THE MOST UNFAIR STARTING HOLE IN GOLF

Remember when ESPN was flipping out about players starting on No. 10 at the US Open at Congressional. Turns out that wasn’t even close to the worst starting hole in golf.

It’s turns out the most unfair starting hole in golf is the first hole of the British Open’s first two rounds.

Unlike the US Open and all other tournaments I can think of, which use split tees, the British Open has 156 players in the field and they all tee off No. 1. Sounds more fair than the US Open right?

Actually, it’s completely wrong. There may be a small difference in scores for starting on a tough hole, but it turns out it’s nowhere near the potential disadvantage of teeing off spread out over 9.5 hours of the same tee. This can, and has, exposed the field over the past two years to wildly different playing conditions. Here’s a look at today’s action:

The chart shows, in blue, the average score a player could be expected to make based on his two-year ranking and the full field average today. In red is the average score by tee time that the field actually recorded. Obviously score, in strokes, is on the Y-axis. The X axis is time, in hours, after the first group teed off.

The R-squared for each of these lines was about .2, which seems pretty high for something that has a lot of randomness in it like threesome scores and supposedly PGA Tour pairings. Obviously there is some correlation between tee times and skill because the majors all group the good players together in certain windows so they can maximize their appearances on TV.

What does this mean?

Both of these lines are sixth-order polynomial equations, so Excel wasn’t very good at rounding them. I messed around with them a little and came up with a chart about the stroke difference relative to the field based on your tee times. It was roughly a 4.7 stroke difference between the worst tee times (Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Ryo Ishikawa, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy) and the best (Robert Rock, Webb Simpson, Alejandro Canizares, Justin Leonard, Jeff Overton, Kurt Barnes).

It’s probably not too exact and there is a good deal of randomness in a small sample of golf results for sure, but once again, I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say different weather conditions for different times did have some impact on the British Open today.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “THE MOST UNFAIR STARTING HOLE IN GOLF

  1. It would be interesting to see how far back it could go. Have they ever started players on split tees at an Open? I can’t recall it happening and it doesn’t seem like a concern for the R&A.

    Split tees still can produce some different scoring conditions as well. It’s all up to having weather that co-operates which isn’t often!

  2. The difference with split tees is that the tee times are much closer together. Players will tend to play slightly different conditions under split tees.

    Off the same tee, there were players that teed off, finished there round and there were still like three hours left of tee times. It just leads to wildly different playing conditions.

    Not to say it can’t happen in split tees (Bethpage 09), but it takes something pretty crazy like a day of play getting postponed after half the field is halfway through their round, then coming out the next day in the most benign conditions possible and the other half of the draw playing practically 36 holes on that day.

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