If you’ve been watching the PGA Tour for the past month, then you’ve seen a great deal of Matt Kuchar. If you are like me (and you should be thankful you’re not), you were sitting there pondering to yourself, “Man, this guy sure seems to get into contention a lot, but doesn’t seem to win that much.” Again, if you are me, you then set out to see how often players on the PGA Tour really convert good finishes into wins (this is probably when you should start pointing and laughing and being glad you’re not like me).
To start, I felt as if I needed to lay down a few simple ground rules. First, I was interested in how frequently the players that were often near the top of the leaderboards converted being in contention to winning. To figure that out, I calculated the top 10% — the number of top 10s a players had divided by the total number of each individual’s starts.
I was then interested in how often the top 25 best/most consistent players in any given year actually turned those top 10s into wins. Remarkably, for the past five years (2010-2014), that percentage of top 10s into victories has been roughly stable at 12%
However, from year to year, there is a great deal of variation the individual golfers who are the most consistent. A player will have a great year, but most of the time, they tend to finish more in the middle of the pack. So, what about those golfers who have been the most consistent over a long period of time — do they win more often?
To answer the question, I looked at the top 25 golfers in terms of top 10% over the last 5 years, with a minimum of 50 starts (for sample size purposes and that’s also roughly two years), which unfortunately eliminated Jordan Spieth. The win percentage amongst these players, who have been the best over a period of time, was higher, but not significantly: They translated those top 10s into wins at a rate of just over 14%. To sum up, winning on the PGA Tour is really hard, even for those players who give themselves the most chances.
To get back to Matt Kuchar — does he really not win as often as he should? The data says no. In fact, Kuchar wins at almost exactly the rate that he should, translating his top 10s into wins 11% of the time. He does have the third highest top 10% of the last 5 years, though, with only Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy ahead of him.
Who are the top 25 players that are not up to par at translating their top-10 finishes into wins? Well, at the bottom of that list is Retief Goosen, who has 16 top-10 finishes in the last 5 years and zero victories. He is followed by — names that should be no surprise to most serious golf fans –- 24. Lee Westwood, 23. Sergio Garcia, 22. Charl Schwartzel, and 21. Ryan Moore.
The five PGA Tour players who have been the best at converting being in contention into victories over the past five years (in reverse order): T4. Bill Haas and Zach Johnson, 3. Rory McIlroy, 2. Bubba Watson, and 1. Tiger Woods.
In fact, Tiger has won 38% of the events in which he has finished in the top 10 — an astounding percentage. Bubba, who was second best, is only at 26%. For his career, Tiger has converted a mind-boggling 42% of his top 10s into victories.
Oh, and as for Patrick “Top 5” Reed, if he wants to back up that statement, he might want to try contending more often. The two victories he has had this year were also his only top 10s. Nobody in the last five years has won more than twice in a season without also being in the top 25 in top 10%.
The next time you see a big name or any Tour pro, struggling to turn productivity into a victory — maybe cut them some slack, winning consistently on the PGA Tour might be the hardest thing to do in all of sports, even for the very best.
–Shoshana Agus-Kleinman (@shosheak)
You can email Shoshana at firstname.lastname@example.org