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Studying the Stats for Perfect Pairings at Grant Thornton Invitational

This week’s Grant Thornton Invitational is the first mixed-team, co-sanctioned event between the PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour in more than two decades.

This unique event features 16 teams of one LPGA Tour and one PGA TOUR star apiece. One of the most intriguing aspects of the week will be how each team fits together and learning what ultimately leads to success. Will well-fit pieces (an elite approach player and a great putter, for example) piece together the winning puzzle? Or do mirroring skill sets (i.e., two players who bomb the driver) add up to more birdies?

From an analytical perspective, all 32 players bring some captivating numbers to the table. Thanks to KPMG Performance Insights, fans are able to dive deeper into LPGA Tour statistics than ever before. Coupled with the PGA TOUR’s revolutionary ShotLink data, we have a comprehensive look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team heading into this week’s play.

Megan Khang and Denny McCarthy

One of the most interesting duos this week has both players coming off career-best seasons. Megan Khang broke through with her first career LPGA Tour win in August at the CPKC Women’s Open. One of the best ball strikers in the game, Khang has ranked in the top 10 on the LPGA Tour in Greens in Regulation (GIR) each of the last two seasons. She’s one of just three players on the LPGA Tour in 2023 to rank in the top 30 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Approach and Around the Green, having played a minimum of 30% of the rounds that season. At the Solheim Cup in September, she won both of her matches in Foursomes play when teamed up with Lexi Thompson.

So why not pair up with one of the best putters on the planet? In four of the last five PGA TOUR seasons, Denny McCarthy has ranked either first, second or third on TOUR in SG: Putting among qualified players. McCarthy holed 77.5% of his putts this season from 4 to 8 feet away, fourth-best on TOUR and more than 8% better than the TOUR average. McCarthy’s performance with his other 13 clubs is quickly catching up, too: he has vaulted from 157th on the PGA TOUR in SG: Tee-to-Green two seasons ago to 68th in ’22-23.

Nelly Korda and Tony Finau

One of the most improved individual traits for any player on either of these two Tours in recent years has been the approach play of Tony Finau. In 2016, Finau’s second full season on the PGA TOUR, he ranked 149th in SG: Approach, losing about one-quarter of a stroke per round to the field. This season, he ranked fifth in that same metric, picking up 0.79 strokes per round. That differential adds up to well over four full strokes every 72 holes.

Korda, meanwhile, is one of the best drivers of the ball in the sport. She ranked sixth on the LPGA Tour this season in SG: Off-the-Tee a year after leading in that metric. The eight-time LPGA Tour winner has ranked in the top 20 in average driving distance each of the last six seasons, and never finished a season worse than 12th in total driving, a traditional stat that combines a player’s rank in both driving distance and percentage of fairways hit.

Players teeing off on the odd holes this week in Foursomes are expected to hit two more drives than players going off the evens. This team can gain a bit of an advantage by having Korda tee off first in that format.

Celine Boutier and Harris English

There might not be a better player right now on either tour better around the greens than Celine Boutier. The 30-year-old Duke product led the LPGA Tour this season in scrambling and ranked third in both SG: Around the Green and Sand Save Percentage. That, in turn, led to a microscopic bogey-or-worse rate of 11.19%, the best of any player on the LPGA Tour in 2023. Boutier won four times this season, including her first major title at The Amundi Evian Championship in July.

After missing more than four months of the 2022 season following hip surgery, Harris English played a full schedule in 2023. With that context in mind, his 2022-23 PGA TOUR season stats are taken with a grain of salt as he worked his way back into form. One thing that came right back to him, though, was his elite ability on the greens. In each of his last four full PGA TOUR seasons, English has ranked in the top 20 in SG: Putting per round.

Ruoning Yin and Nick Taylor

Ruoning Yin orchestrated arguably the most impressive approach play performance in the professional game in 2023, hitting each of her last 37 greens in regulation at Baltusrol to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Yin came into that week as the LPGA Tour’s season leader in SG: Approach and only deepened the gulf between herself and her peers that week in New Jersey, picking up more than 9.5 shots on the field in that metric. She would finish the season ranked second in that statistic. On all approach shots this season from 150 to 175 yards away, Yin had an average proximity of just under 29 feet. That was more than 5-and-a-half feet better than the LPGA Tour average.

Two weeks before Yin’s major triumph, Nick Taylor hit arguably the best putt in professional golf in 2023: a 72-foot bomb on the fourth playoff hole to become the first Canadian winner of the RBC Canadian Open since 1954. Taylor had a thing for making long putts this season, as one of just four qualified PGA TOUR players to make 10% or more of his looks from outside 20 feet. With as many close approach shots as his partner hits, he might not need to make many of those this week.

Rose Zhang and Sahith Theegala

A year ago this week, Rose Zhang was probably getting ready for final exams at Stanford. The 12 months since have been nothing short of historic, featuring a win at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the first player to win her pro debut on the LPGA Tour since 1951 and a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team. Fueled by elite approach play, Zhang finished 11th on tour this season in SG: Total. She ranked T5 among qualified players in GIR and 11th in SG: Approach per round.

Those approach numbers seemingly tie in well with Sahith Theegala, who was one of the best putters on the PGA TOUR in 2023. The 26-year-old American, who got his first official PGA TOUR win in September, ranked in the top 20 this season in SG: Putting (17th), putts per GIR (fifth) and putting from 4 to 8 feet (seventh). Theegala has made 879 birdies over the last two PGA TOUR seasons, the second-most of anyone in that span (Adan Svensson, 885).

Theegala won the 2022 QBE Shootout, this event’s prior iteration, paired with Tom Hoge.

Source : PGA Tour