tour Trends: Around the Green

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  • Jordan Spieth
    Jordan Spieth
    American professional golfer

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Over the course of his career, Jordan Spieth has established quite the short-game reputation for himself. He can putt the lights out but he also piles up an insane amount of hole-outs. Does that make him the top around-the-green player on TOUR?

Let's dive through some stats from the 2020-21 PGA TOUR campaign and find out.

Around-the-Green King

If you read article one of this Tour Trends series then you'll remember that Bryson DeChambeau dominated with the driver.

In article two we saw that Collin Morikawa was equally dominant with the irons.

When looking at strokes gained around-the-green stats, it's Kevin Na that leads the charge. He gained 0.702 strokes per round last season, in the around-the-green department.

Here is the entire top 10 in terms of strokes gained around-the-green, per round, from the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season:

Kevin Na
Danny Willett
Fabian Gomez
Si Woo Kim
Seamus Power
Jordan Spieth
Patrick Reed
Ian Poulter
Patrick Cantlay
Webb Simpson

It didn't take long for Spieth to pop up on our lists. He was the top around-the-green performer in 2021 but certainly not too far behind.

Most Consistent

We just saw Na take the top spot in average around-the-green performance, but was he also the most consistent? We'll establish this by looking at the percentage of measured rounds where a golfer gained strokes around-the-green.

There are a few notes we should make sure we're aware of. If a golfer plays an easy course and pelts all 18 greens in regulation, they wouldn't even have a chance to gain around-the-green that round. If they only miss one or two greens, they are subject to tiny samples. So, in that regard I would not put as big of an emphasis on around-the-green play but those small caveats do tend to work themselves out over an entire season.

Here are the top 10 when it comes to the percentage of rounds gaining strokes around-the-green during the 2020-21 campaign:

Danny Willett
Si Woo Kim
Kevin Na
Patrick Reed
Seamus Power
Jordan Spieth
Chris Kirk
Jason Day
Webb Simpson
Matt Wallace

It's now Willett that holds the top spot, gaining strokes around-the-green in 78% of his measured rounds last season. There were only three golfers that eclipsed the 70 percent mark so that's really great to almost hit 80 percent.

As you'd expect, there was a lot of overlap between the two lists but Chris Kirk, Jason Day, and Matt Wallace did join the party in list number two. Day was definitely a name I expected to see on the first list but he settled for 15th in SG:Around-the-Green last season.

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Most Improved

Next let's look for the golfers that saw the biggest year-over-year improvement in average strokes gained around-the-green.

Leading the pack is Danny Willett who ranked 2nd on TOUR last season after being 152nd the year before (-0.188 SG:ATG per round). In 2019, he ranked 48th so it's really a mystery as to which version we'll see in 2022.

Here are the rest of the top 10 in most improved around-the-green play when comparing 2020 and 2021:

Danny Willett
Louis Oosthuizen
Kevin Na
Scott Piercy
Paul Casey
Lucas Glover
Robert Streb
Robby Shelton
Mark Anderson
Nelson Ledesma

As you might notice, a big gain in around-the-green play does not always translate to overall success. Four of these golfers failed to crack the FedExCup Playoffs last season.

Biggest Decline

Now let's look for some potential bounce-back candidates by viewing the largest year-over-year declines.

Here is the top 10 in terms of biggest year-over-year decline in around-the-green performance:

Sebastian Cappelen
Grayson Murray
Rhein Gibson
Phil Mickelson
Scott Brown
Will Gordon
Adam Scott
Rory Sabbatini
Ryan Brehm
Rob Oppenheim

The great PIP-winning, short-game wizard, Phil Mickelson actually lost strokes around-the-green last season. We know he's still capable of some wizardry so I have to wonder if this is a case of him being out of contention too frequently last season, and just playing for the miracle shots instead of "playing it safe."

Average Earnings by Tier

For this last checkup, we will divide the TOUR into three groups, based on their 2021 around-the-green performance.

Tier 1 consists of the golfers that were at least one standard deviation higher than the TOUR average in strokes gained around-the-green last season. In other words, the top short-game wizards on the planet.

Tier 2 is basically the "average" golfer out on TOUR. These are all of the golfers that sit between Tier 1 (elite) and Tier 3 (not elite).

Tier 3 contains the golfers that struggle around the green. Everyone that is at least a standard deviation below the TOUR average.

Now let's see how much money each tier earned, on average, per start last season.

Tier 1 = $118,317
Tier 2 = $71,941
Tier 3 = $39,639

Compared to the ball-striking stats, the Tier 1 performance is drastically lower and the Tier 3 performance is much higher. As you might expect, it's more advantageous to be top tier in a ball-striking category, rather than relying on your short game to bail you out.

There is just one category remaining, will putting be more similar to the ball-striking categories, or will it closely mirror the stats above?