Sobel: How Analytics Have Changed Golf, and What Bettors Should Know

Apr 09, 2019 12:01 AM EDT
Credit:

Michael Madrid, USA Today Sports.

  • Advanced stats have changed every sport over the past 10 years and golf is no different.
  • Jason Sobel spoke to some tour pros about what analytics they pay attention to and what bettors should study and ignore.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Before the question was even done being asked, Tiger Woods started nodding knowingly, a Cheshire cat grin spread across his face.

This query was about analytics — and whether there are some statistics to which Woods pays closer attention than others.

“Yeah, I do,” he offered, now in full-smile mode. “Wins.”

The 80-time PGA Tour champion drew a laugh for the response, a typical retort for a guy around whom Nike once produced a marketing campaign entitled, “Winning takes care of everything.”

Then he got serious.

“I like looking at where I am in relation to how I have played my best,” Woods continued. “Not necessarily in relation to what the Tour is or what is the new formulas and the new analytics of strokes gained and stuff like that. I try not to get involved in what the other guys are doing, but what is it in relation to when I was playing.”

There’s little doubt that 22 years ago, when Tiger became a mainstream superstar following his first Masters victory, he would’ve acknowledged any close examinations into statistical revelations. Or even 11 years ago, when he won his 14th major, as the idea of “drive for show, putt for dough” wasn’t yet completely outed as a farcical philosophy.

As the world of sports analytics has grown in recent years, as we’ve collectively become armed with greater understanding than previous generations about impactful numbers and how we can evaluate them, golf has witnessed a parallel renaissance in this area.

Led by the findings of Columbia Business School professor Mark Broadie —  whose research debunked the myth that a superior short game is what separates elite players from the rest of the pack —  the concept of strokes gained: putting was first introduced as an official PGA Tour statistic in 2011, followed quickly by strokes gained in every other area, which offers inarguable data on how each touring professional stacks up against his peers.

Tiger Woods isn’t as analytically slanted as other players on the Tour. Credit: Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports.

It is now big business, this idea of evaluating numbers and using the conclusions to impact everything from practice regimens to course setups. Analytics company 15th Club has been hailed as a decisive factor in Europe’s most recent Ryder Cup victory.

Players such as Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel travel with an analytics expert who assists their course management by offering data to impact decision-making.