The next wave of PGA Tour stars: Who’s most reliable?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 11: Bryson DeChambeau hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open at TPC Summerlin on October 11, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 11: Bryson DeChambeau hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open at TPC Summerlin on October 11, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Bryson DeChambeau is only one of 10 coming stars with a chance to consistently perform. Here’s what each needs to do to potentially become the top star on the PGA Tour.

If you missed out, this is part III in a series about reliability and results on the PGA Tour. You can check out the opening salvo here, and catch the middle of the series as well.

There are those who believe that Bryson DeChambeau, with his new emphasis on bulk, speed, and distance, could emulate Woods’ results years ago on the PGA Tour. The early evidence is certainly intriguing. Since debuting his new body in June, DeChambeau has averaged 68.63 with a 3.07 stroke reliability rating. That’s close to a half stroke better than Woods in his prime accompanied by fractionally better reliability.

That puts his two standard deviation performance range between 62.49 on the low end and 74.77 on the high end. Were we to include DeChambeau in the field of 75 whose performances comprised the basis for this study – he’s not in it because he did not join the Tour full time until 2017 – the 74.77 upside to his performance range would be more than a full stroke lower than the lowest in the study, Webb Simpson’s 75.87.

If a gambler wanted to go all-in on DeChambeau, those are certainly reasons to do so. The problem is that you would be buying into a database that goes only 40 rounds deep.

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That’s only about one-tenth the size of the database on which the previously reported findings – both with respect to current players and to Tiger Woods in his prime – are based. It also means that DeChambeau’s reliability is subject to change on short notice.

DeChambeau is one of 10 players to have emerged as the next wave of contenders for Tour dominance since the conclusion of the 2016 season. The others are Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Aaron Wise, and Matthew Wolff. Here’s how each of those other nine next wave players stack up for both performance and reliability since the start of their careers.

Patrick Cantlay: His performance record since hitting the Tour full-time in 2017 is the most mature of any of the nine potential next wave stars. His 69.59 scoring average is surpassed by only Johnson, Thomas, Simpson, and McIlroy among players included in the 2016-20 focus group that constitutes the basis for this study.

Even better, his 2.91 reliability rating is surpassed only one player in that group, Aaron Baddeley, whose scoring average is sub-par.

To sum it up, Cantlay couples the fourth-best scoring average with the second-best reliability rating. Even better, the 470 data points he has accumulated since 2017 is probably sufficient to establish a reliable database. Week in and week out, if you were forced to pick only one player for the win, Cantlay would be an excellent selection.

Viktor Hovland: Hovland’s 69.58 scoring average is on a par with Cantlay’s. But there are concerns in his path to becoming a full-fledged next wave star.

The first cautionary note is that his projection is based on a modest 106 rounds since hitting the tour about a year ago. The second cautionary note is that the first standard deviation of Hovland’s scores – his reliability rating – is 3.29 strokes. There are higher reliability ratings, but that one needs work.

That gives Hovland a two standard deviation performance range of 13.1 strokes, from 63.00 to 76.10. To become a week in, week out factor, Hovland has to narrow that range.

Sungjae Im: His 69.65 stroke average and 3.01 reliability rating provide two good reasons for fans to think highly of Im as a next wave star. Among this developing crop of young tour stars, the 12.04 stroke difference between his two standard deviation minimum of 63.63 and his maximum of 75.67 is second smallest to only Cantlay.

Collin Morikawa. The newly crowned PGA champion has only been on Tour long enough to produce 108 official rounds. He needs to play more to establish a comfort level with the stability of his record. Obviously, he will do that.

Having said that, what Morikawa has done to establish himself as a potential next wave star is impressive. His 69.32 stroke average would be the best on Tour had he played enough. Morikawa couples that with a 3.04 reliability rating. Put 200 more rounds on his resume with no change in either performance or reliability and you have a major star.

Jon Rahm: Since emerging from Arizona State’s college program, Rahm has put together a 69.38 stroke average that ranks behind only Morikawa. His 3.11 stroke reliability rating, while not great, is above average.

Beyond that, Rahm has been on Tour long enough to amass more than 300 official rounds, a level of activity that probably meets the standard of critical mass.

That in turn provides Rahm with a prominent place among the next wave of tour stars.

Xander Schauffele: His 68.90 stroke average would have been the best of the 2016-20 group study if Schauffele had competed enough times in 2016 to qualify. Even so, the best thing Schauffele has going for him is the deepest database among this new crop of young stars. Since joining the tour, he has completed 323 official rounds, more than eight veteran players who were included in the original 2016-20 study.

Despite his excellent stroke average, the combination of that and his 3.12 reliability rating create a two standard deviation performance expectation of more than 12.5 strokes. That’s the fourth-highest of any members of the new crop.

Scottie Scheffler: Scheffler made a mark as a 2020 rookie, finishing fifth in FedEx Cup points. In 23 events, he won $2.83 million, just missing the top 20 in official cash.

Scheffler’s problem is his unpredictability. His 68.69 stroke average is good enough but wildly inconsistent. His 68 official rounds included five of 63 or better, but also included four others of 75 or worse.

That creates a 3.76 reliability rating. How bad is that? In the 2016-20 study, the highest reliability rating was Si Woo Kim’s 3.53. Scheffler’s reliability is close to a quarter stroke per round worse than that.

The bottom line is that Scheffler has the ability, but hasn’t found the key to consistently applying it.

Aaron Wise: Of the nine young stars, Wise is probably the most problematic project. His 70.24 stroke average is only so-so by Tour standards. Basically, he’s a young Rory Sabbatini or Harris English.

That portrait is not helped much by his nice but not great 3.11 reliability rating. That puts the two standard deviation range of Wise’s expected performance at a fraction under 12.5 strokes.

Matthew Wolff: More than any other player except DeChambeau, Wolff attracted attention in 202 for his pure power. He ranked 12th for the season in Strokes Gained Off The Tee and ninth in driving distance at 311.6 yards. That’s why people are interested in him.

With a 70.03 scoring average, Wolff is only beginning to translate his potential to on-course results. That process is underscored by his 3.60 reliability rating. Like Scheffler, that’s higher than the reliability rating for any of the veteran players included in the 2016-20 study.

It also means that while Wolff at his best can be expected to go as low as 63, Wolff at his worst could turn in a 77. In fact, he just did this past week at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek…not once but twice with scores of 77 and 80 that consigned him to 73rd place in a field of 78.

Here’s the full data set for DeChambeau and the other nine young stars compared with the averages produced by the 75 veterans included in the 2016-20 study. For each player, the columns include the player’s name, his stroke average, his reliability rating, and his two standard deviation low, high, and range.

Player                                   Avg        Rel.        2sd l       2 d h      2sd r 

Patrick Cantlay                  69.59     2.91        63.77     75.41     11.64

Bryson DeChambeau      68.63     3.07        62.49     74.77     12.28

Viktor Hovland                  69.58     3.29        63.00     76.10     13.10

Sungjae Im                         69.65     3.01        63.63     75.67     12.04

Collin Morikawa                69.32     3.04        63.24     75.40     12.16

Jon Rahm                            69.38     3.11        63.17     75.59     12.42

Xander Schauffele           68.69     3.12        63.56     76.04     12.54

Scottie Scheffler               69.80     3.76        61.57     76.21     14.64

Aaron Wise                         70.24     3.11        76.46     76.46     12.44

Matthew Wolff                 70.03     3.60        62.83     77.23     14.40

2016-20 grp. Average     70.31     3.22        63.87     76.74     12.88

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Taken together, the data appears to illustrate that while none of the game’s established stars really combines both talent and reliability to a sufficient degree to be proclaimed a star, some of the game’s newcomers do have that potential. Guys like DeChambeau, Schauffele, Cantlay, and Rahm are beginning to put together a record that could make them a consistent contender.