Statistical Skepticism

Whether you like to throw down the occasional wager on a golf tournament or are simply an avid fantasy golf participant, statistics play an important role in your week to week selections.  But statistics can be deceiving, so pay attention and avoid these common mistakes to ensure that they are working for you, and not the other way around:

Overvaluing “Scoring Average”

While I am not completely writing this stat off, it is one that should be used with caution. Remember, the best players in the world typically only play a handful of PGA Tour events per year, and of those events, they tend to be the tougher courses. Conversely, there are far less credentialed players lighting up the “Scoring Average” leader board on pgatour.com while playing in events where the scoring average is very low.

Putting too much stock in one stat

You read about the tournament and hear about how tough the greens are playing, so you want to find yourself an accomplished putter.  So you check out the “Strokes Gained Putting” and see that Greg Chalmers is #1 on the PGA Tour. OK great, so there’s your pick…except not quite. Though Chalmers may very well be the “best” putter on tour (except that he doesn’t get to putt in majors because he’s not good enough to qualify), he ranks 150th is ball striking, meaning he is horrible from tee to green.  He essentially NEEDS to be the best putter just to keep his head above water. A few other examples:

  • Proximity to the Hole: Another wonderful stat that shows how close your ball is to the hole when you get to the green.  Rickie Fowler is the “best” at this…wait, what? The same Rickie Fowler who is missing cuts every week?  Turns out that when you’re 62nd in greens in regulation (GIR) and 126th in putting it doesn’t really matter how close you are to the pin when you get to the green.  When you miss the green on your approach, it’s a lot easier to chip it close to the pin then it is to stick it from 175 yards.  Make sure if a guy is ranked highly here that you are making sure they are also respectable in GIR and putting.
  • Greens in Regulation: Such and overrated stat on it’s own. Guess who’s #1 on the PGA Tour? David F’in Toms. That’s right, the same guy who’s ranked 138th in the world.  David also happens to rank 134th in putting, which basically wipes out all that hard work he did to get there in regulation.  This is also a guy who hardly plays, so make sure you are considering the number and quality of events that make up the ranking.

As a general rule, I will take a guy who isn’t bad at any one thing before I take a guy who is great at just one thing.

Don’t forget the Euros

As I mentioned earlier, some of the best golfer in the world (Euros or otherwise) only venture stateside for the Majors, WGC events and a select few PGA Tour events.  That means that all the stats available on pgatour.com are inherently incomplete.  Comparing numbers from one tour to the other is apples to oranges as the weather, course conditions and competition can vary greatly between tours.

And remember, statistics are simply a tool in the toolkit, so don’t over think it.  If you want to know how Tiger, Rory or Phil are playing you don’t necessarily need any metrics as every shot they take is there to see and you can judge for yourself how they’re playing.  So use the numbers, but use them wisely and make sure you don’t lose track of the big picture.

CHRIS

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