PGA Championship: The best of the "first timers"

Words by
Dan Davies
PGA Championship: The best of the "first timers"

The second men's major of the 2022 season is upon us and the greater than usual levels of anticipation are down to both Tiger teeing it up and the venue, Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, which has undergone a widely heralded "historic renovation" by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner.

Speaking to Geoff Shackleford's Quadrilateral Substack newsletter, the historian for Southern Hills was asked about the qualities shared by winners of the seven previous men's majors played over the course. "Ball striker who can chip and putt and who are playing well at the time," was Clyde Chrissman's succinct reply.

While this combination could apply to pretty much any tournament, the course at Southern Hills does look set to ask serious questions of the players' approach (APP) and around the green (ARG) play. Undulating fairways and small, firm and subtly contoured greens protected by tightly mown run-offs that punish shots flirting with the outer edges of the target will place a higher than usual premium on accuracy, creativity and resilience.

In the last 20 years, the PGA Championship has produced no less than 10 first-time major winners, so we've looked at seven players in the upper reaches of the Official World Golf Rankings who have yet to add a grand slam title to their resumes and are trending in the right direction in the skills listed above. As their Clippd insights reveal, each looks to have plenty in their locker this week.

1. Cameron Smith (OWGR: 4)


- The Australian’s Player Quality for approach (APP) is 110, the highest of any player on this list. Between 50 and 100 yards, his Average Shot Quality over his last 20 rounds is a remarkable 126.

- His Average Shot Quality for putts of 7-8ft, a distance that the players might face a lot when trying to save par at Southern Hills, is 120. He’s at 116 for 6-7ft.

- The Players Championship winner has a 1-putt percentage of 47% for his last 20 rounds (see below).


- Apart from the Masters, he’s only finished inside the top 10 in a major once, at the 2015 US Open.

2. Patrick Cantlay(OWGR: 5)


- Cantlay is ranked 10th for scrambling on the PGA Tour.

- On the way to losing a playoff in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town last month, his Average Shot Quality numbers for approach (APP) were 118, 112, 117, 127 for the four rounds. Cantlay lost another playoff earlier this year at the WM Phoenix Open.

- In the last month he has shown a sharp improvement in his approach (APP) play (see below).


- Since the 2019 US Open, Cantlay’s best finish in a major is T15.

3. Xander Schauffele (OWGR: 10)


- Schauffele is an ace scrambler, getting up and down from 10-20 yards 77.55% of the time. His Player Quality for around the green (ARG) has been tracking steadily upwards since a dip last summer.

- In the first round of the recent Valspar Championship, he played eight shots around the green and his average proximity to the hole was 3ft 11ins for an Average Shot Quality of 125 (see below).

- He’s recorded nine top-10 finishes in 19 major championship starts and he’s coming into form, as evidenced by his closing 61 at the AT&T Byron Nelson to finish T5.


- Schauffele is 76th on the PGA Tour for putts per round.

4. Sam Burns (OWGR: 13)


- Burns has six top-10s in 14 PGA Tour events this season to be 2nd in the FedEx standings.

- On his way to winning the Valspar Championship in late March, his Player Quality for approach (APP) in his opening 64 at Innisbrook was 126 (see below).

- In his last but one competitive outing, the 25-year-old partnered Billy Horschel to 2nd place at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.


- The PGA Championship will be only his seventh major and his best finish to date is T29.

5. Billy Horschel (OWGR: 14)


- The 35-year-old has recorded four top-10s on the PGA Tour since February, including two 2nd place finishes.

- Horschel’s Player Quality for around the green (ARG) has been on a strong upward trend since December (see below).

- His Shot Quality is 139 for ARG shots of 30-50 yards in the last 20 rounds. This is a distance that could see a lot of action at Southern Hills.


- His best finish in the PGA Championship is a pair of T23s, in 2019 and 2021.

6. Joaquin Niemann (OWGR: 16)


- His Player Quality 1-year trend for around the green (ARG) shows a strong and steady upward progression (see below), and is currently at 109.

- The Chilean won in highly impressive fashion at Riviera earlier this year, another course that requires precise iron play and a creative short game.

- After a slight dip in his Total Player Quality in March and April, the 23-year-old’s graph is now trending positively again. He played very well for three rounds last week before closing with a 74.


- He has yet to regain the putting touch he showed when lapping a very strong field at the Genesis Invitational in February.

7. Matt Fitzpatrick (OWGR: 17)


- The Englishman is 4th on the PGA Tour for Scoring Average and 3rd for Scrambling.

- Fitzpatrick has recorded 5 top-10s in 11 PGA Tour starts this season, including a T2 at Wells Fargo in his last outing.

- The 27-year-old shows a marked upward trend in his around the green (ARG) play over the last seven months (see below).


- His best PGA Championship finish is T23 in 2021.