Blueprint for the Perfect Golfer
A few years ago—in his Short Game BibleDave Pelz put together his composite of the perfect golfer. For Pelz, the following players exemplify the various constituent parts of the ideal golfer, historically speaking:
- Driving and fairway woods (power game): Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie.
- Shots of longer than 100 yards to the green (power game): Steve Elkington, Ben Hogan, Moe Norman.
- Wedge shots inside 100 yards (short game): Tom Kite, Tom Watson, David Duval.
- Trouble shots (from sand, bad lies, trees, high rough): Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal.
- Chipping (short game): Paul Azinger, Raymond Floyd, Payne Stewart.
- Putting (putting game): Ben Crenshaw, Lee Janzen, George Archer.
Carrying out the same exercise using the present members of the PGA Tour, we’ll see if we can manufacture a rival for Pelz’s “Perfect Golfer.”
Driver and Fairway Woods: Louis Oosthuizen
Not surprisingly, the longest driver on the PGA Tour for the past several years has been Bubba Watson. Watson averaged 315.5 yards off the tee last year and, of course, managed to win a major with his 58.8 percent driving accuracy. That percentage, however, isn't sufficient for our perfect golfer.
The professional golfer with the appropriate combination of power and accuracy is actually the man who lost to Watson in last year’s Masters playoff: Louis Oosthuizen. "King Louis" averaged 299.5 yards off the tee in 2012 and hit 62 percent of fairways. In approaches from beyond 225 yards, Oosthuizen was solidly in the top half of measured shots, according to PGATour.com.
Shots of Longer Than 100 Yards to Green: Rory McIlroy
For Pelz, nobody in recent memory hit approach shots between a fairway wood and a wedge better than Steve Elkington. While Elk is still a fine ballstriker, he spends more of his time Tweeting and contributing to Secret in the Dirt these days, than he does on the fairways of the PGA Tour.
For the Perfect Golfer, the player who hits the ball closest to the pin across the ranges between 100 and approximately 240 yards is who we’re after. That player is Rory McIlroy, who was second in Approaches from >100 Yards from the fairway last year (28’10’’). Additionally, he was 23rd in shots from the same distance range from the rough, only about four feet further away on average than the best player in the category.
Wedge Shots Inside 100 Yards: Steve Stricker
The best wedge player on the PGA Tour, statistically speaking, is clearly Steve Stricker.
The veteran hit the ball an average of almost a whole foot closer than the second place finisher in Approaches from inside 100 Yards. Stricker is pretty good from the rough with a wedge in his hand, too. He finished sixth in that category last season.
The easiest decision regarding the Perfect Golfer is the inclusion of Stricker’s wedge play.
Trouble Shots: Phil Mickelson
"Winged Foot" and his butchery of the fourth hole at Augusta last year notwithstanding, Phil Mickelson is the Trouble Shot component of the Perfect Golfer. There are other viable candidates, to be sure. Bubba Watson, whose spectacular recovery shot on the second playoff hole at the Masters last year maxed-out the distance and directional possibilities of a wedge comes to mind, as does Tiger Woods.
Nevertheless, Mickelson—with his supreme confidence that he can save par (or even make birdie) from anywhere—is the man
Short Game: Brian Gay
The leaders in the two significant metrics of short game success—sand save and scrambling percentage—are Jonas Blixt and Brian Gay, respectively. Gay—already a winner on tour this year—was positioned at fifth in Sand Save Percentage at 62 percent last year.
As Gay is perennially near the top of short game categories, he’s the Chipping component of the perfect golfer.
He is not, however, the clothing component.
Putting: Brandt Snedeker
For as dubious a statistic as Putts Per Round is, Strokes Gained-Putting is that much better. In simplest terms, the stat “measures the number of putts a golfer takes relative to the PGA Tour average, taking into account the initial putt distance on each green,” according to Mark Brodie, one of the metrics creators.
The PGA Tour leader in Strokes Gained-Putting in 2012 was FedEx Cup Champion, Brandt Snedeker. In 2011, the mop-topped golfer was 10th in the category.
With a simple, repeatable stroke that holds up under pressure, Snedeker is the putting part of the Perfect Golfer.
Management/Mental Game: Tiger Woods
Pelz did not include an exemplar of the mental game of golf in his model. However (and certainly Pelz would agree), course management and the mental approach to every shot are as significant and as important as aptitude out of a bunker in contributing to the overall success of a golfer.
Jack Nicklaus doesn’t appear anywhere on Pelz's list, however, he won more major golf tournaments than anyone in history. The Golden Bear’s distinguishing attributes were unshakable self-confidence, excellent course management and an iron will to win.
Similarly, even with his club-kicking tantrums and torrents of profanity, Tiger Woods is the exemplar of course management and the mental aspects of playing winning golf.
*all stats from PGATour.com