The 2021-22 PGA season which concluded with Rory McIlroy’s victory at the Tour Championship at East Lake, marked a return to prominence for some of the game’s best-known players and a breakthrough season for others.
Ten PGA Tour regulars improved their scoring averages by at least one full stroke between the previous season and this just-concluded one. In the cases of two, Scottie Scheffler and Matthew Fitzpatrick, that sudden and dramatic improvement in the process brought the richest of golf rewards, a Major Championship.
But what’s really worth looking into is how those 10 players accomplished their big improvements.
And it turns out that there is no single method of reducing one’s score dramatically. In fact, based on Strokes Gained data for the season, the game’s biggest movers found a multiplicity of methods.
The most common method was a marked improvement in putting stats. Four of the 10 biggest movers rode much hotter putters up the ranks of the game’s best.
But two others made the biggest improvements in their recovery work while two others sharpened their iron games.
And perhaps most notably, four of the 10 did not markedly improve in any particular skill. Rather, their lower scores came as a result of incremental improvements in a multiplicity of the game’s skill areas.
Here is a look at the 10 players who made the most substantial climbs up the stroke average leaderboard during the 2021-22 PGA season along with an analysis of the keys to their improvements.
The top 10 most improved players on the PGA Tour last season.
10. Martin Laird (1.002)
At age 39 and a Tour veteran, Laird was an unlikely candidate to make a sudden leap up the season’s performance charts. Even more unlikely was the fact that he accomplished his improvement despite finishing no higher than third in any of his 22 starts.
Yet Laird reduced his scoring average by 1.002 strokes, from 71.576 in 2020-21 to 70.574 this season. That moved him up 90 places on the scoring charts, from 149th last season to 59th this season.
You can make a lot of money improving your game by that much over the span of 12 months, and Laird did. Despite only one top 10 finish for the season – third at the Barracuda in July – he cashed more than $1 million in checks and made the final 125.
Laird was one of those who did it the hard way, by steady, incremental across-the-board improvement. From 2021 to 2022, he improved – albeit by small amounts – in three of the major Strokes Gained areas, those being off the tee, approaching the greens, and around the green. Only his historically shaky putting game held him back from even more rapid advancement.
Here’s the data for Laird for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 PGA seasons.
2020-21 2021-22 Change
Off The Tee 0.117 0.175 0.058
Approaches 0.208 0.444 0.236
Around the Green -0.008 0.240 0.248
Putting -0.343 -0.470 -0.127
As measured by Strokes Gained, the sum of Laird’s season-to-season improvement only adds up to about four-tenths of a stroke, less than half his actual improvement.
So there were some immeasurables involved in Laird reducing his scoring average by more than a full stroke. The fact that he did as well as he did despite a consistently balky putter adds to the ephemeral nature of his move up the scoring chart.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Laird’s 2022 scoring average was his best since 2017, a nifty improvement for a veteran journeyman.