Golf Analytics

How Golfers Win

Steven Fox’s Professional Future

I’ve never liked writers who bury the lead, so – Steven Fox’s pro future is most likely bleak. Fox announced he was turning pro today and will aim to qualify for the Tour through qualifying school this fall. Fox had competed for Tennessee-Chattanooga for the past four seasons and won the 2012 US Amateur title. However, he’ll most likely struggle to ever distinguish himself on the major tours if his past play is any indication.

First let’s examine Fox’s college performance. During his freshman and sophomore years he rated 306th and 213th in the country according to Jeff Sagarin’s rankings, but developed enough to rank 104th and 84th in his final two years in school, with his US Amateur victory coming between those two seasons. Now, that’s a perfectly respectable college career, but nothing that indicates serious professional success. Fox’s career Sagarin Rating was 72.1 – 346th among all college players who competed between 2008-2013. Even if we consider only his final two seasons, his Sagarin Rating was 71.4 – which would rank about 150th. Among the 80 players who played college golf between 2008-2013 and recorded at least 20 rounds in a season on the PGA/European/ Tours, Fox’s career Sagarin Rating would rank 68th. Of the thirteen players who finished college with a worse rating than him, only Keegan Bradley has achieved any success on the PGA Tour and that only after several years playing on the developmental tours.

Fox’s situation is fairly unique, however, when considered next to those 80 players. Because of his US Amateur victory, he’s received exemptions into nine different PGA Tour tournaments this season, including three of the Majors. It’s almost unprecedented for a player of his talent level in college to play 18 Major Tour rounds so soon after leaving college. The only problem is Steven Fox has been awful in those 18 rounds. He’s played one standard deviation worse than PGA Tour average during those 18 rounds and missed every cut. For comparison purposes, the PGA Tour average is 0.00, the European Tour average is around +0.20, and the Tour average is around +0.35. Typically the worst full seasons by Major Tour players approach +1.00. Obviously such a poor performance should be regressed towards the mean a lot. My research has shown you should add 25.5 rounds of average play to a sample to regress it, which would result in Fox rating around a +0.41, below Tour average.

Alternatively, using the college to pro projection model I introduced last week, we can plug Fox’s career 72.05 Sagarin Rating into the Pro=(0.277*College)-19.453 equation. Fox’s college play indicates he’s expected to play at around +0.48, similar to his regressed Z-Score numbers and also worse than Tour average.

Using a composite of the two models, it’s reasonable to expect Fox to be worse than Tour average if he competes next season. However, even getting on the Tour will require him to qualify in Q-School. I have no numbers on the expected quality of the Q-School field because it’s the first season under these qualification rules, but it seems likely that there will be many players as good or better than Fox. All considered, it’s impossible to fault Fox for turning pro (like I absolutely would have if he had left Chattanooga after last year’s US Amateur victory), but expectations for his performance should be set extremely low. His college and pro record just do not measure up well against what typically indicates professional success.

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