For the 30 players who qualified for this week’s TOUR Championship, a ticket to East Lake is more than just an opportunity to win the FedExCup. The achievement is a culmination of good play throughout what has been a challenging, unique PGA TOUR season.
That’s especially so since the Return to Golf at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, in early June. Nine of the 30 players in the TOUR Championship field were outside the top 30 when the season resumed at Colonial, including FedExCup points leader Dustin Johnson. Hard to believe now, but Johnson was 111th in the standings when play resumed, the lowest position of any player who qualified for East Lake.
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One byproduct of the condensed schedule, post-hiatus, was a dramatic increase in tournament field depth. The Official World Golf Ranking uses a ‘strength of field’ metric to gauge this for every significant men’s professional golf event around the world. The verdict: Each of the first three events in the Return to Golf – the Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage and Travelers Championship – saw its ‘strength of field’ number jump by more than 40 percent. The strength of field at the Charles Schwab Challenge was up nearly 90 percent.
According to the TOUR’s ShotLink data team, there were four events this summer that featured at least 100 different players with at least one career victory on TOUR. That’s unusual. In fact, since 2007 that had never previously happened outside of THE PLAYERS Championship.
We at 15th Club wanted to go even further, though. Just how much stronger have fields been in 2020? Which events saw the biggest increases? 15th Club Performance Index is a comprehensive player ranking system created to evaluate true performance compared to other elite players around the world. Using archived versions of the Performance Index, we charted every TOUR event for the last six seasons to answer these questions.
By Performance Index, no field had a more dramatic increase in strength from 2019 to 2020 than the Charles Schwab Challenge. This makes perfect sense – there was a lot of pent-up desire to compete after the hiatus, and the field in Fort Worth featured each of the top five players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Previously, the tournament had never even featured the top two players. 15th Club metrics had that field as exactly twice as strong as the previous year, and a whopping four times better than it was back in 2015.
The Travelers Championship saw an enormous uptick, as well. Typically a post-U.S. Open staple on TOUR, this tournament’s field strength increased incrementally from 2017 to 2019. In 2020, though, it leapt upward 89 percent. Suddenly, the field depth at TPC River Highlands was comparable to traditional Tiger Woods staples like the Arnold Palmer Invitational (in 2017) and the Genesis Invitational (2018).
That’s not all, though: the RBC Heritage saw its strongest field ever, jumping nearly 30 percent in strength from 2019. The field at Harbour Town was nearly five times stronger than it was in 2015. The PGA Championship had a deeper field, as well, increasing by about 9 percent over 2019 and 24 percent over the 2018 edition.
A STRONGER SUMMER
Just how much stronger were tournament fields this summer compared to years past? 15th Club analyzed every tournament field on TOUR from June through August the last six seasons. (We excluded the always-deep major championships and FedExCup Playoff events.) The results were staggering.
According to 15th Club Performance Index, tournament fields in 2020 were 38.4 percent stronger this summer, on average, than last summer. And 2019 was a particularly strong summer. When you compare 2020 to the average over the previous five summers, the number goes up even more. Tournament fields of non-majors and non-playoff events this summer were approximately twice as strong in 2020 as they were from 2015-2019.
A condensed schedule created unprecedented urgency for the best players in the world, and as a result, fans got to see some of the deepest fields, week in and week out, in the recent history of the PGA TOUR.
Field Strength Change by Year – Per 15th Club Performance Index
Source: PGA tour