Moneygolf (Part 1)

    Statistics have become all the rage in sports. The obsession with statistics in baseball was well-chronicled in the book and motion picture “Moneyball.” Why are so many baseball general managers obsessed with not just basic statistics but seemingly totally obscure ones? The reason is pretty simple – you have to be able to measure and quantify things to identify what areas your team needs to work on — how to minimize weaknesses and utilize strengths. It was simply a matter of time before the stats geeks would consume other areas of sports, business and politics.

    Golf especially lends itself to statistical analysis. Many of us are familiar with the traditional statistics, fairways hit and greens in regulation. Tour pros and their coaches certainly monitor those numbers, but they like to drill down even deeper to help dissect every part of their game.

    Getting up and down for par in two shots or less is critical to shooting low scores, especially for tour pros. After all, if we fail to get up and down a couple of times when we should have on a weekend outing, we might turn a round of 88 into a 91. The difference for a tour player is turning a 68 into a 71. That might mean a missed cut, or a substantially smaller paycheck come Sunday.

    Want to know one reason Rory McIlroy might be struggling this season? One big reason appears to be scrambling. McIlroy only ranks tied for 127th on tour in scrambling, getting up and down just 39 of 67 times (58.2%) this season. Admittedly, that’s a small sample size, but not terribly small. The leaders in scrambling on tour are getting up and down nearly three-quarters of the time. Phil Mickelson (12th) and Freddie Jacobson (20th) are among the leaders in this category, which makes sense. Phil has had a very hot start to the 2016 season. His strong performance in this category is one reason why. Incidentally, in the 3rd round at the AT&T National Pro-Am, Mickelson got up and down 9 of 9 times on his way to a 66. If he’d gotten up and down 5 of 9 times, that round turns into a 70.

    Some folks will point out that statistics can be misleading. Take the scrambling category, some say it’s really determined by how well a player putts. There is definitely some truth in that sentiment. The stats guys however have drilled down even further here. Here’s are some examples: putts-per round, strokes-gained-per round, three putt avoidance, putts made from 11-20 feet, putts made from 21-30 feet, putts made 10 feet or less, 9 feet or less, 8 feet or less, etc. These numbers provide a player valuable intelligence on what areas of their putting game need the most work.
    Obviously, the game of golf has always been obsessed with distance off the tee. That, of course, is one part of the story. Keeping it on the short grass is also important, especially at certain courses or championships (don’t miss fairways at the U.S. Open!). “Total Driving” combines driving distance and fairways hit into one category.

    The PGA has a large number of subcategories that measure driving statistics, including rough tendency, left rough tendency, right rough tendency, so on and so forth. This year, Justin Leonard has found the right rough less often than anybody else on tour, just 7.86% of the time. They measure tee shots by their distance from the edge of the fairway and the center of the fairway. Are all of these statistics overkill? Some old school golfers and coaches may certainly think so, but in today’s statistically driven world, these numbers provide the raw intelligence that help top players and coaches plan their practice sessions and course management for upcoming events.