Can the stats help predict the winner?


Unlike the Masters, the US Open moves around from venue to venue each year but strong trends emerge when analysing past champions.

For each of the last 10 winners, I’ve listed the following categories that were correct at the time of their victory – age, world ranking, how many US Opens they’d played, best finish in the event and best result they’d recorded that season.

Whether the event moving to September from its usual June slot remains to be seen…

2019 – Gary Woodland (Age: 35, WR: 24th, Played: 8, US Open Best: 23rd, 2019 Best: 2nd)

2018 – Brooks Koepka (Age: 28, WR: 9th, Played: 5, US Open Best: 1st, 2018 Best: 2nd)

2017 – Brooks Koepka (Age: 27, WR: 22nd, Played: 4, US Open Best: 4th, 2017 Best: 2nd)

2016 – Dustin Johnson (Age: 31, WR: 6th, Played: 8, US Open Best: 2nd, 2016 Best: 3rd)

2015 – Jordan Spieth (Age: 21, WR: 2nd, Played: 3, US Open Best: 17th, 2015 Best: Win)

2014 – Martin Kaymer (Age: 29, WR: 28th, Played: 6, US Open Best: 8th, 2014 Best: Win)

2013 – Justin Rose (Age: 32, WR: 5th, Played: 7, US Open Best: 5th, 2013 Best: 2nd)

2012 – Webb Simpson (Age: 26, WR: 13th, Played: 1, US Open Best: 14th, 2012 Best: 3rd)

2011 – Rory McIlroy (Age: 22, WR: 7th, Played: 2, US Open Best: 10th, 2011 Best: 2nd)

2010 – Graeme McDowell (Age: 30, WR: 36th, Played: 4, US Open Best: 18th, 2010 Best: Win)

Winners trends

– 6 of last 10 were in their 20s
– 10 of last 10 were aged 35 or under

– 8 of last 10 were ranked in world’s top 25

– 8 of last 10 had played in 3 or more US Opens
– 10 of last 10 had played in at least 1 US Open but no more than 8

– 1 of last 10 had won it before
– 6 of last 10 had posted a top 10 in a US Open
– 10 of last 10 had posted a top 25 in a US Open

– 3 of last 10 had already won earlier that season
– 8 of last 10 had posted a top 2 earlier that season

– 9 of last 10 winners were not the defending champion

Most powerful qualification criteria

– Aged 35 or under
– Ranked in world’s top 25
– Played between 3 and 8 US Opens
– Has had a top 25 in a US Open
– Posted a top 2 earlier that season
– Not the defending champion

Current form

History says you don’t go into the US Open searching for your ‘A’ game. In fact, there is strong evidence that you almost always have to be in good nick to meet the demands of a testing US Open track. Here’s the next stat:

– 9 of the last 10 US Open winners had made the top 8 in one of their previous three starts

A second stat takes in form in the majors:

– 9 of the last 10 winners had made the cut in their previous major

This used to be just a measure of Augusta performance but it could be more useful this year given the proximity of the US PGA which was played on a US Open-style course.

Winning form in America

A simple but strong one. It’s not easy to make a major the scene of your first win on American soil.

– 9 of the last 10 US Open winners had previously won on US turf

A second notable stat is that relatively recent winning form in America is important.

– 8 of the last 10 US Open champions had posted a win on the PGA Tour either in the season of their win or the one before

Odds

Although we’ve seen some top names win in recent years, a few of the big guns weren’t really flavour of the month at the time. It meant they went into the event with the torch of expectation not really shining on them and perhaps, as a result, allowed them to play with more freedom.

Rory McIlroy was 22/1 to win at Congressional in 2011 – a price which reflected his Masters meltdown two months earlier.

Brooks Koepka was tied 30th at St Jude the week before defending in 2018 win so was a 25/1 shot at Shinnecock.

Dustin Johnson US Open trophy.jpg

Dustin Johnson was 16/1 at Oakmont as bookies and the betting public wondered if he’d ever win a major so only Jordan Spieth in 2015 went off at a single-figure price. How times have changed!

– 8 of the last 10 US Open winners were over 20/1

Mental freshness

It’s a commonly-held view that the US Open is the most attritional of the four majors and a cool head is required to get through the mental pounding. It sounds like a good idea to have taken it easy the week before and not played in the build-up event. The stats confirm that view:

– 7 of the last 10 US Open winners didn’t play the week before

Koepka did play the week before his 2018 triumph but he was fresh having teed it up just five times that season due to injury.

This year, almost all the big names are taking the week off which adds to the feeling that someone from the world’s top 25 will lift the trophy.

Major champions

The history of majors shows certain periods when there was a dominant player or players.

But the talent is spread far more evenly in the current era.

Of the last 17 majors played, 12 were won by golfers who hadn’t tasted victory in one before.

As for the US Open, seven of the last 10 champions were winning their first major.

So, time to sum up the full list of requirements:

– Aged 35 or under
– Ranked in world’s top 25
– Played in at least three US Opens
– Has had a top 25 in a US Open
– Posted a top 2 earlier this season
– Made the top eight in one of previous three starts
– Made the cut at the previous major
– Has won on American soil
– Has a PGA Tour win in the last two seasons
– Over 20/1 in the betting
– Isn’t playing the week before Winged Foot
– Hasn’t won a major

Conclusion

Rather neatly, just one player comes through all those checks – Daniel Berger.

Berger wins at Colonial.jpg

Berger is 27, world ranked 13th, was T6 in the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock, has played in five US Opens, was the winner at Colonial in Texas in June, has a top eight in one of his last three starts, made the cut in the previous major (T13 US PGA), is over 20/1, isn’t playing this week’s Safeway Open and has never won a major.

Several others come close. Tyrrell Hatton, for example, ticks every box but missed the cut in the US PGA.

Xander Schauffele also passes every check but isn’t over 20/1 in the betting.

Harsh maybe but the stats have no mercy!