When Xander Schauffele was called in for his press conference at the AT&T Byron Nelson on Tuesday, he was asked the following question: "Was it important to play this week to kind of get ready for next week?"
"Next week" is the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the year's second Major. So does Schauffele have a scientific plan in his bid to make history? In fact, do all the world's best golfers have a very clear idea of what works best? Schauffele's bumbled answer was revealing. It appears many do not. "Just to get some reps in. Some guys… I've gone the route of playing no golf leading into Majors and just practising and trying to get ready for the event and then I played well doing both," said the American. "I never won… I was talking to Scottie sort of… we played five holes yesterday and I was talking to him and he was sort of like… he's playing this week and I asked him if he normally played before the Majors, you know, did you play before Augusta.
"And he goes, 'no'. So I was like, well you got one under your belt, I have zero, so I don't even know what really works for me. We had a good laugh about that. "So I'm just.. I was at home, I wanted to play last week, at TPC Avenel. I got back from Zurich and wasn't feeling very well so ended up taking that week off and I needed to get some reps in before next week. "So I think I'm kind of one of those guys who likes to play before big tournaments just to sort of get the ball rolling, figure out your tendencies and sort of what you need to work on coming into a big week." It all sounds a little vague so what do the numbers say? Is it a wise move to play the week before? And, if so, does a good finish act as a portent?
Last 20 Major winners and what they did the week before
2022 Masters - Scottie Scheffler (Didn't play) 2021 Open Championship - Collin Morikawa (71st Scottish Open)
2021 US Open - Jon Rahm (Didn't play)
2021 PGA Championship - Phil Mickelson (Didn't play) 2021 Masters - Hideki Matsuyama (30th Texas Open) 2020 Masters - Dustin Johnson (2nd Houston Open) 2020 US Open - Bryson DeChambeau (Didn't play) 2020 PGA Championship Collin Morikawa (20th St Jude Invitational) 2019 Open Championship - Shane Lowry (Didn't play) 2019 US Open - Gary Woodland (Didn't play)
2019 PGA Championship - Brooks Koepka (4th Byron Nelson Championship)
2019 Masters - Tiger Woods (Didn't play)
2018 PGA Championship - Brooks Koepka (5th WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) 2018 Open Championship - Francesco Molinari - (2nd John Deere Classic) 2018 US Open - Brooks Koepka (30th St Jude Classic) 2018 Masters - Patrick Reed (Didn't play) 2017 PGA Championship - Justin Thomas (28th WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) 2017 Open Championship - Jordan Spieth (Didn't play) 2017 US Open - Brooks Koepka (37th St Jude Classic) 2017 Masters - Sergio Garcia (Didn't play)
Crunching the numbers
Looking at the last 20 Majors, 10 players teed it up the week before and 10 didn't. So, nothing to see here? Well, Brooks Koepka's name appears four times in that list and he played the week before in all four of those victories. Unlike others, Koepka had a very clear strategy of what worked best for him.
Collin Morikawa also played the week before both his Major wins.
Therefore, it's perhaps a surprise that both Koepka and Morikawa are resting up this week.
One interesting finding is the finishing positions of those who did decide on some competitive action ahead of the big one a week later. As a punter, it's easy to think that an ideal performance in the build-up for your pick in a Major is someone who finished around 10th to 15th the week before. That would suggest their game is in good shape but they didn't burn themselves out by getting in the thick of contention. And yet going for players in that range proves to be a red herring. Looking at the 10 examples when a Major winner did tee it up the week before, here are their finishing positions in the build-up event: 71-30-2-20-4-5-2-30-28-37. * All 10 made the cut so got four rounds in. * Four of the 10 had a top five so clearly benefited from a strong performance the week prior. * Five finished between 20th and 37th so had relatively low-key weeks.
* One, Morikawa, only finished 71st at the Scottish Open but playing 72 in alien links conditions certainly proved a real help to him the following week.
So, if trying to pick this year's PGA Championship winner, keep a close eye on the top five finishers at this week's AT&T Byron Nelson, those who stay under the radar and finish between 20th and 40th and also those who aren't taking part at all.
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