Golf Analytics

How Golfers Win

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What Stats Don’t Suggest

Posts like this really agitate me as a golf fan interested in analytics. I’m not sure what annoys me more: the complete disregard for stats as more than trivia or the complete lack of insight it provides. Whichever, this post is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with how people talk about golf stats. Nothing in that in post has even a whiff of predictive value; there’s no attempt to actually figure out what the stats suggest about players who should be more successful at Summerlin. Instead, we get pseudo-insight like “par 4 scoring demands our attention” and “all five winners ranked inside the top 20 in Strokes Gained Putting”. Well, of course par 4 scoring is important – over half the holes on every course on Tour are par 4s. Guys who can’t score on par 4s can’t be successful on Tour. And of course strokes gained putting is important. Gaining strokes on the field is a certain prerequisite for winning or contending in a tournament.

That’s enough picking on Rob Bolton, who might have a handle on fantasy golf, but is monumentally out of his league when forced to discuss stats. What this post is for is to discuss how successful a golfer has to be at putting to contend at or win a golf tournament. There’s nothing predictive here; everything I’m going to talk about is descriptive.  I downloaded the per tournament results for every 2013 PGA Tour player, including their finishing position and their average Strokes Gained Putting/round during the tournament. Using that data I found how successfully golfers who finished highly putted. Results below in bullet-form.

  • Tournament winners exceeded their season average for Strokes Gained Putting/round by 1.3 strokes/round – 5.2 strokes/tournament.
  • Those finished T10 or better exceeded their season average for SGP by 0.9 strokes/round – 3.6 strokes/tournament.
  • Tournament winners averaged 1.44 strokes gained/round; while those T10 or better averaged 0.92 strokes gained/round.
  • Tournament winners averaged finishing 13th in Strokes Gained Putting for the week while those T10 or better averaged finished 27th for the week.

Clearly, putting very well is necessary to contend for or win a tournament. Nothing in that is novel in the least. Nothing about that is predictive in the least. It just indicates that guys who win do so because they’re playing and putting better than they normally do. Claiming that SGP is important this week ignores completely that it’s important every single week. Moreover, it’s not more important in birdie-fests like this week. SGP counts strokes gained on the field. Golfers this week are going to hole a lot more putts than normal on Tour both because they’ll have disproportionately closer putts and putts of a certain length will be disproportionately easier than normal. However, that just means the threshold for gaining putts on the field is higher.