Show me the money on the PGA Tour, and I’ll show you a master blaster. As I’ve mentioned before in this column, driving is for show and for dough. Quantified in a simple way, the players who made the most loot per event in the 2015 season (through the Deutsche Bank Championship, in early September) gained the most strokes not from their short game or putting but from their driving.
Here are the Tour’s top five in dollars-per-event earned, in order: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson. On average, each banked a cool $394,000 every time he teed it up in 2015. Through the Deutsche Bank, they combined to gain 36 percent of their strokes with the driver, 35 percent on approach shots, 16 percent on the greens, and 13 percent in the short game.
Of course, good driving alone — whether that means hitting it longer, splitting more fairways, or both — isn’t enough to cash a big check. Except for Rory and his newly shaky putting, not one of these players lost strokes to the field in any of the four major shot categories. Yet as a group, they’ve bombed their drives 12 yards longer than the Tour average, while hitting slightly more fairways per round. Effectively, they’re playing a course that’s about 165 yards shorter than the one testing the rest of the field.
In the dozen years since the Tour began to collect ShotLink data, driving has never been a bigger contributor to the scoring of the top five leaders in per-event earnings. Conversely, the top five leaders in strokes gained driving (Watson, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Day and Charl Schwartzel) tripled the earnings per event of the top five in strokes gained putting.
Figures for all years (2003-15) reveal that approach shots make the biggest difference when the analysis broadens to include the top 40 leaders in money per event—and to be clear, that goes for this year, too. Still, our attention often turns to the crème de la crème, and in 2015 those players come from the ranks of the bombers, not the finesse players.