HOW TO EVALUATE TOP COLLEGE TALENT

One of the interesting things about the Fall Series is that a lot of top college players from last season will play in a few tournaments. It’s always hard to actually guess how good these players really are, especially when they keep posting high finishes like Patrick Cantlay, Bud Cauley and Peter Uihlein.

Luckily, Golfweek has some pretty good objective college rankings that are similarly judged against the field you play against like my rankings.

So, let’s compare the Top-10 from their college rankings from the last 3 years and their performance on tour.

Year

Z-Score

Rds

Sag Avg.

Class of 2011

0.014

96

69.00

Class of 2010

0.390

53

69.70

Class of 2009

0.138

100

69.55

Class of 2008

0.278

52

69.50

AVERAGE

0.167

301

69.39

Note, that the Sag. Avg. is the average ranking from Sagarin’s college rankings. Also, Class of 2011 doesn’t mean that’s when the graduated, it’s simply 2011 performance from players in the top-10 of the 2010-11 rankings.

To put the average column into perspective, that basically means that the top-10 college players are about in the middle of the average PGA-Tour pro and Nationwide Tour Pro.

Next, a look at, how the actual Sagarin ranking for the individual player compares to performance on pro tours for that year.

This only counts players with more than 8 rounds on pro tours, since 2003. As you can imagine, a lot of randomness in here, but still a correlation that makes sense.

Now, a look at 2011 for three of the top players from last year’s college rankings:

2011

Projected

Actual

Act. Rds

Peter Uihlein

0.0263

-0.019

20

Patrick Cantlay

-0.0161

-0.363

20

Bud Cauley

0.1922

-0.468

22

Uihlein is the only one that has played close to average. Cantlay and Cauley are the No. 1 and 2 players dating back to 2003, and probably since Tiger came out of college in 1996, though neither Sagarin or my numbers currently go back that far. Of course, there is a lot of good fortune that goes into their nice play so far.

Obviously, I’m not the only one trying to do this, last week Vegas opened Cantlay at -150 over Cauley. My estimate based on those projections would be about -190 to Cantlay.

Finally, if you are trying to judge how good these players would eventually become here’s a few things to consider:

Cantlay’s historic performance is not out of nowhere. His 2010-11 college season was the third lowest since 2003. The two below him, Bill Haas and Ryan Moore. After him, Hunter Mahan, Peter Uihlein and Spencer Levin. That certainly bodes well for Uihlein and Cantlay.

Here’s how the other four have fared in their pro careers: (0 = last college year)

These guys all came out below average in their final college season. Interestingly, the first year they took up the tour, they all were worse players, except Hunter Mahan, who was fractions better, but basically the same. They all have also improved pretty steadily and by their late 20s were inside the top-30 in the world.

That’s a lot of talent that Cantlay and Uihlein have shown.

Cauley is no slouch, either. The five players closest to him are D.J. Trahan, Chris Kirk, Camilo Villegas Joel Sjoholm and Rhys Davies. That group isn’t quite as established but still good. Only Villegas had as consistent a college career based on the Sagarin Rankings as Cauley as had.

As for this week, Cauley was the early favorite against Chris Kirk. I know he played well last week, but I don’t really agree with that. If Cauley is really in the class of Cantlay and Uihlein than that should basically be a toss-up, but if he is a little behind that, then I would say Kirk is a -140 or -130 favorite. I’ll be interested to see what that line closes at.

 

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