First, read panelist Sean Martin’s take on the Sloan Sports Conference’s golf panel over at Golfweek.

I was interested in a couple of things: First up was the PGA Tour’s great new stat, putts gained. Not.

I think this has to be the most useless use of a great source of data: shotlink. I may go crazy saying this, but putting just really isn’t that important in the long run on the PGA Tour. Yes, on any given week, they guy who gets lucky and makes a lot of putts is going to do well. Over a three or five-year period, it’s remarkable how similar PGA players are on the putting greens. (For more: Read here and here.) I’m not saying there is no difference, I’m saying most of it in the short run can be explained by randomness, and it’s just not as large as it appears when Tiger is fist pumping with a full gallery screaming on Sunday afternoon over the long run.

Luckily, Putts gained will probably tell us this. I banged out a putts gained type stat based on the PGA Tour in 2010. It’s basically the difference between your percentage of putts made in certain areas (inside 5 feet, 5-10, etc.) multiplied by the average number of putts made from those distances subtracted from the average number of made putts from that distance by a PGA Tour pro. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn close for 20 minutes of copying and pasting.

Here’s a look at the top-10:

Paul Casey


Greg Chalmers


Luke Donald


Brian Gay


Chad Collins


Retief Goosen


Carl Pettersson


Zach Johnson


Dean Wilson


Matt Kuchar


And, the Bottom-10:

Cameron Tringale


Garth Mulroy


Greg Owen


Roger Tambellini


Omar Uresti


Chris Wilson


Nicholas Thompson


Mark Calcavecchia


Billy Mayfair


Jeff Gove


So, roughly 1.6 strokes per round difference between the absolute best putter on the PGA Tour and absolute worst putter on PGA Tour. In terms of actual strokes between these players, the difference between the absolute best and absolute worst was around 4.5. Based on the standard deviations, putting accounts for roughly 15% of the variance between players on tour. The R-sq is around .22 between this “putts-gained” and actual stroke. Not meaningless, but not a huge correlation.

Of course the other issue is how much randomness seeps into putting. Here’s a look at the correlation in putting percentages on 6-foot putts from year-to-year:











Meaning that there isn’t a whole lot of carry over from being a good putter in 2009 to being a good putter in 2010, etc. Again, that’s not perfect and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a little higher with some kind of “putts gained” stat, but the point is, most of what we define as skill in putting is just luck or good variance. Good putting is just not that predictive of more good putting or good play. Hopefully the PGA Tour acknowledges that, but I doubt they will.

My second point of contention with this was this paragraph:

Analytics never will allow us to predict the winner of a golf tournament with 100 percent certainty. It never will guarantee that a certain college star will become a major champion, or that one of his peers is destined to a career on the Nationwide Tour. There always will be exceptions to the conclusions reached through quantitative analysis, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Analytics provide a new way to evaluate what we see.

If you think about it like that, then there is really no point of using “analytics.” I suck at telling you who will win a certain golf tournament, but I am pretty darn good at estimating the chances of someone winning. It’s not perfect, but I’m always hopeful I can be more accurate. The other part of this is the exceptions part. Of course there are exceptions. Tiger Woods is an exception. The winner of a tournament each week is an exception. Every pro golfer is an exception compared to the regular golfer. I hate when people use the exception to say that quantitative analysis doesn’t matter. The average can tell us a lot about golf, or anything, and more often than not the exceptions are just normal statistical outliers.

Anyway, the Sloan Conference seemed to have some potential, but not surprisingly, I’m not sure much came out of it. Maybe when the PGA Tour stops hogging its “much coveted” data people can make some real breakthroughs in golf.


1 Comment

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  1. Aaron Evans

    This stat is a big deal because at least it tells you how well a guy putted for a round versus the old stat of total putts made. Obviously over a season the putting doesn’t seem to affect your score too greatly, so the problem is that they are not reporting the putts gained for a single round. It would be interesting to see how many strokes a player made up with putting during a magical putting round or maybe even more interesting to see how somebody threw away a great ball striking round with horrible putting. If you add the putts gained to the score for the round you could come up with how well you hit the ball (and chipped/recovered). So this new stat could actually tell you alot about how well a player did off the green….For example: now they record approach shots by using avg proximity to the hole as a function of distance. They instead should be adding the putts gained to the number of strokes it took to get the ball in the hole from that approach distance to get to get an approach score that says how they scored if they putted like an average putter. ie. if 10 ft putt averages 1.5 strokes putting and they hit it to 10 ft and it takes one shot to get to green they get a approach score of 2.5. IF 3 ft putt averages 1.1 strokes putting and they hit it to 3 ft but it takes 2 shots to get to green cause they miss the green they get approach score of 3.1. This approach scores should be averaged not proximity. (Of course every approach shot is not the same due to angle/hazards etc so that would need to be adjusted somehow).

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