Why Some Players Don’t Win Majors

photo by dailymail.co.uk

photo by dailymail.co.uk

The Masters is almost here and the non-major winners will be under the microscope again.  Why don’t they win?  Why do some players like John Daly win multiple majors when stellar career guys like Steve Stricker don’t?  How do guys like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen (one tour win each) manage to make their only tour victory a major?  Of the guys that win, some overcome physical shortcomings, some overcome mental issues, but rarely will someone conquer both.  To be successful, they must have three characteristics:

 

 

Total commitment

-Belief in self

-Ability to avoid distractions for 72 holes

Of the players that win majors, you’ll always find two of the three on any given week, but the guys who lose have a major deficit in at least one. Of the winners, John Daly is the most fascinating and is the least likely multiple major winner in the history of the game.  With the charges of domestic violence, substance abuse, busting up hotel rooms, etc, Daly suffered from the most distractions, but his belief in self and ability to concentrate for the full 72 holes allowed him to prevail in the 1991 PGA and 1995 Open Championship.   Vijay Singh overcame poor putting for his entire career, but his commitment to excellence and belief in self were tremendous, and he won three majors.  Nick Faldo had just nine tour wins but six were majors.  Nick was supreme in all three facets.   Tiger Woods also excelled in each but when the distractions started, so did the current train wreck.

John Daly with the Claret Jug. photo by golfweek.com

John Daly with the Claret Jug.
photo by golfweek.com

Of the primary non-winners with double digit career victories (age/PGA Tour wins) let’s look at why they failed:

  • Steve Stricker (48/12): Lack of total commitment.  Total family man; nothing wrong with that, but 15 tournaments per year was a full schedule.  Sometimes didn’t travel to The Open when eligible to play.
  • Bruce Lietzke (63/13): Lack of total commitment.  Would rather be fishing.  Very similar to Stricker.
  • Kenny Perry (54/14):  Belief in self.  Came close at The Masters but didn’t believe he could win it at the end and choked.  Very humble, almost to a fault.  No killer attitude and has never believed he was a great player.

On the current list of Best Player to Never Win a Major, who’s got what it takes?  Let’s look at three:  Matt Kuchar (36/7); (Dustin Johnson (30/9); Sergio Garcia (35/8).

Matt Kuchar Best finish was T-3 at the 2012 Masters.  Has the belief in his abilities and is a relentless competitor.  Seems to stay in the moment and has an excellent short game.  Tough to judge his level of commitment.  I’m not wild about his recent swing changes with his closed stance and over the top move.  Historically, not a good ball striker in terms of driving length, accuracy, and GIR which is probably what’s held him back.  Best chance to break through would be at The Masters.  I have him at 50-50 odds to get a major.

Dustin Johnson Best finish was T-2 at the 2011 Open Championship but best chance to win was at the 2010 PGA (T-5) where he was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the last hole and missed out on a playoff by two strokes.  Could have the most physical talent on tour.  Obviously distractions were a huge issue in the past.  I love the changes in his pre-shot routine, especially with the putter, and they’ve been on display in recent weeks.  Still has a weak short game that will hurt in tournaments with fast greens like Augusta and the U.S. Open.  Best chance to win is at The Open where his ability to bomb it and the slower greens work in his favor.  Too soon to tell if he’s past the mental foibles but looks good in the short term.  70% chance to win a major because he’s young and oozing talent.

Sergio Garcia:  Best finish was T-2 at the 1999 and 2008 PGA as well as T-2 at the 2007 and 2014 Open Championship.  Clearly the most disappointing of the three.   What’s held Sergio back has been issues with commitment, a bad attitude, and poor putting, especially towards the end of tournaments.  He’s been so close, but the combination of mental and physical shortcomings has derailed him.  With all the second place finishes and late round failures, his major career is slightly reminiscent of Greg Norman’s, except The Shark won his first major at the age of 31 . At 35,  Sergio has improved his putting over the last couple of seasons but still struggles with pressure late in rounds.  His proclivity to choke will get harder to overcome with age and despite all the close calls, I have him at less than 25% to win a major.  Best chance would be at The Open, with the slower greens and home field advantage.

Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth are in the next group but are too young to be dinged for not winning.  Both have the talent to prevail, but as we have seen recently, will need to overcome a huge obstacle (Mr. Rory McIlroy) to break through.

Do you think anyone has what it takes to break through in 2015?  Predictions?

 

 

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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9 Responses to Why Some Players Don’t Win Majors

  1. Brian,

    Great article! I totally agree that some players are in the right frame of mind for 72 holes to prevail! There are many great players who have won and then disappeared completely due to your three criteria. David Duvall comes to mind right away! The sudden disappearance of a great player often boggles my mind as well. Of the group you stated above, I have Rickie Fowler predicted to win the PGA Championship this year and claim his first Major of his career.

    Cheers
    Jim

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jim,

      I like that pick of Fowler to win a major. He was right there last year and is primed. It will be interesting how he handles the McIlroy factor. The one and done guys are intriguing too, but I wouldn’t lump Duval in with them because he had so many other wins. I’d group him with the Ian Baker-Finch types who totally collapsed and just couldn’t get it back. IBF is one of the fascinating cases of world class player going from penthouse to outhouse – and fast. Subject of an entire different type of post, though.

      Thanks!

      Brian

  2. Sergio has a fragile putting stroke, and is not helped by that claw grip. It is that grip that is holding him back. Adam Scott was lucky to win his Major while he could still use that broomstick putter, his putting stroke now seems fragile, he too uses that claw grip. They both need to change, and become more confident with the short stick.

  3. Brian Penn says:

    Pete, the switch back to the standard length putter will take time for both. Sergio has more issues, mostly between his ears. Thanks! Brian

  4. Brian,

    I was going to do a 2015 Major Championship Prediction post soon. Last season, I attempted to do an early season one and failed miserably, haha! It takes a special frame of mind (and a lot of talent, of course) to grind out 72 holes in a major to come out with the win. Great post.

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, looking forward to your prognostications for the year. I’m hoping to see some sort of rivalry develop between the new pack of young guns now that the Tiger/Phil competition is on the wane. Thanks!

      Brian

  5. It also gives me an appreciation for those capable of winning coming from behind.

  6. Scott says:

    Great article! I completely agree on the three aspects needed to win a major. I think confidence is the most important part. D Johnson has got to win one sometime. Thanks for the writing!

    • Brian Penn says:

      Scott,

      DJ has the talent no doubt. But I always wonder if guys who struggle around the greens can close the deal on Sunday under pressure. DJ’s short game and putting are a work in progress. Let’s watch him at Augusta and see how he manages on the lightning.

      Thanks!

      Brian

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