Statistics can’t predict everything in golf, but at the Ryder Cup, they can be an incredibly valuable tool for captains looking for an edge.
Both the European and United States teams have used analytics to their benefit in recent years, most notably Team Europe in their triumph at France’s Le Golf National in 2018. In addition to using the numbers to optimize lineups, Europe set up the golf course to embellish the strengths of their team and expose the flaws within the U.S. roster.
When analyzing the statistical traits of both rosters, as well as the layout at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, there are a few particularly strong potential pairings this week in both formats.
European Foursomes: Jon Rahm-Ludvig Aberg
In Foursomes (also known as alternate shot), there are always ways to emphasize players’ strengths based on teeing off on the odd or even holes. One of the most dramatic differences at Marco Simone in this regard comes on approach shots from 175 yards or more: Players teeing off on the odd holes are expected to hit between three and four more approaches from that range than their teammate who tees off on the evens.
Of all the players at this year’s Ryder Cup, Team Europe boasts the two strongest players this season on approach shots from 175 to 225 yards away in the fairway: Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland. By splitting these two up and pairing them with players that fit the characteristics of the even holes, Europe gives itself a terrific chance to continue its recent home-soil dominance in Foursomes.
Players who tee off on the even holes are expected to hit two more drives than their teammate. Since Ludvig Aberg made his pro debut at the RBC Canadian Open, he’s the PGA TOUR leader in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee per round. Aberg is also an above average player this season on and around the greens, making him a strong fit with reigning Masters champion Rahm. What better way to shepherd young Aberg into his first Ryder Cup than alongside a current and future stalwart for Team Europe.
Alternate strong pairing: Jon Rahm-Tyrrell Hatton
European Foursomes: Viktor Hovland-Tyrrell Hatton
Using that same philosophy, Hovland pairs brilliantly with Hatton, the best putter statistically for either team this week. Hovland averages just outside 33 feet from the pin on fairway approaches from 175-225 yards on the PGA TOUR this season, second only to Rahm among Ryder Cup competitors. The players teeing off on the odd holes are expected to hit a significant number of approaches from that range.
In addition to being an exceptional putter, Hatton is ranked in the top 15 this season on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. Hatton has a quintessential statistical profile for players teeing off on the even holes in alternate shot at Marco Simone: reliable with driver and one of the best putters in the game from 15 to 25 feet. The duo did not get a match together in 2021 – they would make a strong Foursomes pairing this week for the Europeans.
Alternate strong pairing: Viktor Hovland-Rory McIlroy
U.S. Foursomes: Collin Morikawa-Max Homa
Aside from Scottie Scheffler, the best iron player on the United States’ team this year is Collin Morikawa. In every significant yardage denomination measured on approach shots from the fairway by the PGA TOUR, Morikawa is ranked inside the top 15. Collin’s irons, on paper, are one of the most important weapons for the American roster this week in Rome.
There’s more than just the Cal alumni connection between Morikawa and Max Homa: by teeing off Morikawa on the odds and Homa on the evens, Collin’s brilliant approach play is featured more prominently, while Max Homa is expected to have an additional putt from 15 to 30 feet away. Homa is a reliable performer with driver, ranking in the top-50 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee each of the last two PGA TOUR seasons. Morikawa approach shots setting up Homa putts is a winning recipe.
Alternate strong pairing: Scottie Scheffler and Max Homa
U.S. Four-ball: Jordan Spieth-Justin Thomas
With a combined Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup record of 8-2-0, history says that the duo of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas is a no-brainer. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that past success guarantees future results.
Thomas is mired in a rut of relative struggles, having missed this year’s FedExCup Playoffs altogether. Meanwhile, Spieth ranks among the bottom of the American roster this season in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. The numbers say there are better options for the Americans when it comes to their eight Foursomes matches this week at Marco Simone.
It’s entirely possible that Thomas rediscovers “Peak J.T.” at the perfect moment this week, flagging irons and firing daggers into the European crowd. But waiting to put Thomas and Spieth out in the second session (Four-ball) – not in Foursomes – is the prudent analytical choice. If JT and Jordan are exceptional Friday afternoon, being open to putting them out twice Saturday makes perfect sense.
Alternate strong pairing: Rickie Fowler-Justin Thomas
U.S. Four-ball: Scottie Scheffler-Sam Burns
Much like Thomas and Spieth, the pairing of Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns is one largely expected for the American side this week. Also like Thomas and Jordan, this pair would benefit more from being saved for the Four-ball session instead of Foursomes.
There is no more reliable skillset in the sport of golf right now than Scottie Scheffler’s ball striking. Scheffler’s Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green per round average in 2022-23 trails only prime Tiger Woods in terms of best single-season performance since the stat was first tracked two decades ago. Burns, however, is 125th on the PGA TOUR this season in Strokes Gained: Approach, the worst ranking of any player on the two teams.
Burns is an incredible putter – and the thought of him following Scheffler approach shots is tantalizing. But to optimize the skill sets of this combination, playing them in two Four-ball sessions and switching things up in Foursomes makes the most sense statistically.
Alternate strong pairing: Scottie Scheffler-Anyone
Source : PGA Tour