This article is part of our Up and Down series.
While the PGA Tour is on pause, Len Hochberg will periodically examine two golfers – one who was playing well when play was halted (Up), and one who was playing poorly at the same time (Down).
He will pinpoint the reasons these players are where they are in the FedExCup Standings and offer some numbers to keep in mind when the season resumes. FedExCup points aren't generally used as a guide, but they are a good indicator of where a golfer stands in relation to others on the PGA Tour this season. He will also look at perhaps the purest stat of all – greens in regulation – as well as birdie or better percentage, an integral component of DFS scoring.
FedExCup Standings rank: 41
This week we take a close look at two members of the Class of '19 – those who jumped from college stardom in the spring of 2019 to the PGA Tour that summer. Morikawa and Wolff both made their presence felt quickly, winning tournaments in July. The most heralded member of the class, Viktor Hovland, lagged a bit behind in the win column; but now he, too, has won a tournament.
Morikawa, 23, is a former Cal-Berkeley All-American. He has a win, a runner-up – to Wolff – six top-10s and 11 top-25s in only 20 PGA Tour starts as a pro. Oh, and he's never missed a cut. In fact, he currently holds the longest consecutive-cut streak on Tour at 21, dating back to Bay Hill in 2018, when as an amateur he received a sponsor's invite. He has finished under par in all but one appearance this season, and at least six-under-par seven times. To date Morikawa has been the best of the Class of '19, though obviously it's a very small sample size.
Since winning the alternate-field Barracuda Championship last July, Morikawa has been good, but not great. He played three more times in 2018-19 with nary a top-25. This season,
he has three top-10s and seven top-25s in 11 starts. That's clearly good, but he hasn't really contended for a title. Still, he is up to No. 44 in the world – good enough to qualify for the Masters. That ranking puts him ahead of some big-name guys, such as Jason Day and Jordan Spieth. But something's been keeping Morikawa from contending. Let's investigate.
A Look At The Stats
Morikawa is not a long hitter, averaging under 300 yards on his drives. But he is pretty accurate off the tee, ranked 56th, and is a stellar iron player. Just how good? He is fourth in Strkoes Gained: Approach. That clearly is his go-to strength. When you look at his short game, though, it's easy to see why contending has been an issue. Morikawa is a mediocre 120th in SG: Around-the-Green and a pretty woeful 174th in SG: Putting (-.348 strokes). Last season, Morikawa didn't play enough to qualify, but he finished at +.005. Nothing great, but good enough to slide inside the top 100. Okay, so Morikawa was a better putter last season than this season. There's little reason to believe he can't at least return to that level, which, given, the rest of his game, would be good enough to contend or even win again.
Greens in regulation rank: 29
Birdies or better percentage: 33
FedExCup Standings rank: 99
The former Oklahoma State All-American made a big bang in his third event as a pro, winning the inaugural 3M Open in electrifying fashion with a 26-foot eagle putt on the final hole. He was barely 20 years old at the time. Wolff played four more events over the rest of the season and notched a pair of top-25s, but he was done after one playoff event.
This season, Wolff has made 10 starts and has made eight cuts, half of which ended in top-25s. He has zero top-10s, though. In his four starts since tying for 21st at Torrey Pines, Wolff headed into the stoppage in play like this: MC-MC-T58-T52. That's an indication he struggled once the fields got tougher. To review, Wolff has never recorded a top-10 in his 17 pro starts outside of his win. That's a bit of a concern.
If ranking Morikawa, Hovland and Wolff right now, Wolff would be third. That's also reflected in the world rankings. We noted that Morikawa is 44th. Hovland is 57th and Wolff is 110th. In fact, Wolff has never been higher than 95th, so he's not all that far off his peak. So, what's the problem?
A Look At The Stats
The problem certainly isn't distance – Wolff is averaging 310 yards off the tee, ranking 21st on Tour. The problem is just about everything else. He is ranked 11th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, but outside the top 100 in the other five SG categories, and well outside in most. He's 164th in SG: Approach, a horrendous 221st in SG: Around-the-Green and a mediocre 113th in SG: Putting. Naturally, his SG: Tee-to-Green and SG: Total numbers are also well under water. And when you look at Wolff's GIR and BOB numbers, well, there's no surprise that his early-season struggles were real and widespread.
Greens in regulation: 182
Birdie or better percentage: 174