Thoughts on Farrell Evans’ Hypothetical PGA Awards

A pseudo-FJM?  Sure, why not…and it’s only pseudo because I like the premise and I agree with some of the selections.

This comes from ESPN’s Farrell Evans, a relative newcomer to the field of golfy scribblin’.  Link.

The premise is simple enough…what awards should exist to supplement the current ones given out officially, though I will say Evans stumbled right out of the gates.

Still, it would be fun for the players to vote on a variety of year-end awards to add some flavor to the proceedings. So I worked up my own list of awards to hand out for 2011.

Warning: I don’t claim to be exhaustive or unbiased. Steve Stricker might well be a better putter than Luke Donald, and Webb Simpson might be a better iron player than Charles Howell III.

Webb Simpson IS a better iron player than Charles Howell III.  That’s not opinion, that’s not bias…just fact.  CHIII is ranked outside the top 100 in approaches from 100-125 yards, 125-150 yards, 150-175 yards, 175-200 yards, 200-225 yards, 225-250 yards and from 275 and farther.  He’s in the top 30 from 100 and in and 63rd from 250-275 yards.  Conversely…Webb Simpson is 4th in 100-125 yards, 3rd in 150-175 yards and is in the top 90 in every other category.

So it’s pretty simple to say that yes, definitively, Webb Simpson is a better iron player than Charles Howell III.  And that’s not even getting into their respective swings where Webb is accurate from pretty much any angle while CHIII, despite being on Tour for a DECADE, still can’t hit a ¾ shot.  Gotta love those Leadbetter students.

As for best iron player?  David Toms is pretty damn good and is top 50 in five of the seven accuracy ranges for approach shots, so we’ll go with him or Webb or Luke Donald, who I didn’t really want include because otherwise he would’ve won every non-driving category.  Though, when it comes to striking irons, it’s hard not include Sergio Garcia.

Rest after the jump…

Best putter: Luke Donald

Based on the PGA Tour’s new strokes-gained putting statistic, Donald, who won twice this year in the United States, is the best putter on the PGA Tour, beating out Stricker, who, 7 out of 10 players probably would tell you, rolls the ball better than anybody on the planet.

No problems here as Donald is an excellent choice and Stricker a solid also-ran.  I’d also nominate Kevin Na, Freddie Jacobson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day.

Best wedge player: Phil Mickelson

Anyone who has played on the PGA Tour knows that wedge play is the difference between becoming a great player and one who struggles every year to keep his card. Year after year, Mickelson is the best wedge player in the game. From 50 to 75 yards to the green, no one was better this year than the 41-year-old San Diego native.

Disagree.

Can Phil do more things with a wedge than almost any player on Tour?  Probably, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that.  Does that mean he has the best wedge game?  No.  Does one single instance where he had a stock, full wedge to a hole he’s played 50 million times that nearly went in from 90 yards at the end of a tournament mean he’s still the best wedge player in the game?  That’s an awfully small sample size, even if it was fun.

The best wedge players in the game also happen to be two of the best putters in the game…Donald and Stricker.  It’s not how high you can flop or how many shots you can pull off with a lob wedge, it’s about getting up and down, and both those guys do it better than anyone else.

Or he could’ve gone with one of those short hitters that rely entirely on their wedge games because they only hit a handful of green sin regulation…Brian Gay and Jim Furyk come to mind.  Matt Kuchar’s another golfer with a spectacular wedge game that’s probably on par, if not better, than Phil.

Just because these guys don’t have their own DVD’s doesn’t mean they aren’t superior scramblers because when it comes to wedge game, it’s been Stricker and Donald’s house, well, timeshare for the past two years.

Best driver: Dustin Johnson

Bubba Watson will tell you that on a big, wide-open field, there is no one longer than J.B. Holmes. But he’ll also tell you that on a golf course, into the wind, Johnson is the longest hitter in the game because of his low, boring ball flight that maximizes distance. Nowadays there are dozens of 300-yard hitters on the PGA Tour, but only a handful of them have become top players. The laid-back 27-year-old fromMyrtle Beach,S.C., won the Barclays inAugusta and made $4.3 million in 2011.

At the Deutsche Bank Championship in September, Johnson hit a 463-yard drive on the 600-yard par-5 seventh hole. It was the longest drive on the PGA Tour this season.

What Evans isn’t telling you is that DJ’s 463-yard drive hit the cart path eight or nine times.

Johnson’s fine and everything, but he’s not the best driver just because he can get it out there.  Of my two best drivers in 2011, one will surprise you, the other will not.  The unsurprising selection is Adam Scott who was 24th in distance and 2nd in distance from center of the fairway off the tee, which isn’t exactly a shock considering Scott’s textbook swing and history of driving the ball phenomenally.  The surprising one?  Phil Mickelson, who was 22nd in distance and 4th in distance from the fairway.

This gives even more credence to people overrating Phil’s wedge game and underrating his ballstriking.  It should also show you how meaningless the stat “fairways hit” is…conventional wisdom would have Phil being shorter off the tee so he can find more fairways, but why would he do that when he’s more accurate from 150-175 in the rough as the Tour average is from the same distance in the fairway?  Especially considering he’ll be 150-175 in the rough when the average player is 25+ yards behind…

Food for thought.

We covered the best iron player selection up above, so lets move on…

Top overachiever: Spencer Levin

For years, Corey Pavin was probably the most overachieving player on the PGA Tour. The slightly built 14-time winner always had to rely on a great short game and spectacular shot-making because he was never truly a superior ball striker or a long hitter.

This generation’s Pavin is Levin, a 27-year-old, third-year pro fromSacramento. Levin, who played his college golf atNew Mexico, will never wow you with his game. At 5-foot-9, he doesn’t have some of the physical gifts of some of his young contemporaries on tour. He didn’t rank in the top 30 in any of the tour’s main statistical categories, but he did earn $2.3 million in 2011, his career best.

If we’re going by money list, then there are better overachievers than the tastefully named Spencer Levin.

Luke Donald again?  He’s 147th in driving distance and not especially accurate…but when you’re in the top 10 in seemingly every other single category, it seems like he’s compensating for his lack of distance in the Bomb’n’Gouge Era quite nicely.

Lets keep going down the money list until we find another better candidate than Levin.   We’re going to go down…down…all the way down…to number 2, Webb Simpson, who was ranked outside the top 250 all of a year ago.  Or the lightly recruited Nick Watney (we share the same birthday, w00t, but he’s 30 now HAHAHAH, old ass), number 3 on that list, who came out of nowhere to be a top 10 machine?  Or KJ Choi, who didn’t start playing until he was 19 and learned the game from looking at pictures out of Jack Nicklaus’ book since he couldn’t read English?

That’s not even mentioning guys like Stricker, David Toms, Keegan Bradley, Mark Wilson, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Dufner, Jonathan Byrd or Kevin Na…all of whom both finished above Levin on the money list yet also aren’t physical freaks or prodigies.

Just a lazy selection…

Top underachiever: Jim Furyk

A year after winning the FedEx Cup playoffs, Furyk had one of the worst years of his 17-year career. He missed 14 cuts and had just four top-10 finishes. It couldn’t have helped that during the offseason, after winning three times in 2010, the 41-year-old former Arizona Wildcat changed his driver and golf ball.

The top underachiever is Tiger Woods.  It’s not even close.

Most likely to succeed: Jason Day

The 24-year-old Australian did everything but win in 2011. He had 10 top-10s, including second-place finishes at the Masters and the U.S. Open. Several of his other top-10s came in strong fields at the Players, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship.

That’s fine.

Personally, of all the golfers who qualify, and Day is on that list, the guy I see as the most rock solid success story is Simpson.  He went from a dude I thought would contend a little bit in lesser tournaments at the beginning of the year to a guy I thought was riding an unsustainable hot streak to a guy you think has a bright future to saying to myself “I wouldn’t want any other player leading off the President’s Cup this year.”

Simpson’s 2011 has had the trajectory of a rocket and if you can find a hole in his game, I’d appreciate if you shared it.

And kudos for not going with “Rory McIlroy,” because that would’ve been entirely way too easy albeit not quite a lock considering his diva predilections of the past six months.

Best-dressed player: Luke Donald

I don’t really give a shit about this category, but it sure as hell isn’t the guy who wore this at this year’s Masters.

My vote’s for Darren Clarke.  Classy, traditional and perfectly tailored.  I don’t care for looking like a creamsicle or wearing all pink or having garish patterns just to stand out and, conversely, you can’t just look like a clone…Clarke looks like a professional golfer should look.

Most likely to win “America’s Got Talent”: Golf Boys

This is just dumb.

Most likable: Tommy “Two Glove” Gainey

The 36-year-old country boy fromSouth Carolinaliterally wears his story on his chest. His sponsor is A. O. Smith, where Gainey wrapped insulation around water heaters for $12 an hour back in the mid-1990s.

Gainey is an unabashed blue-collar guy in a white-collar world of high-end resorts and luxury rental cars for the players. He’s affable, polite and an upcoming star on the PGA Tour with some real game. In 2011, he had seven top-10s, including four third-place finishes. His golf swing, shaped by his days playing baseball as a kid, is a sight to see. He’ll be a fan favorite for years to come.

I can’t really argue too much with this, but when it comes to most likeable golfer, it’s hard to go against Ryo Ishikawa, who donated his entire 2011 prize winnings to the Japanese relief efforts.  Granted, he isn’t a funky swinging, homeless man’s Boo Weekley with two gloves that makes fat middle aged guys think they could do this, but you know, DONATING YOUR PRIZE WINNINGS FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR seems like a pretty stand up move.

  • http://twitter.com/HawkEye_19 HawkEye

    Best putter: Luke Donald

    Keegan Bradley

    /shows self out

  • spencer096

    keegan’s 97th in putts gained…he got hot for a multi-hole stretch in a clutch situation, but he’s nowhere near stricker and donald’s level. or even jason day’s for that matter.

  • Groin

    The top underachiever is Tiger Woods. It’s not even close.

    Baby steps. El Tigre’s finally healthy and knows his new swing is good enough to win. He’ll win one major in 2012. Book it.

    Nice piece, Spence. Good job.