Which golfers improved the most in 2022?

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Which golfers improved the most in 2022?

What a year it's been in the men's professional game. Rather than dwell on politics, Clippd lights up skill. It shows how good the top-10 male players in the world really are. It shows how much they have improved in 2022 and in which departments. And for the purposes of this article, it identifies three fast-rising players just outside the top-10 who have plenty to look forward to in 2023.

Note: A Total Player Quality of 100 is tour average. Click here to learn more about Shot Quality and Player Quality, Clippd's powerful new performance metrics. Clippd's insights for this article are generated from PGA Tour ShotLink data and DP World Tour shot data. Shot data from the four majors is not included.

Three to watch

Max Homa

The popular Californian has enjoyed a memorable year: two tournament wins, a star performance at the Presidents Cup, a new baby boy and some serious improvement right across his game. He’s made big gains in his around the green (ARG) play; his Player Quality scores for ARG shots (50 yards and in) from fairway, rough and sand have moved up by a combined 59 points. The sharpness Homa has added to his short game puts him on course to break into the world top-10. As new entries go, there would be few more popular.

Tom Kim

A breakout star of 2022, Tom Kim became the first player since a certain Tiger Woods to win twice before turning 21, winning the Wyndham Championship after making a quadruple on his first hole. He was a total rock star in the Presidents Cup, which only burnished his reputation with fans who appreciate his personality, shotmaking and consistently entertaining output on social media. Over the last 12 months Kim's Player Quality scores have improved in 11 of the 15 skills we measure for this article (and in most cases by significant amounts). We predict more of the same in 2023.

Tony Finau

Big Tony added a razor-sharp short game to an already superlative long game to produce his most successful season to date on tour. Clippd identified that he was on a sharp upward trend heading into the Open Championship in July and while a T28 on the Old Course was not what the numbers were suggesting, back-to-back wins in his next two tournaments certainly were. After doubling his total number of titles in the space of a fortnight, Finau underlined just how much he has improved by adding win number five in Houston a few weeks ago. We confidently predict even bigger things next year.

The top-10

10. Viktor Hovland

The 25-year-old got off to a great start to the year with a win over a strong field in Dubai. He then enjoyed a hot streak leading into the Players Championship but had to wait until St Andrews before getting back to the boil. His closing 74 on the Old Course was a major disappointment but he has since rebounded with a strong wraparound season in which he successfully defended his Hero World Challenge title. The most pleasing news for his fans will be his huge improvement in Around The Green (ARG). For shots of 50 yards and under from rough, Hovland has made the single biggest climb in an individual skill of any player in the top-20 in the world. Chapeau.

9. Matt Fitzpatrick

The modest Englishman is the poster boy for data-driven improvement. In June, at The Country Club in Brookline, his diligence got its rewards with victory in the US Open. That Fitzpatrick's first professional win in the US (he won the US Amateur on the same course in 2013) came in a major was no great surprise. The significant improvements he has made Off The Tee (OTT), paired with big gains at both 50-100 yards and in putts of 8-15 feet, are a recipe for success that has been formulated through hard work and intelligence. Now that he's got one, there's no reason he won't get more.

8. Justin Thomas

It speaks to JT’s ridiculous talent that 2022 did not seem like a great year despite the fact he won a second major title. His putter went cold too often and there was a considerable drop off in his iron play from both 140-180 yards and from 180 yards-plus. And yet Thomas has made significant improvement in his Around The Green (ARG) play from both fairway and rough this year, which means he now has the joint highest Player Quality for ARG of any player inside the OWGR top 20. With a game as good as his, it's surely now only a matter of putting it all together – as his winning week at Southern Hills proved.

7. Will Zalatoris

The Texan flusher was working up a serious head of steam when injury cruelly derailed him late in the season. He finished 6th in the Masters, lost a playoff at the PGA Championship and then tied for 2nd at the US Open. He handled the disappointment of these near misses with real class, which was reflected in the widespread delight at his first PGA Tour win in August. Zalatoris’ greatest improvement is at 50-100 yards but his putting, which prompted plenty of negative comment this year, also improved in four out of the five distance categories Clippd measures (he was was flat in the other). Health permitting, there’s no reason to think this progress won't continue in 2023.. 

6. Xander Schauffele

From late April through to the season-ending Tour Championship, Schauffele was relentlessly excellent. He claimed two PGA Tour titles (including the Zurich Championship, paired with his good friend Patrick Cantlay), won twice in less than a week in Europe (against an all-star field at Adare Manor in the JP McManus Pro-Am and then again in classy company at the Scottish Open) and was rarely out of the top-10 thereafter. He missed the cut at Augusta and then recorded three top-15 finishes in the next three majors without ever really being in the mix, but the 29-year-old has banked plenty of valuable experience. Making the next big career step forward should hold no fears.

5. Jon Rahm

Three wins on three different continents would represent a superb return for most players, but for a talent as prodigious as Rahm it feels slightly anti-climactic. A different picture emerges when we look at his form in the second half of the year. Rahm’s Around The Green (ARG) play and putting were smoking hot in the closing stages of the season, which saw the former world no. 1 win his third Spanish Open title (matching the great Seve Ballesteros) and claim the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Rahm’s improvement in ARG is the third biggest in a specific area amongst the top 20. We know how good his driving and iron play is, so the gains he’s made at the sharp end of the game should serve him well next year.

4. Patrick Cantlay

With eight wins on the PGA Tour, the 30-year-old Californian is fulfilling the promise he showed during a glittering amateur career. Critics argue that he doesn’t feature enough in the majors but Cantlay recorded his highest finishes at both the US Open (T14) and the Open Championship (T8) this year, as well as successfully defending his BMW Championship title. His OTT Player Quality of 119 is the joint best of anyone on this list, and at 116 with a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee, he's best in class. Will 2023 be the year that ‘Patty Ice’ finally gets in the mix for one of the big ones? If he can dial in his wedges a little more, the smart money would be on ‘yes’.

3. Cam Smith

The popular Australian took the first tournament of the year with a record (and quite ridiculous) 34-under-par winning total. Remarkably, he then went up a gear at Sawgrass with a thrilling victory at the Players Championship before again contending at Augusta in the Masters. Three months later, on the greatest stage of all, the man with the mullet finally fulfilled his potential at the 150th Open Championship. Thingsd went a bit quiet after that and having finishing 20th at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, he confirmed the rumours by announcing he was joining LIV Golf. As a result, we have no data for Cam Smith beyond August.

2. Scottie Scheffler

Odd that it sounds, Scheffler’s rise to the top of the game has been both steady and meteoric. The PGA Tour Player of the Year has excelled in every age bracket and at every step-up he’s made since first picking up a golf club aged three. In the first few months of 2022, he was the hottest player on the planet, winning his first two PGA Tour tournaments, then his first WGC title before capping it all with a maiden major title at Augusta National, all within a little over three months. In addition to the array of impressive numbers shown above, Scheffler’s Player Quality for ARG shots from rough is currently at 123, the second highest of any player in the OWGR top-20. The big question? Just how good can he be?

1. Rory McIlroy

What a year it’s been for a player widely regarded as the game's most gifted golfer. He returned to No. 1 in the world. He won three tournaments. He won the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai and his name was prominent on the Sunday leaderboard at every major. And through it all, he manned the frontline as 'Defender-in-Chief of the PGA Tour'. In 2022, Rory has improved in 11 of the 15 skill sets Clippd measures for this feature – and by a considerable amount in many cases. With his driver, he has the joint highest OTT Player Quality (123) alongside Patrick Cantlay and Sungjae Im. With his irons, he is supreme. It can surely only be a matter of time before the Ulsterman adds to his major tally. Forget the length of the current drought, once he wins another then more will surely follow.