Patrick Cantlay was named the PGA Tour Player of the year Tuesday, but it's clear that Jon Rahm was the best player this season. The golf world often gets caught up in results, but results can be up to chance sometimes.
Every shot counts on the PGA Tour, and any shot hit Thursday thru Sunday can be the difference between winning and losing. A player can get a good bounce here and there, and get an equally bad bounce on different shots. This can be the difference between a win and a runner-up finish.
Cantlay’s results this season make it a difficult argument—he won four events this season, double the amount of victories than any other player—and won the season-long FedEx Cup title. But I think there’s no question who played the best golf this year—Jon Rahm.
Rahm is the number one player in the world for a reason, and he had plenty of good results as well. He won the US Open at Torrey Pines for his first major title and also had two runner-up finishes and two more third place finishes. He ended the year with 15 top-10s and 18 top-25s in 22 events despite going a month between events two separate times. He missed just one cut this season.
Cantlay also obviously played well, finishing his season with two straight victories at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship. But Cantlay was the direct beneficiary of rules and format situations that cost Rahm the wins.
Cantlay won the Memorial after Rahm was forced to withdraw when he tested positive for COVID when leading by six shots thru 54 holes. He also won the net competition at the Tour Championship, but Rahm tied Kevin Na for the lowest gross score for the week.
Cantlay’s results in majors this season also fell far short compared to Rahm. The Spaniard had top-10 finishes in all four majors in 2021, including his US Open victory. Cantlay missed the cut at the Masters and Open Championship and finished T23 and T15 at the PGA Championship and US Open respectively.
Rahm blows Cantlay out of the water statistically as well. Rahm finished second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and first in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Total. He also led the Tour in scoring average.
In True Strokes Gained, which takes field average and the golf course into account, Rahm gained nearly half a stroke more total per round than Cantlay. Rahm also has the advantage in Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Off the tee. Rahm gained more than a shot on the field in Strokes Gained: Off the tee per round.
Sometimes, the best stats are the simplest ones. Rahm and Cantlay each played in the same tournament 17 times this season. Rahm finished ahead of Cantlay in 13 of them, and two of the four events Cantlay beat Rahm included the Memorial and the Wells Fargo Championship where both players missed the cut.
It seems contradictory that the PGA of America Player of the Year and the PGA Tour Player of the Year would be awarded to different players. This isn’t unprecedented, but it is rare. This year is the third consecutive season that the awards were given to different players. Brooks Koepka and Rory Mcilroy shared the 2019 award, and Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas split the award last year.
Before those outliers, the same player had won both awards dating back to 1992. Rahm is the number one player in the world, and there’s no doubt he deserves both of these rewards.