Free Report: 10 Powerful Technical Chart Formations

Who Is The Best Golfer Never To Win A Major?


Major (noun) ~ One of superior rank and ability in a specified class.

There isn’t a worse backhanded compliment in all of sports. In one breath, the phrase places you among elite company. In another, you are reminded of your failure to ascend to the pinnacle of your profession. At a time in their careers, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Ben Hogan were each referred to as the “best golfer never to win a major”. Each eventually overcame the moniker. But for every Love, Mickelson and Hogan, there is a Harry Cooper, a Bruce Crampton and a Colin Montgomerie – three successful golfers who slowly disappear into the abyss of golf history with a gap forever on their resumé.

2013 U.S. OPEN

It’s Sunday at the U.S. Open. All but forgotten, Merion has met the challenge and the leaderboard is made up of golf’s most worthy adversaries. Phil Mickelson is center stage and teeing off in the final pairing with Hunter Mahan. The second to last group features Steve Stricker and 2011 Masters Champion, Charl Schwatrtzel. And prior to them, Justin Rose is partnered with Luke Donald. Besides Mickelson and Schwartzel, the other four golfers are widely considered part of a small group of golf’s elite. However, they are also considered by some as the best golfers never to have won a major.

Phil Mickelson understands that pressure. He understands the constant reminder that good isn’t good enough. Phil understands that more than most. He understands the only tonic that removes the monkey from your back is victory itself. On this Sunday at the U.S. Open, Mickelson had his opportunity to remind the competition that major victories are not easily obtained. If you want to be the best, you had to beat the best. The field closing in was ready to take the next step and one in particular did just that. In this case, it was Justin Rose – one more name to scratch off the list.

I wondered who was on this list. Who is the best golfer never to win a major? All the golf experts feed us conjecture and suppositions. But, I want a list based of something tangible – a consistent set of guidelines to track through the years. Could I take the golf fan’s favorite water cooler debate and make its result indisputable? Could I turn opinion into a mathematical formula?

SETTING THE GROUND RULES

My goal is to produce a top ten list of current golfers that best meet the definition of “best golfer never to win a major”. I’m not interested in determining how Steve Stricker compares to Colin Montgomerie or how Luke Donald compares to Scott Hoch or Kenny Perry or Doug Sanders. What’s done is done. My goal is to look at today’s crop of golfers and ask the question. Consequently, there were a few ground rules that I set.

Ground rule 1. Evaluations of tournament results and statistics will only go as far back as three years. For example, as of July 1, 2013, I used results from 2011-13 when evaluating the Masters and I used results from 2010-12 when evaluating The Open Championship.

Ground rule 2. I have only included golfers in the top 300 of the Official World Golf Ranking. For this analysis, I used the Official World Golf Ranking as of June 30, 2013.

Ground rule 3. Any golfer who hasn’t played in at least four majors does not qualify for the final list. This decision was primarily to control the variability of the data. For example, Anirban Lahiri of India has been to only one major – the 2012 Open Championship. Lahiri finished 10 shots back of Ernie Els, but it wouldn’t be fair to include him since his results are averaged over such a small sample size.

DEFINING THE FORMULA

Dictionary.com defines “major” as a noun meaning one of superior rank and ability in a specified class. This definition will serve as the backbone of my formula. On one hand, I will assess golfers on how they perform, or rank, when facing off versus the best the game’s got to offer. On the other hand, I will evaluate their ability by incorporating tour performance statistics that best meet the definition of a major champion.

Now that the structure of the formula is defined, what is the most appropriate means to weight each golfer’s rank and ability? Is it 50/50? Surely, performance in majors and other high profile tournaments means more than sand saves at the Valero Texas Open. If rank is truly determined by how golfers perform in the best tournaments, one could argue that ability is achieved over the full season on tour. I thought of three options for comparing the value of majors versus the average tournament on the PGA Tour: First place prize money, first place FedEx Cup points, and the “event ranking” used to determine Official World Golf Ranking points.

First place prize money:

  • Majors: $1.44 million
  • Average PGA tournament: $1.1 million
  • Ratio: 1.31 to 1

First place FedEx Cup points:

  • Majors: 600 points
  • Average PGA tournament: 500 points
  • Ratio: 1.2 to 1

Official World Golf Ranking event ranking:

  • Majors: 100
  • Average PGA tournament: 55
  • Ratio: 1.82 to 1

After reviewing these options, the average ratio for majors to a standard PGA tournament is between 1.4 and 1.6 to 1. Therefore, I allocated a 60% weighting to “rank” and a 40% weighting to “ability”. The ratio of 60% to 40% is 1.5 to 1.

ASSESSING RANK

In order to assess rank, I analyzed results from the 13 most significant stroke-play tournaments worldwide. The 13 tournaments include the four majors, the three World Golf Championship stroke-play tournaments, the four FedEx Cup tournaments, the PLAYERS championship and the European equivalent, the BMW PGA Championship. A golfer’s average results from these significant tournaments will produce a value I refer to as “rank” points.

For example, results in majors should have a higher weighting than results in the Tour Championship. As such, I used the most recent Official World Golf Ranking event ranking for each one of these tournaments to attribute a weight to each result. The following is a summary of these event rankings:

Most Recent Official World Golf Ranking Event Ranking


Tournament

Event
Ranking


Tournament

Event
Ranking

Masters

100

The Barclays

74

U.S. Open

100

Deutsche Bank Championship

74

Open Championship

100

BMW Championship

70

PGA Championship

100

Tour Championship

62

Bridgestone Invitational

76

PLAYERS Championship

80

Cadillac Championship

74

BMW PGA Championship

64

HSBC Champions

64

 

 


For each significant tournament, I reviewed the final scores from the last three years. A golfer’s placing doesn’t always tell the whole story as to how they performed; therefore, I used how many shots back each golfer was from the winner. Using the 2013 U.S. Open as an example, Justin Rose would receive zero rank points because he was the winner. Phil Mickelson and Jason Day were runners-up, two shots back, and would receive 200 rank points each (i.e., two shots back x event ranking of 100).

Any golfer who entered a tournament, but did not finish due to missing the cut, withdrawal, disqualification, etc. were considered to be one shot back more than the golfer that completed the tournament the most shots from the winner. No points were allocated to golfers who never participated in a significant tournament.

All the rank points were summed for the three-year history of all 13 significant tournaments. The sum was then divided by the total event rankings for the significant tournaments each golfer participated in. The result was a score that best evaluates how golfers perform when facing off versus the best the game’s got to offer. I have summarized the top ten golfers never to win a major in the table below based on rank points alone.

The Best Golfer Never To Win A Major
Based on “Rank” Points

Golfer

Rank Points

Luke Donald

9.7374

Steve Stricker

10.1984

Matt Kuchar

10.6105

Lee Westwood

11.3810

Dustin Johnson

11.7159

Jason Day

11.8787

Sergio Garcia

12.3209

Jason Dufner

12.3686

Brandt Snedeker

12.5241

Bo Van Pelt

12.6522


You wouldn’t consider these results to be surprising. Especially, if you are a golf fan that predominantly tunes into the big tournaments. Most of the golfers on this list are routinely in the hunt. But, remember, results from playing in significant tournaments only make up 60% of the whole story.

ASSESSING ABILITY

The other 40% of the formula incorporates tour performance statistics that best meet the definition of a major champion. But how would I go about defining that? Are there particular statistics that are common among past winners of the major championships? To begin my assessment of ability, I first researched the commonalities among the past three winners of all four majors.

The past three Masters Champions were Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel. This year on the PGA Tour, all three golfers rank in the top 30 of two statistical categories: Greens in regulation (GIR) and driving distance. In fact, Schwartzel is leading the European Tour this year in driving distance, Watson is 6th on the PGA Tour in driving distance and Scott is 12th. In 2012, the year he won his green jacket, Watson finished first on tour in driving distance and second in GIR. During 2011, Schwartzel ranked in the top 40 in the same two categories – his two best performance statistics by far. Therefore, I will assign a 50% weighting to driving distance statistics and a 50% weighting to GIR for the Masters.

Justin Rose’s 2013 PGA Tour statistics blew me away. Nobody should have been surprised it was his turn as the 2013 U.S. Open approached. Rose leads the PGA Tour in sand saves, is 5th in GIR, 11th in driving accuracy and 26th in distance off the tee. Rose is so strong at hitting greens that he has consistently been in the top ten in GIR for the past three PGA Tour seasons. Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open and was 35th in GIR that year; the year before he was 4th. In 2011, Rory McIlroy won his first major and has always been long off the tee. McIlroy, and Rose somewhat, have recently been near the top in driving distance stats, but Simpson has never been in the top 50. Therefore, could GIR be the key to U.S. Open victories? In 2011, when McIlroy won at Congressional, he was 4th in GIR on the European Tour. Consequently, the U.S. Open receives a 100% GIR weighting.

We all remember how the 2012 Open Championship was Adam Scott’s to lose. And he did just that with an epic collapse. In the end, Ernie Els raised the Claret Jug. During the 2012 championship, Els led the field in GIR and Scott out-drove all competitors. During the 2012 PGA Tour season, Scott finished 15th in GIR and Els finished 31st – his best statistic for the 2012 season. Darren Clarke shocked everyone in 2011 with his first major at Royal St. George’s. In 2011, Clarke was 29th in driving accuracy on the European Tour. Clarke’s performance has slipped over the past few seasons, but driving accuracy has remained his strength. Louis Oosthuizen emerged from nowhere to destroy the field and capture the 2010 Open Championship. That season, the South African finished in the top ten on the European Tour in both GIR (10th) and driving accuracy (7th). Based on these findings, I will perform my analysis using a 50% GIR weighting and a 50% driving accuracy weighting for the Open Championship.

The PGA Championship is played on a different track each year, but there is one statistic that is an overwhelming characteristic of the top performers from the past few championships. Rory McIlroy won his second major in 2012 and completed the 2012 PGA Tour season 5th in driving distance. Keegan Bradley won the PGA in 2011 in his major championship debut as a rookie. Bradley was 20th in driving distance in his rookie campaign (his best statistic for 2011) and has followed 2011 up with a 16th place in 2012 and he currently sits in 8th place in 2013. Martin Kaymer, the 2010 champion, finished the 2010 European Tour season a respectable 29th in driving distance. Do you remember how Dustin Johnson was all set to win in Kaymer’s place if it weren’t for a penalty assessed in one of Whistling Straits’ countless sand bunkers? Do you remember how Johnson’s mea culpa led to a playoff between Kaymer and Bubba Watson? If so, it should also come as no surprise to you that Johnson and Watson ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in 2010 in driving distance. Therefore, the season’s final major receives a 100% weighting for distance off the tee.

I have summarized my weightings for all four major championships in the table below. 

Weighting Allocated to Performance Statistics
Based on the Results from the Past Three Occurrences of each Major Championship

 

 
Masters

 
U.S. Open

Open
Championship

PGA
Championship

Total
Weighting

%
Allocation

Driving Distance

50%

0%

0%

100%

150%

37.5%

Driving Accuracy

0%

0%

50%

0%

50%

12.5%

Greens in Regulation

50%

100%

50%

0%

200%

50.0%

Total

100%

100%

100%

100%

400%

100%


With the weighting of statistical categories completed, my next task was to collect the data. It would have been easy if the entire top 300 from the Official World Golf Ranking played on a single tour, but that isn’t the case. The PGA Tour had the most accessible data, so that became my default. If PGA Tour statistical data was unavailable, I referenced European Tour data first, and then successively pulled data from the Web.com Tour, Asian Tour, Japan Tour, Sunshine Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia.

There were certain instances where data was simply non-existent. The best examples include young golfers who have broken into the tour within the past couple of seasons. On occasion, I would identify certain golfers that had no tour data available in 2011 prior to becoming a professional. Where data was incomplete or unavailable, I essentially deemed the golfer to have statistics that were the worst on tour. Golfers should not be provided merit towards the distinction of being the “best never to win a major” prior to playing on a professional tour or while playing in smaller tours throughout the world.

I needed to determine each golfer’s “ability” points to relate to the rank points already calculated. The only problem is that the base for the ability points needs to be similar to the shots back approach used to determine the rank points. In an effort to standardize rank and ability, I averaged the margin between the winning score and the highest score over all three years of significant tournaments. The average margin was 27.3 strokes. Therefore, I could achieve standardization by ranking the top 300 in the Official World Golf Ranking in each statistical category for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and assigning each golfer ability points between 0 (for the best) and 27.3 (for the worst). This can be approximated in increments of 0.091 points. For example, the top golfer in driving accuracy will be assigned 0 points, the second will have 0.091 points, third will receive 0.182 points, and so on.

Once all the ability points were calculated, I determined a three-year average of each performance statistic (driving distance, driving accuracy and GIR) and subsequently assigned the weightings previously established. These calculations produced the top ten list below of golfers never to win a major based on ability points alone.
 

The Best Golfer Never To Win A Major
Based on “Ability” Points

Golfer

Ability Points

Nicolas Colsaerts

2.9196

Stephen Gallacher

4.0078

Thomas Aiken

4.7130

Alvaro Quiros

5.8164

Ross Fisher

6.5406

Pablo Larrazabal

6.8440

Lee Westwood

6.9805

Robert Garrigus

7.2648

Hunter Mahan

7.3103

Paul Casey

7.3293


My first reaction when seeing this list was that there was a bias towards the European Tour. Names like Colsaerts and Quiros have become familiar in the past couple of years due to their length off the tee. Other European Tour participants such as Gallacher, Aiken and Larrazabal are less familiar to North American audiences, but are among the leaders in ability points based on strong performance over the past three seasons in a number of different statistical categories.

Is there a bias? Can golfers obtain better performance statistics on European Tour tracks than on the PGA Tour? Perhaps. Or is this result an indication of the quality of the world’s golfers on the European Tour? After all, four of the past six Masters champions (Scott, Schwartzel, Angel Cabrera and Trevor Immelman), three of the past four U.S. Open champions (Rose, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell), five of the past six Open Champions (Els, Clarke, Oosthuizen and Padraig Harrington twice) and four of the past five PGA champions (McIlroy, Kaymer, Y.E. Yang and Harrington) have roots on the European Tour. And we won’t even breach the topic of recent Ryder Cups.

ONE OF SUPERIOR RANK AND ABILITY

The final step in determining the current undisputed “best golfer never to win a major” is to combine the rank and ability points using the 60%/40% weighting discussed above. Essentially, I multiplied the rank points by 60% and the ability points by 40% and the results have been summarized below.

The Best Golfer Never To Win A Major

Golfer

Points

Lee Westwood

9.6208

Dustin Johnson

10.3162

Steve Stricker

10.3202

Jason Dufner

11.0687

Hunter Mahan

11.2196

Bo Van Pelt

11.2632

Sergio Garcia

11.2949

Matt Kuchar

11.6989

Jason Day

11.7455

John Senden

11.9237


The name, Lee Westwood, should not come to anyone as a surprise. Westwood has been given golf’s most infamous backhanded compliment for years now. He has continued to vie in virtually every major championship over the past three years and maintains strong statistical performance – most notably in GIR. He is the only golfer whose name is among the top ten in both rank and ability points.

Seven of the other nine golfers are also usually brought up at the water cooler when someone asks who the best golfer never to win a major is. Johnson, Dufner, Mahan, Kuchar and Day have emerged over the past five years as perennial favorites to strike their name from the list. Stricker and Garcia have been part of the picture for a while now, but still remain among the best in the game.

Van Pelt and Senden would be considered the two surprises among the top ten and thought of as outsiders to win green jackets and Claret Jugs. Both golfers consistently make the cut and compete at most significant tournaments. Both complement those results with a balanced all-around game reflected in their steady performance statistics.

However, the inclusion of Van Pelt and Senden weren’t the biggest surprises. It was who was excluded. Did you notice the golfers listed first in rank points and first in ability points were missing from the final top ten list? The most shocking absence was that of Luke Donald – widely regarded by talking heads as the current title bearer as the best golfer never to win a major. Others like Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker narrowly missed the top ten, but Donald is the one name that stands out.

Luke Donald is one of the most decorated golfers in the history of the European Tour. He was formerly ranked first overall in the Official World Golf Ranking. Donald has found himself within five shots of a major championship four times in the past three years. He has won two BMW PGA Championships and finished within five strokes of 11 other significant tournaments over the same three year stretch. Yet, why does his overall value drop when his ability is considered? Could his performance in the statistics that most commonly determine major champions be what is holding Luke back? Donald has been in the bottom quartile among the world’s top 300 golfers in driving distance over the past three years and his GIR figures average below median as well.

All our attentions will turn to removing names from this list (as opposed to adding names) as the 2013 Open Championship nears. Will Lee Westwood finally pull it off and descend from his throne? Could Luke Donald prove the pundits right and send me back to the drawing board to reconsider the weighting I place on an individual golfer’s performance statistics? Or will it be one of the lesser known European Tour golfers who accumulated all those ability points? Then again, it will most likely be Tiger. Or Rory. Or Phil. And we’ll just have to revisit this conversation again next time.

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.

 



Latest Articles


TEAM UP