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The Numbers Game

Graphing the World Rankings

Sep. 15, 2013     By     Comments (1)

xxxxA few months ago, back when Tiger was chasing down the number one ranking, I got an idea: Why not graph out the trajectories of the world's top players over their careers, using the official data available on the Official Golf World Rankings website? At the time, the OWGR site only provided downloadable player data back until about 2003, which is fine for the careers of Rory McIlroy and Brand Snedeker, but, as you'll see below, the Phil Mickelson graph from 2003 on is relatively boring.

Thankfully, when I looked at the data again this month, they had expanded the data all the way back to their career beginnings. Ernie Els, for instance, the oldest player I tracked, has data going back to 1989.

So this is what I decided to do: I got the points tally and OWGR ranking data for the top 15 players in the world as of July 7th (a while ago, I know, but it takes a while to compile and graph all of the data), and graphed both sets. The OWGR points and rankings are through that same day, so they do not include Phil Mickelson's Scottish Open win or his British Open title. Tiger's Bridgestone win is similarly unrepresented.

I decided to normalize the y-axes with a maximum of 25 points and a 500 ranking for comparison's sake, though with some of the more consistent golfers (Tiger, Phil, Ernie for much of the mid-2000s) that is a bit to their detriment (in that you can't see the more slight variations). The x-axes are different for each player, going back to the very beginnings of their pro careers. The OWGR data can get a bit wonky at the very beginnings of the data, which you can see pretty easily in the Tiger and Rory graphs. The y-axes cutoffs do minimize that a bit.

At the beginning I've also created two graphs, which superimpose data for all 15 players dating back to 2003.

If graphs aren't your thing, well, read the captions and enjoy the colors. And if you have to use Excel all day at your job, fear not, for I used the Apple app, Numbers.

OWGR Graphs July 2013 Top 15 Points

OWGR Graphs July 2013 Top 15 Ranking

Can Keeping Stats Help Your Game?

Apr. 14, 2012     By     Comments (7)

The Numbers GameGolf is a game where progress and ability can be measured in many different ways. There is, of course, the raw score; whether one is a scratch golfer or shoots in the 100s, for many of us, this is the only number that matters to us.

However, many golfers take that to another level. For some that means posting their scores and keeping a handicap whereby they can "level the playing field" and compete with others of differing abilities. Others keep different stats to track their abilities and improvement in different areas.

Belly Putters: The Long and Short of It

Mar. 27, 2012     By     Comments (10)

The Numbers Game2011 was quite an interesting year for golf; sure we didn't see Tiger return to form (signs are pointing to that occurring this year), but there were a number of things happening that kept golf fans entertained. We were treated to three different number ones in the world in Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald and saw four first-time major winners (Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke, and Bradley), which is something that we haven't seen since 2003.

One of the biggest trends that picked up in 2011 was many players moving towards long or belly putters. It had always seemed like the long putter was for old guys or those that got the yips but the idea has become more popular as of late. Recently we have seen Adam Scott put the broomstick in the bag and the move gained even more steam with Keegan Bradley being the first to win a major with a long putter as he captured the PGA Championship in August. Three straight wins and the steady play of other long putter users such as Webb Simpson (who contended for the money title) only added to the intrigue.

Regardless of your feelings on whether or not long putters should be legal, they are here for now and more and more players, both amateurs and professionals, are putting them in their bags. The question is this: are long putters just a fad and something to be forgotten in a few years or are they the real deal? Do they actually help the players using them sink more putts or is just between the ears? We'll look at some stats from the PGA tour to see if 1) players using the long putter putt better than those with standard length putters and 2) if players who have made the switch improved upon their own putting regardless of where they ranked before.

Birdies on the PGA Tour

Oct. 16, 2009     By     Comments (2)

The Numbers GameLet's talk about everyone's favorite topic: birdies, who makes them, and how much it helps your round. I remember the first time I shot under 40 for nine holes: I shot a 38 that included two birdies. Take away those and I don't break 40 that day. Over a year before that, I birdied the 17th on my way to breaking 90 for the first time with an 87. A bogey instead would still have me breaking 90 that day, but the bird makes me sound clear and focused (the truth is that I had no idea where I stood on the 17th tee).

Most professionals aren't concerned with looking cool, and if they're worried about breaking 40 or 90, we probably aren't seeing them in the winner's circle on a regular basis. But they are concerned with birdies.

This week we take a look at birdies on the PGA Tour.

Scoring vs. Skill on the PGA Tour

Mar. 12, 2008     By     Comments (9)

The Numbers GameWell, we're barely into the 2008 season on the PGA Tour, but the statistics collected already tell many different stories. For those of you who are at least mildly interested in statistics, if you've never visited the stats section of PGATour.com, you should. The dropdown menus of ad hoc reports available to anyone with a laptop and WiFi connection is fantastic! And I'm sure with some mid to high level 'tech' skills it would be easy to use a report writer software tool to push, pull, and twist data from existing reports to create your own.

Money List vs. FedExCup Points List

Aug. 21, 2007     By     Comments (10)

The Numbers GameWhen the FedExCup was announced way back in 2005, the questions began. Does golf really need a playoff system? What kind of playoffs doesn't eliminate people? Why do 144 people qualify for the playoffs when only 125 keep their PGA Tour cards?

The question I asked myself (and which Dave Koster asked last year) was a simpler one: isn't this just another way of rejigging the money list? The formula for handing out FedExCup points is very similar to the way in which prize money is handed out.

So why create a separate measure at all? Wouldn't using the money list be "good enough"? PGA Tour fans have watched the money list for years. It's a simple value that makes a lot of sense.

Let's have a look at how things shook out. Are the money list and the FedExCup brothers from different mothers?

Network TV Golf Coverage

Jul. 10, 2007     By     Comments (21)

The Numbers Game"They always show Tiger even when he's not in contention."

"I want to see more golf. Less jibber-jabbering and network promos, more actual golf shots."

"Why do they always show people walking around when other players are hitting golf shots?"

No doubt you've heard golf fans complaining about network coverage of PGA Tour events. This weekend, I put CBS on the clock and took notes on their network coverage of the inaugural AT&T National. The results… well they may not surprise you, but they do shed some light on the subject.

2007 U.S. Open Scores

Jun. 19, 2007     By     Comments (2)

The Numbers GameWe all know how hard the U.S. Open is, and we knew how hard the it was going to be at Oakmont Country Club, but did it live up to expectations?

This week we'll take a look at a few of the more interesting statistics from the 107th playing of the U.S. Open.

Par is a Good Score

Jun. 12, 2007     By     Comments (5)

The Numbers GameThe U.S. Open is notorious for its idea of par as a standard. The courses that host the tournament are usually set up to be quite penal. "Par is a good score" you'll hear pros say, and this year's event at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, PA is looking no different.

The typical U.S. Open course has pinched fairways, long holes, super-fast, super-firm undulating greens, and the nastiest, thickest, juiciest rough you'll ever want to see.

And yet the U.S. Open typically plays to about even par, and is actually trending lower. Let's have a look.

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