Man vs. Superman: How would a hybrid pro (the best of the best, combined!) perform against the field?

April 16, 2018

Imagine combining the world’s best driver, best iron player and top wedge-and-putting ace. In 2017, those drives would have been hit by Dustin Johnson, the approach shots outside 100 yards struck by Jordan Spieth, and the wedge and putting duties from inside 100 yards handled by Rickie Fowler. Across every event of the season, that golf superman would have had an average score almost one stroke lower than 2017’s scoring-average leader.

Rephrasing in strokes-gained terms, Jordan Spieth led the Tour last year in total strokes gained, with a sterling 2.6 strokes per round. (This number reflects scoring in all stroke-play rounds and is adjusted for each event’s field strength.) The superman combo of Dustin-Jordan-Rickie would have gained an average of 3.5 strokes per round, almost a full stroke better than Spieth, the season’s total-strokes-gained leader.

For each season since the advent, in 2003, of the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system, I’ve identified its “superman” trio of players. The lowest superman total-strokes-gained was 3.4 strokes per round, in 2005, with driving done by Sergio Garcia, approaches by Jim Furyk, and short game and putting by Jose Maria Olazabal. The largest total-strokes-gained advantage was 4.6 strokes per round, in 2016, with driving by Rory McIlroy, approach shots by Adam Scott, and short game and putting by Jason Day. For perspective, consider this: Tour scoring records date back to 1983, and in that time the total-strokes-gained average of a Tour event winner is 4.0 strokes per round (after adjusting for the strength of the field).

How many wins might we then expect the Rory-Adam-Jason power trio to record in a season? There are a number of ways to estimate it, but I looked at how season-long strokes-gained stats compare with season-long win rates. Analysis suggests that the trio would most likely win 11 times in 20 starts, including two majors — which just goes to prove how hard golf really is. Even our superhero wouldn’t pull off the grand slam.

So which flesh-and-blood player in our 35-year statistical sample has come closest to our Rory-Adam-Jason avatar? In second place, with a total strokes gained of 3.7 strokes per round, is the 2006 edition of Tiger Woods. In first place? It’s Tiger again, this time in 2000, with an amazing total strokes gained of 4.4 strokes per round. That’s just 0.2 strokes shy of the performance of our fictional supergolfer. In that superhuman 2000 season, Tiger Woods won nine times in 20 starts, including three major victories. Ka-pow!