It’s a Numbers Game

A week before this year’s PGA Championship was to begin, someone posted a highly mathematically accurate prediction based on the previous three major winners on one of Facebook’s more popular golf forums. Although based on the calculations, the prediction was for Rickie Fowler to win. The eventual winner, who also fit the mathematical requirements, was perhaps overlooked. So, what was the math behind the prediction? The final major winner of 2017, just like the first three, would have six letters in his first name and six letters in his last name. Guess what? They all do – Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, and now Justin Thomas.

So if you’re thinking “that’s fake math”, here’s some real math for you to consider. The PGA Tour collects a phenomenal amount of data for every hole of every round of events played by professional golfers all over the world, and permits university faculty and students to access it so they might conduct research on the numbers. A broad look at the numbers shows that all four players bumped up their play during the event that they won compared to normal. And it was not any one thing that could be pinpointed.

Let’s start with the big picture first. Their performance in just the majors was as follows:

What can we learn from these numbers? These are players who typically play well below the highest scores shot over the year during the majors. The very worst that two of them – Garcia or Thomas – did was play to their upper-score one time, and those were the only times any of our four champions missed the cut. Even when not winning, these four winners play well during these events, as seen from their finish positions.

Is it their fairways made, their greens in regulation or the total number of putts they made? Let’s take a look. While Garcia typically has had a range of between 6 to 13 fairways and 8 to 15 greens this year, during his U.S. Masters win he made 11, 13, 11, 10 fairways over the four rounds and a corresponding 13, 12, 15, 14 greens.

Similarly, Koepka typically made 4 to 13 fairways and 7 to 17 greens. During the U.S. Open, he made 13, 12, 12 and 12 fairways and 16, 14, 15 and 17 greens.
Spieth’s typical fairways and greens made range from 4 to 13 and 8 to 17. During The Open, although he did not make too many fairways, he made up for it with better approach shots, to have 5, 5, 9 and 5 and 15, 8, 14 and 13 respectively.

Finally, Thomas’ range has been 3 to 11 fairways and 8 to 18 greens, but during the PGA Championship that he recently won, he made 7, 8, 6, 7 and 7, 12, 14, 12 respectively. Regardless of the number of fairways of the 14 par 4s and 5s made, these golfers must have good approach shots and/or make regulation on the par 3s, which are not included in the fairways-made statistic.

Finally, regarding their putting. Garcia typically makes anywhere from 26 to 33 putts, Koepka 21 to 33, Spieth 25 to 34 and Thomas 23 to 34. However, three of these golfers (Thomas’ number of putts during the PGA Championship have not been posted so far) appear to have had mediocre putting performances while winning a major compared to their own typical numbers of 2017. Garcia made 30, 28, 32 and 29 putts to win, Koepka had 29, 31, 32 and 31 putts and Spieth 29, 25, 28 and 30.

So, based on some actual numbers here, can we make any predictions for the 2018 majors?


Kiran Kanwar is the developer of The Minimalist Golf Swing System -100% scientific, simple and specific. She has BS degrees in physics and math); MS degrees in sports science and nutrition; and is pursuing a PhD in biomechanics. She is a Class A Member: the LPGA, The NGA of India, The PGA of India. Visit her website: