Gauging the transferability of form from tour to tour has always been a tricky exercise, akin to recognizing a really good book from the blurb on the back cover.
When European Tour stalwarts make the move to the PGA Tour, for example, it can be difficult to discern those who represent value from those who we will discover flattered only to deceive.
A heady period spent with the head in the record books (metaphorically, at least; in reality, fingers were tapping into databases) might, however, have produced an interesting answer to this dilemma.
There is a term used in philosophy and psychology, one made popular when discussed in the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink, called “thin-slicing”.
It represents the ability to discern information based on only thin-slices of information. An example used by Gladwell included a hospital that once utilized an exhaustingly long-winded questionnaire in an attempt to spot patient’s health problems – until one doctor realized that a mere handful of those questions needed to be asked to produce superior results.
I’m far from proposing that social distancing has prompted an investigation which will reap similar, albeit golfing, success, but this quest to sort the European wheat from the chaff might prove useful in future – and, at the very least, it hopefully prompts interesting discussion and debate at a time when we need our time filling with distractions.
The Thin Slice
I’m tempted to call it the “Chutzpah Factor” because it relates to early European player performance in higher grade of competition – the four majors championships and the World Golf Championship.
The Players Investigated
Those who have won at least three European Tour titles in the 21st century, the first of them being in this century too. Players with wins before then didn’t have regular WGC events to compete in (it began in 1999).
The Key Number
How many appearances in these events did it take the player to log a first top ten finish? (For the purposes of the column this includes a WGC World Match Play quarter-final, but not the rather spurious T9 that comes with falling in the last 16.)
The Major Winners
Rory McIlroy’s first top ten came in his third such start at the WGC World Match Play. Justin Rose’s famously landed one on his debut, Henrik Stenson left it only two starts and Graeme McDowell needed just five appearances to claim one. Sergio Garcia falls just outside the parameters, having starting his career late in the 20th century, but, for what it’s worth, he clocked in his third start and Padraig Harrington was well into his career in the 1990s, so missed any WGC schooling, but he also landed in his third start. And what of two-time major winner Angel Cabrera? Not a European, but he was based there early in his career and was yet another to taste success in his third start. For Adam Scott it was his sixth, Michael Campbell second, Ernie Els second and Retief Goosen third. It's a persuasive list and yet this is no infallible sift (which should not surprise or discourage us). Danny Willett and Shane Lowry needed 12 starts, whilst Martin Kaymer tallied a somewhat surprising 14. (For Francesco Molinari, see below.)
PGA Tour Winners
Paul Casey and Jon Rahm first recorded a top ten in their third start, Freddie Jacobson in his sixth, Tyrell Hatton his eighth, but Ian Poulter, whose career, ironically, might be defined by the term “chutzpah”, actually needed ten starts.
Here are three lists:
Players claiming a top ten quickly – Jamie Donaldson (5th), Nick Dougherty (8th), Simon Dyson (8th), Niclas Fasth (2nd), Kenneth Ferrie (6th), Ross Fisher (8th), Matthew Fitzpatrick (4th), Tommy Fleetwood (9th), Gregory Havret (7th), Mikko Ilonen (3rd), Thomas Levet (5th), Thomas Pieters (6th), Alvaro Quiros (8th), Matt Wallace (9th), Chris Wood (1st).
Players claiming a top ten slowly – Rafa Cabrera Bello (19th), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (20th), Stephen Gallacher (18th), Peter Hanson (20th), Anders Hansen (31st), Soren Kjeldsen (10th), Joost Luiten (32nd), Alex Noren (13th), Bernd Wiesberger (32nd).
Players still seeking a top ten (starts) – Gregory Bourdy (18), Johan Edfors (17), Pablo Larrazabal (26), Alexander Levy (19), Tom Lewis (10), Matteo Manassero (28), Marcel Siem (18), Andy Sullivan (21).
There are exceptions among all those lists and yet perhaps most notable is that the middle and bottom lists include many names who have notably failed to transmit European Tour form to the PGA. There are a few surprises in the top list and yet, in truth, many of them would never have been considered likely successes on the PGA Tour anyway (and/or showed little inclination to give it a go).
The Family Example
Francesco Molinari is not just a major winner, but also a two-time PGA Tour winner and guess what? He landed a top ten in his fourth top-grade start. Brother Edoardo has never quite made that leap and … it took him 21 starts in the majors/WGC to log a top ten. It’s almost the entire situation in microcosm.
How can we use this to help us? Well, it maybe allows us to ink in, rather than pencil in, Robert MacIntyre, Matthias Schwab and Victor Perez as players to watch for the future. All three landed top tens on their debuts at the higher level. Fan favorite Eddie Pepperell has just the two ET wins and has already experienced some success Stateside (third in the 2019 PLAYERS Championship). Was it foretold by collecting a top ten in his fifth major/WGC start? Marcus Kinhult (three starts) has time on his hands, but Jorge Campillo (eight appearances) maybe doesn’t. (And to drift beyond Europe again – Erik van Rooyen landed on his fourth start.)