By V1 Game engineer Dallas Webster
The 2021 season opener for the PGA Tour was a relatively light week as only 18 players in the field are also playing the U.S. Open this week. Despite many of the world’s top players taking the week off, we were still treated to some excellent golf with Stewart Cink capturing his first win since 2009’s Open Championship. It was fantastic watching Cink enjoy the round with his son on the bag, particularly contrasting that with images of Harry Higgs getting quite frustrated at times. While much has been written about the feel-good story from the weekend, ways to win focuses on golf and just how Cink was able to separate and get the job done using V1 Game’s performance analysis.
For Cink, it starts with his performance around the greens with his putting and short game. He gained almost six strokes with the flatstick, making almost 130 ft of putts on Saturday. Using the V1 Game Putting Analysis, Stewart gained strokes from every distance except 16-20 ft and only had a single three-putt on the week. His lone three-putt did come at an inopportune time, on the 17th hole of the last round while trying to close out a lead, however his performance throughout the week gave him some nice margin for error.
Let’s Take a Closer Look: Putting and Short Game
The next area where Cink excelled is Short Game. He consistently got up and down when missing greens and converted on birdie chances when around the greens. In V1 Game, we consider all opportunities inside 75 yards as Scrambling or Up & Down opportunities because, fundamentally, there is no difference in skill to convert an up-and-down for par or for birdie. One important note is that Scrambling and Strokes Gained Short Game are related, but not directly correlated, because Scrambling requires the player to make the putt. Strokes Gained Putting performance is measured separately from Strokes Gained Short Game. With that understanding, Cink scrambled exceptionally well, converting more than 73 percent of his opportunities. Combine this with the fact that Cink led the field in Greens in Regulation and there is a recipe for success: Hit greens and get up and down when you miss.
Driving with Accuracy and Distance
Surprisingly, Cink also performed particularly well with Strokes Gained Driving. He was 11th for the week in driving distance and 18th for the week in Strokes Gained Off the Tee. To excel in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, you need to do these three things in order of importance: avoid penalties or needing recovery shots from poor tee shots, drive the ball long, and drive the ball accurately. Cink did all of these things. Using insights from V1 Game’s Virtual Coach, we can see that the first round was Cink’s worst. This was because he hit into a driving error and sprayed the ball off the tee, favoring the right. We can see that he improved each day with accuracy and increased distance. Despite being one of the older players in the field, Cink was no slouch with driving distance.
For the week, it is actually difficult to spot anything that Cink didn’t do well. Looking at his Shot Histogram, Cink gained strokes on the field for every distance and type of shot with the exception of from 101-125 Yards. Quite the impressive performance. The Shot Histogram is particularly useful for seeing what types of shots you face in a typical round and where you should focus practice. One thing most amateurs do not realize is how many of their shots throughout a round are tap-in putts or putts that aren’t reasonably makeable. Looking at Cink’s data, many of his approach shots come from >200 yards, so excelling at longer approach shots is a key way to separate from PGA Tour fields.
It was a joy to watch Cink interact with his son and seemingly enjoy being out there while competing with the best. From a strokes gained perspective, his well-rounded game has little weakness, and that translated to low scores and a great win. The analytics and data in V1 Game can help you round out your game to play like Stewart Cink. With easy-to-digest analytics and the recently-released Virtual Coach and Virtual Caddie, playing great golf is easier than ever.