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One trick ponies of the PGA

  • One trick ponies of the PGA
    1/ Paul Kane // Getty Images

    One trick ponies of the PGA

    In the 1996 movie “Happy Gilmore,” Adam Sandler’s title character couldn’t chip from the fairway or putt to save his life—but his superhuman drive alone earned him a spot in a big pro tournament. The movie is pure slapstick fiction, but the concept of the one-trick pony is very real in the world of golf—even at the highest levels. Several players on the PGA Tour, including a recent Masters winner, are real-life Happy Gilmores—albeit without all the shenanigans, fights with game show hosts, and battles with bloodthirsty alligators.  

    It is now possible to identify golf’s most lopsided specialists thanks to a Columbia University professor named Mark Broadie. In 2007, the PGA introduced a real-time scoring system and data tracker called ShotLink. In 2011, Broadie used ShotLink data to develop a revolutionary golf-analysis tool known as “strokes gained.” Strokes gained is a complicated statistical computation that makes it possible to measure a player’s performance compared to the rest of the field while isolating individual aspects of each player’s game. Broadie’s original formula dealt only with putting. It was the first system that gave greater weight to, say, a 22-foot put compared to a 2-foot put, even though both count as single strokes on the scorecard. In 2016, the PGA Tour expanded strokes gained from only putting to include three new metrics: around-the-green performance, off-the-tee performance, and approach-the-green play.

    Using PGA data from April 15 through the Masters, Stacker identified the biggest one-trick ponies in golf. Golfers from a pool of 214 PGA pros were included in the list if they ranked in the top 20 in one of the four strokes-gained skills and lower than 100 in the other three skills. The result is a list of the golfers with the highest skill ranking difference. That’s the difference between each player’s top skill ranking (be it off-the-tee, approach, around-the-green, or putting) and the average of each player’s lowest three skill rankings. For context, the skill ranking difference of all golfers is 82.7. The skill ranking difference between these 11 one-trick ponies is 148.8.

    Read on to learn about the one-trick ponies of the PGA.

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  • #11. Thorbjørn Olesen
    2/ Mike Ehrmann // Getty Images

    #11. Thorbjørn Olesen

    - Off tee: #120
    - Approach: #127
    - Around the green: #20
    - Putting: #176
    - Skill ranking difference: 121

    Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen has racked up six international victories since joining the PGA Tour in 2013. Known for his short game and not much else, Olesen has played for national teams in events like the Ryder Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

  • #10. Vaughn Taylor
    3/ Mike Ehrmann // Getty Images

    #10. Vaughn Taylor

    - Off tee: #166
    - Approach: #102
    - Around the green: #133
    - Putting: #10
    - Skill ranking difference: 124

    Vaughn Taylor has three PGA Tour victories to his name dating back to the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2004—the same year he joined the Tour. The Virginia native and his red-hot putter won the same tournament again the following year. In 2019, Taylor scored T7 at the Desert Classic, earning the Ryder Cup National Team veteran his 35th career top 10 finish on tour and his third at the Desert Classic.  

  • #9. Bill Haas
    4/ Ross Kinnaird // Getty Images

    #9. Bill Haas

    - Off tee: #149
    - Approach: #167
    - Around the green: #11
    - Putting: #115
    - Skill ranking difference: 133

    Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bill Haas has banked nearly $30 million since joining the PGA Tour in 2006, thanks mostly to his skill with his sand and pitching wedges. He’s played for the Walker Cup and Presidents Cup national teams, and between 2010–2015 he earned a PGA Tour victory every year except 2014.

  • #8. Patton Kizzire
    5/ Kevin C. Cox // Getty Images

    #8. Patton Kizzire

    - Off tee: #195
    - Approach: #128
    - Around the green: #116
    - Putting: #12
    - Skill ranking difference: 134

    Standing 6 feet and 5 inches tall and weighing 215 pounds, Tuscaloosa, Ala. native Patton Kizzire is a big man who is making a big impression. He joined the PGA Tour only in 2016, but he’s already racked up two Tour victories—both in 2018—and nearly $7.56 million in career earnings. Much of that success can be attributed to his laser-like putter.   

  • #7. Adam Hadwin
    6/ Sam Greenwood // Getty Images

    #7. Adam Hadwin

    - Off tee: #20
    - Approach: #172
    - Around the green: #194
    - Putting: #108
    - Skill ranking difference: 138

    Since joining the PGA Tour in 2015, Adam Hadwin’s Tour victory trophies are limited only to the Valspar Championship he won in 2017. The Canadian won two international victories, both in his home country, and much of his success can be attributed to his driver. In 2019, he recorded his third top-three finish at the Desert Classic, this time tying Phil Mickelson for second place.

  • #6. Danny Willett
    7/ Paul Kane // Getty Images

    #6. Danny Willett

    - Off tee: #170
    - Approach: #16
    - Around the green: #118
    - Putting: #192
    - Skill ranking difference: 144

    Since joining the PGA Tour in 2015, Danny Willett has built an impressive resume that includes five international victories and a spot on five national teams. The feather in his cap, however, is his only Tour victory—the 2016 Masters. The England native, who is known for his incredible work on the fairway, won his first major just a few days after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child.

  • #5. Daniel Berger
    8/ Streeter Lecka // Getty Images

    #5. Daniel Berger

    - Off tee: #16
    - Approach: #162
    - Around the green: #193
    - Putting: #164
    - Skill ranking difference: 157

    After joining the PGA Tour in 2015, Florida native Daniel Berger won the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic in 2016 and 2017—his only two Tour victories. He’s earned nearly $12.79 million on the course during that time and played for both the Presidents Cup and Palmer Cup national teams. He’s at his best between the tee markers.

  • #4. Henrik Stenson
    9/ Andrew Redington // Getty Images

    #4. Henrik Stenson

    - Off tee: #187
    - Approach: #3
    - Around the green: #185
    - Putting: #133
    - Skill ranking difference: 165

    Henrik Stenson was part of the national team for the Ryder Cup in five separate years, four years for the World Cup, three years for the Royal Trophy, and once for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since joining the PGA Tour in 2007, he’s racked up an impressive six major victories—including the Open Championship and THE PLAYERS Championship—and 13 international victories. His fairway woods and irons are the keys to his success.  

  • #3. Dominic Bozzelli
    10/ Chris Graythen // Getty Images

    #3. Dominic Bozzelli

    - Off tee: #177
    - Approach: #199
    - Around the green: #139
    - Putting: #1
    - Skill ranking difference: 171

    Newcomer Dominic Bozzelli joined the PGA Tour in 2017, but he already boasts nearly $2 million in career earnings. He’s yet to win a Tour victory, but he earned three top-10 spots his rookie year and earned two top-five spots out of three appearances at the Desert Classic. Among the entire PGA Tour, few can claim to be superior on the putting green.

  • #2. Martin Piller
    11/ Stacy Revere // Getty Images

    #2. Martin Piller

    - Off tee: #208
    - Approach: #213
    - Around the green: #103
    - Putting: #3
    - Skill ranking difference: 172

    Martin Piller’s fourth-place finish at the 2017 DAP Championship earned him his PGA Tour card. Since then, the master putter has earned well over $1 million, thanks to feats like making 11 cuts in 28 starts—including two top-five finishes—in 2018.  

  • #1. Pat Perez
    12/ Stanley Chou // Getty Images

    #1. Pat Perez

    - Off tee: #197
    - Approach: #175
    - Around the green: #171
    - Putting: #2
    - Skill ranking difference: 179

    Pat Perez has earned more than $25 million since joining the PGA Tour in 2002. The Arizona native has won three Tour victories, and in 2017 he landed six top-10 finishes and claimed the second PGA Tour title of his career. Only Dominic Bozzelli has a hotter putter.

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