I have always been amazed at the amount of misdirection that exists in sports media. The focus is always on a small amount of teams or players while the best stories lie elsewhere. This is starting to change as players become more accessible, but there is still a smokescreen between the public and many of the most interesting narratives.
In the golf realm, this trend is especially noticeable when breaking down individual styles of play. Everyone knows that Brooks Koepka hits the ball off the planet and Phil can get up and down out of a trash can. What many fans might not know is that both of them have improved their play by becoming some of the best putters in the world. In Fried Egg terms, they are underrated on the greens.
What’s that? You want to hear more about players who have underrated skills? Sure thing!
Jamie Lovemark - Short Game
Lovemark’s length and decorated amateur career made him an instant cult figure in the golf scene. While playing on the Web.com Tour from 2010-2015, he consistently averaged 309+ off the tee. It was the rest of his game that held him back from becoming a consistent PGA Tour member.
He worked diligently around the greens and has been one of the best 25 players around the greens since joining the Tour in 2016. He is ranked t12th in strokes gained around the greens in 2018. His short game has propelled him to twenty-four top 25 finishes and twelve top 10 finishes over the last 3 seasons. Lovemark is still one of the longer players on Tour, but his improved short game has been the difference maker.
Jason Day - Short Game
Similar to Jamie Lovemark, Jason Day’s short game is criminally underappreciated. We all know that Day has prodigious power off the tee and putts like a madman. But did you know that he has not finished worse than 18th in strokes gained around the greens since 2015? His sand save percentage is best on Tour in 2018, and he is currently 4th in scrambling.
We can talk about his putting inside of 5 feet until the cows come home, but it would be a disservice to not credit Jason Day’s short game for consistently putting himself in the right position. Three and four-footers are a lot easier when you leave yourself uphill putts with which you can be aggressive.
Phil Mickelson - Putting
Here is a dirty little secret, Phil Mickelson has not been great around the greens this year. Through the PLAYERS Championship, Phil ranks 98th in strokes gained around the greens. Ninety. Eighth. He ranks 4th in sand saves but only 30th in proximity to the hole out of the sand, meaning he is making a lot of mid-range putts to get up and down.
Now, I am not saying that Phil is a bad wedge player. That would be criminal. I am saying we need to give him more credit for how good he has been on the greens in 2018. This year he is 2nd in strokes gained putting and leads the Tour in both average putts per green and one putt percentage. Phil has come a long way since his putting woes of the late 2000s. From 2007-2011, Lefty never ranked better than 54th in strokes gained putting and was worse than 130th three times!
He is still filthy with his 64 degree spoon, but make sure to appreciate how good Phil has become with the flat stick.
Brooks Koepka - Putting
Brooks Koepka works out. Brooks Koepka hits the ball a country mile. Brooks Koepka is an athlete. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Every telecast for the last three years has talked about Koepka’s fitness routine and how far he hits the ball. This narrative has been so worn out that it rivals the “Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are friends” discussion. We get it.
It is much more interesting to see how good Brooks is at getting the ball in the hole (that is super important). Over the last three seasons, Koepka has ranked 17th, 20th, and 12th in strokes gained putting. In comparison, his strokes gained off the tee were only 24th, 13th, and 23rd those seasons.
The guy who everyone refers to as a linebacker can absolutely roll the rock. Yeah he hits the ball far, but it is his ability to put the ball in the hole that has earned him over $13 million since 2015.
Luke List - Short Game
Another bomber who has an underappreciated short game is Luke List. Unlike Day and Koepka, List has not always had great touch around the greens. Consequentially, he has struggled to maintain any sort of consistency throughout his career.
Luke List is playing his 3rd full season on the PGA Tour. He was able to barely keep his card in 2016 and then moved up to 50th on the FedEx Cup points list in 2017. He has already notched five top 10s in 2018 and came very close to his first PGA Tour victory at the Honda Classic. In terms of strokes gained around the green, List has jumped from 79th last season to 11th this year. His other numbers have stayed pretty consistent and yet, he finds himself 17th in FedEx Cup points.
List still struggles with the flatstick, and his putting often determines how he will finish each week. Simply improving his short game has been a difference-maker, and this 33-year-old is finally achieving his potential.
This is far from a comprehensive list. There are tons of players out there that are really good at areas of golf that the average fan doesn’t know about. No one is perfect at everything, but everyone is amazing at multiple aspects. What we can do better as a golf community is appreciate the layers of the game instead of labeling players as masters of one particular skill.
Who do you want to see on this list?