The Stat All Players Want But No One Can Define

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2011, 2:05 am
ORLANDO, Fla. – In the 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” author Michael Lewis details the mathematically fueled rise of the underfunded Oakland A’s under general manager Billy Beane.

In short, Beane realized that above all other statistics, and hunches, the most important stat for a major league slugger was “on base percentage” and he built a winner around that simple truth, and possibly performance-enhancing drugs but that’s another story.

With a fraction of the payroll of other teams, Beane created a contender based on math and science, so much so Lewis regularly referred to the 2000-2002 seasons as Beane’s experiments.

If it worked in baseball, could the same philosophy be applied to professional golf? Is there a single “tell-all” stat that separates the stars from the slugs?

Geoff Ogilvy, as right-brained as they come in the pro set, was the first of many to see the flaw in the hypothesis. “If you take scoring average out it’s not a fair fight,” he said. “I would say does anyone really have a good year without putting well?”

True, there aren’t many three-jack specialist in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but pure putting average is hardly the ultimate arbiter of success. Brandt Snedeker led the PGA Tour in putting average (1.654) last year and finished 48th in earnings, a good year but not great.

“Putts are important because it takes all the pressure off your game,” Paul Casey said before admitting. “I led the scrambling stat one year in Europe because every time I missed the green I was in the fringe and I was two-putting . . . it’s very misleading.”

Similarly, much like Beane realized with many MLB statistics, some of golf’s staples are at best misleading, at worst worthless. In short, many stats lie.

“I look at (greens in regulation), how many greens I hit,” said world No. 1 Martin Kaymer.

While GIR may work for the meticulous German as a meaningful measurement, it falls woefully short in determining broad success on Tour. John Senden led the Tour in GIR last year but hit his average first approach shot to the green was 7 feet, 6 inches, which ranked 119th on Tour.

For most Tour frat brothers picking golf’s “OBP” was an exercise in reverse engineering – drifting from the mundane to . . . well, the moneyball.

“There’s no reason to have a fairway (hit) stat, to be honest with you,” Ryan Palmer said. “It’s not that important. There are guys that hit every fairway and don’t win. (But) guys that every week are top 5 in proximity (to the hole) and top 5 in putting, they usually do pretty good.”

Proximity to the hole, on first shots to the green, shows promise, with the likes of 2010 Player of the Year Jim Furyk ranking third last year (6-feet-1 average), along with a combination of putts per GIR and putts made distance.

But mostly players seem to assign value based on their own strengths and weaknesses. Gary Woodland, the Tour’s most recent first-time winner following his show last week at Innisbrook, is among the game’s longest hitters, but struggles at times with his short game.

“Scrambling,” the bomber predictably said. “It has to be a short-game stat. Everybody out here can hit it; it’s a matter of who gets it up and down when you miss. Look at Tiger (in 2000 and 2006), he was bombing it and getting it up and down.”

Enter 23-year-old stat sage Jason Day, who has spent a good amount of time pouring over the dozens of tour stats. “I don’t know . . . whatever Tiger was doing well in 2000 or Vijay in 2004 . . . that’s probably important.”

Although not nearly as extensive as Beane’s quest for statistical truth, there are parallels between Woods’ benchmark performances in 2000 and 2006, and Singh’s nine-victory calendar in 2004.

A snapshot of those three seasons reveals that Woods finished first in ’00 and ’06 in GIR while Singh ranked second in 2004, and all three years they led the Tour in total birdies and scoring, but those stats explain the what, not the why.

Woods has always been among the Tour’s best at scrambling, a stat defined as the percentage of time a player misses the green but still makes par or better, and the notion, more so than the cold hard facts, seems to resonate among those surveyed.

“You don’t have to hit it so good as long as you’re scrambling well,” Day said. “Look at the best guys in the world, they are not great off the tee but they scramble solid.”

Ogilvy concurred, “Scrambling is important. It tells you how they are thinking their way around the golf course.” But the Tour did not keep scrambling stats in 2000 and Singh ranked 19th in ’04.

Neither did Woods nor Singh drive the ball particularly well during those years – Woods ranked 54th in driving accuracy in ’00 to lead the way – and neither player topped the circuit in driving distance.

Par-5 scoring, however, has the potential of being golf’s “OBP.” Woods and Singh led the Tour in that category in 2000, 2006 and 2004, respectively, and the connection between power and precision along with a solid short game suggests that scoring, at least in the modern game, begins and ends on the par 5s.

Yet among last year’s leaders in Par-5 scoring were Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes, a pair of long-ball specialists who have benefited greatly from equipment advances but are not considered world beaters just yet.

Players also referred to “clutch putting,” an unquantifiable stat that many say separated Woods from the rank-and-file for years.

“It’s the holing of putts when you need to that counts,” Casey said.

The tour keeps all manner of putting stats, including a “one-putt percentage for Round 4” which holds promise, but means little to a player 10 strokes off the lead and heading for a tie for 30th and an early flight home on Sunday.

If there is a magic statistic in golf it would take Beane and his army of number crunchers to root it out. The truth is, performance on tour is likely gauged by an assortment of indicators – from proximity to the hole to scrambling. At least that’s what tour players say, and they are always looking for it.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard

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Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

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Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

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Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.