Before The Evian Championship began, I was reviewing the Pre-Tournament Intelligence Pack that KPMG Performance Insights puts together with the LPGA. (Quite the mouthful, but it serves as an oasis in the stats desert of women’s professional golf.) This nugget about 2023 major winners caught my attention: “Each of the first three major champions of 2023 have gained at least 44 percent of their strokes gained total from approach play.”
You read that right. Almost half of Lilia Vu’s, Ruoning Yin’s, and Allisen Corpuz’s total strokes gained in the biggest wins of their careers came from their approaches.
A few days after Céline Boutier’s six-shot win at Evian, KPMG’s statistics from the tournament were released. Approach play proved to be a critical skill once again, as Boutier’s play from outside 50 yards accounted for 35% of her total strokes gained. That’s a fall off from the pace set by Vu, Yin, and Corpuz, but Boutier still gained more in approach than she did in any other category. Boutier is clearly the hottest player on tour right now, following up her Evian win with a victory at The Scottish Open thanks to a hot putter.
Boutier will try to keep that streak going this week at the AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath Golf Club. Iona Stephen’s latest episode of “On the Road with Iona” is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the course before play begins. Stephen plays the course with Jill Thornhill, a legendary amateur golfer and President of Walton Heath. The video highlights the firmness of the heathland course (at time of filming, at least), the importance of scoring on the course’s two par fives on the back nine, and the need to control approach distances into the large greens to avoid momentum-killing three putts.
If approach play is the most important part of the winner’s performance once again, it’ll further illustrate just how differently the best women and men in the world play the game. It’s not rocket science to figure out that distance isn’t as correlated to success in the women’s game as it is for men. But approach play being this important at the biggest women’s events is eye-popping. According to Data Golf, none of the Strokes Gained: Approach numbers for the major wins from Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Wyndham Clark, and Brian Harman accounted for more than 30% of their total strokes gained. Clark actually lost a fraction in the category at the U.S. Open.
On the other side of the coin, it’s just as interesting comparing Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, a category we know holds significant weight in the men’s game. On average, 30% of the men’s total strokes gained in the majors comes from how well they performed with the driver. For the women, that number falls to 16%. Corpuz’s win at the U.S. Women’s Open and Boutier’s win at Evian gained next to nothing in the category.
Venues and the strengths and weaknesses of each winner’s game certainly play a factor in these numbers. But as we wind down another season of major championship golf, it is intriguing to see the data prove that completely different styles of play are being rewarded at the most important tournaments of the year. It’s a difference that should be embraced by the leaders of the women’s game.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.