Nothing fascinates me like the Ryder Cup. It is one of the only times in golf that people are actually required to evaluate talent and explore strategy. Not surprisingly, they are often wrong. Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to take a look at some of the factors that play into selected the team, picking the match-ups. Let’s start with 2006:
Common wisdom suggested that the United States struggled in the Ryder Cup because they just couldn’t get the hottest players on the team. As usual, common wisdom seems like complete garbage, so I set about to take a look. Paul Azinger, who “cracked the code,” set about a new points system that allowed him to pick players that had played better in the given the year, or were on a roll coming into the Ryder Cup.
Did this matter?
Well, not really.
I took a look at players 2-year average, leading up to 2006 Ryder Cup, just 2006, Average from British Open to PGA in 2006(basically month leading up to when Captain makes picks) and average the month before the Ryder Cup was played. Then I compared that to average points per match of each player in the contest. Here’s what I got:
USA 2-year Average: -.462
European 2-year Average: -.431
Not surprisingly the US team was better, but not by much. I’d definitely consider that with some kind of home field advantage the Euro’s might have even been the favored sqaud. But that’s not where it gets interesting:
USA 1-year average: -.508
Euro 1-year average: -.437
USA 2-month: -.566
Euro 2-month: -.369
USA 1-month: -.549
Euro 1-month: -.340
As you can see, the US was relatively “hotter.” Their players had significantly better 2006’s and were much better coming into the event on the short term. The Euro’s were actually pretty far below their average in the months preceding up to the event. Remember, they promptly took their poor form smoked the United States team in 2006.
So, basically Azinger missed diagnosed a problem and adjusted accordingly. The real problem with the US team was that it contained players like J.J. Henry, Vaughn Taylor and Brett Wetterich, who were in the midst of having career years then fell apart. Obviously, that’s not what you’re looking for when your projecting(that’s what captains are doing) performance forward.
*I have to give credit to Tom Lehman. His picks of Verplank and Cink were probably very good ones.
As you can see, a small correlation (remember negative is good. The better you are, the lower your actual score in my rankings and the higher the points you should be expected to earn) between being a good player and average points per match earned. That’s not surprising considering the small sample size of matches is incredibly random. It’s actually pretty normal compared to a stroke play event.
Again, not surprisingly, 1-year was less strongly correlated as that is a smaller sample more susceptible to variance. The even shorter sizes were negatively(actually positively, but that means low scores translated in more points) correlated. Again, not a huge surprise from what I’ve seen before. On a week-to-week basis recent form varies so widely and is only fractionally more important than overall skill, if any.
None of that surprises me, but it’s also not entirely fair, either. While average points per match does even out a different number of matches played by players, that still doesn’t bring into account a different strength of opponents as well as different strength of partners. So, I went back to even that out:
Basically, I compared each players opponent to their possible average among remaining teammates. For example, Jim Furyk played with Tiger Woods all four group matches. That’s an average of -1.08 when the rest of the American team Furyk could have played with would have been around -.42. So, Furyk played with a partner that was about -.66 standard deviations better than the US average.
The next step was to compare the player’s opponents to the average of European groups. The average American group would be around -.43. Of course, that’s not very comforting if you get Tiger and Furyk who are around -.93 together. Then I used a match play simulator to adjust the number of points won per match based on both your opponent’s difficulty and the strenth of your partner. Here’s what I got:
PPM=Points Per Match
Delta PAR/OPP= Difference from actual PAR/OPP compared with average PAR/OPP
|USA||Actual PPM||delta PAR||delta OPP||ADJ PPM|
|EUROPE||Actual PPM||delta PAR||delta OPP||ADJ PPM|
|Jose Maria Olazabal||1.00||0.19||-0.16||0.99|
Once again, IN 2006 BEING A “HOTTER PLAYER” TRANSLATED INTO LESS POINTS AT THE RYDER CUP.
No matter how you slice it, the Ryder Cup is incredibly susceptible to a lot of variance. Twenty-eight Matches in different formats over 3 days just leads to a lot of randomness. It’s important to remember that when people take an incredibly-biased-results-based view of what happens this September. It’s also important to remember that like most golf tournaments it’s not surprising that recent form didn’t mean too much in the 2006 Ryder Cup. Sure, maybe it’s enough to tip the scales over equal players, but overall, in the long run, any team is better off just having the better players.