Golf Analytics

How Golfers Win

Golfer Statistical Comparables

I often find it useful when I’m watching a round or previewing a tournament to look at which types of golfers are doing well at a course, or more generally which types of golfers are similar to each other in terms of the results they are achieving. Commentators will normally focus on similarities between different golfers’s swings or their ball-flights, but I’m more interested in the results of their shots. I’ve generated some simple statistical comparables to use in comparing which golfers are most similar or most unique.

Methodology was fairly basic; I took every player who had at least 20 Shot Link rounds in my database and I standardized all of their results in six categories – driving distance, driving accuracy, greens hit above/below expected [1], strokes gained on approach shots/tee shots, strokes gained on the greens, and strokes gained with the short game. All of these numbers are adjusted for the field and include the results for almost 200 pros from about April 2014-present. I then found the “distance” each golfer was away from the others in each category and ranked each golfer from most to least similar to each other.

I’ve linked a Google doc with a top twenty and bottom five for each golfer here.

Robert Streb and Bill Haas were the most similar to the largest number of golfers, appearing in the top five most similar for 11 of 192 pros. Jim Furyk was easily the most unique, appearing in the bottom five least similar for 78 of 192 pros! Furyk is obviously an extreme outlier in fairways hit, greens hit, and approach shot SG.

As for the most similar players, some were fairly obvious. Bubba Watson’s top comp was Rory McIlroy, which makes sense as they are both very long, average in fairways hit, and don’t really move the needle much in terms of putting/short game. Zach Johnson is matched up with good ball-strikers who are short/accurate off the tee (Ryan Moore, Tim Clark, etc.). Dustin Johnson matches up with Rory, Adam Scott, and Jimmy Walker as guys with elite long games (drives+approach shots).

The value in this exercise comes in the surprising comparables though. Daniel Berger, contender last week at the Honda, has Horschel, Keegan, Paul Casey, Watney, and DeLaet as his top five, which shows just how fantastic his debut on Tour has been. Another rookie Carlos Ortiz shows up as similar to Russell Henley, showing he’ll make his money by driving the ball well and holing putts. Brendan Steele’s top matches just show the kind of potential his game holds: Jimmy Walker & Ryan Palmer.

My favorite comp is easily Bill Haas being the #1 match with the guy who weaseled his way onto the Ryder Cup team in his place, Webb Simpson.

These can be taken in a bunch of different directions, but I’m hoping to present some expanded comparables in the future. These will take into account actual predictive factors that can be used to judge course fit: ability to play from the rough, putting ability on different green surfaces, likelihood to aim for the center of the green vs. hunt for pins, etc. Today is just to show some basic similiarities between golfers. Again, the list of comps is linked here.

[1] This basically asks: from 156 yards to the pin in the rough, 189 yards to the pin from the fairway, etc. how often does the average PGA Tour golfer hit the green. So, (each pros actual GIR) – (expected GIR based on all their approach shot distances/lies).

2 responses to “Golfer Statistical Comparables

  1. virtuoso4 March 10, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    Very interesting, thanks Jake…what methodology did you use for calculating the “distance” between players? Is it something like totaling the absolute value z-score differences between each stat?

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