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Par is a Good Score

Jun. 12, 2007     By     Comments (5)

Would you believe that the average winning score at the U.S. Open since 1945 has been below par? You'd better.

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.

The Trend
Over time, the occasional flukes (like Tiger Woods' 2000 performance at Pebble Beach) are averaged out by the, well, average. If we plot all U.S. Open scores from 1945 to 2006 with a trend line, we notice one fairly important thing: the average score in relation to par is going down:

U.S. Open Winning Scores

Wow. I'll bet that's not what you were expecting, was it? Here's the hard data:

Year       Score       To Par
----       -----       ------
2006        285          +5
2005        280           E
2004        276          -4
2003        272          -8
2002        277          -3
2001        276          -4
2000        272         -12
1999        279          -1
1998        280           E
1997        276          -4
1996        278          -2
1995        280           E
1994        279          -5
1993        272          -8
1992        285          -3
1991        282          -6
1990        280          -8
1989        278          -2
1988        278          -6
1987        277          -3
1986        279          -1
1985        279          -1
1984        276          -4
1983        280          -4
1982        282          -6
1981        273          -7
1980        272          -8
1979        284           E
1978        285          +1
1977        278          -2
1976        287          +3
1975        277          -3
1974        287          +7
1973        279          -5
1972        290          +2
1971        280           E
1970        281          -7
1969        281          +1
1968        275          -5
1967        275          -5
1966        278          -2
1965        282          +2
1964        278          -2
1963        293          +9
1962        283          -1
1961        281          +1
1960        280          -4
1959        282          +2
1958        283          +3
1957        282          +2
1956        281          +1
1955        287          +7
1954        284          +4
1953        283          -5
1952        281          +1
1951        287          +7
1950        287          +7
1949        286          +2
1948        276          -8
1947        282          -2
1946        284          -4

The trend line predicts a final score at this year's U.S. Open of -4.5. Sports bettors take note: that should be your true over/under number from a statistical analysis. Of course, sports betting doesn't work that way, and the last time I checked, the over/under was about +3.

The trend line, it should be noted, is just that: a line. If the USGA has changed their policy, say, since 2000, it would be far too early to notice a shift. After all, there are 55 years of scores on one side of 2000 and only six points on the other side. Tiger's 15-shot victory at Pebble Beach may serve to flatten the trend line over time, but it likely won't have much effect while Tiger is still playing the game.

The Play
Also obtained from all of these numbers was the average score for a U.S. Open win since 1946. Looking at the graph above, I would have never guessed the average: -1.6. Rounding up (or is it down?), we can say two under par is the average winning score for a U.S. Open since 1945. If the USGA's intent is to play a golf tournament at about even par, they've done a pretty good job.

I also took a look at the winning score mode. The mode - the most common number in a data set - is not always the best statistic, but sometimes it can be revealing. The most common, popular, or prevalent score in winning a U.S. Open since 1945 is four under par (-4), or one under par per round over four rounds of golf.

The Conclusion
I like the idea of playing courses with the hardest conditions possible for the major championships. It really separates the boys from the men. For all of us amateurs, par is what we strive for, and it's nice to see the pros do the same once in awhile. It's nice to see the pros struggle from the rough when they miss the fairway like we do. It's a nice change of pace to see all the scores very close to par.

Since 1945, the average score has been -1.6. Since 2000, it's actually been a bit lower: -2.3. Will Oakmont serve, as Winged Foot did last year, in pushing the average a teeny bit higher, or will it relent and yield a sub-par total? We'll have to wait and see.

As an Introduction
Thank you for read this week's The Numbers Game. My name is Harry Solomon, and I am a new staff member here at The Sand Trap. I'm taking the reigns from Dave Koster, which is a scary endeavor. Even with my size 13s, I have big shoes to fill.

I encourage you to get in touch with me if you have ideas you'd like to see explored in future editions of TNG. Or, as always, post a comment below. I'd love to hear from you.

This article was written by guest author Harry Solomon, an active member of our forum.

Discussion

  1. will says:

    That's interesting stuff. I would never have guessed that last year was the first since 1978 for an over-par winner.

    The course rating at Oakmont is 78.3, which I would think is higher than most US Opens, but I haven't checked. I'd guess the USGA would be happy with a score anywhere from par to +5 or +6. I just hope they haven't made it too difficult, with the guys struggling to have a decent round.

  2. JP Bouffard says:

    Great article, Harry. Have you thought of grouping the numbers for specific courses and seeing what the trend is there?

    It's difficult to compare apples to apples even this way, since they redesign the courses for the opens, but it could be revealing. I've done some similar looking at Masters scoring, which is a better study given that the course was relatively unchanged for several years.

  3. Cuneo says:

    nice article, go VJ!

  4. Harry Solomon says:

    Great article, Harry. Have you thought of grouping the numbers for specific courses and seeing what the trend is there?

    No I haven't looked at that yet. I'm going to take a quick look to see if it would be possible. Usually for any group of data under 8 data points its not very reliable and with Oakmont having it the most at 8 this year, I do not think it will yield any good results.

  5. Agmines says:

    :mrgreen: You got it dead on right regarding a +5 and +6 US Open finish. Oakmont is the closest Golf Course in America to Saint Andrews. Everyone would have prefer that Tiger Woods would join Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, but that is the breaks.

    In 2016, the US Open returns to Oakmont, Tiger will have another chance to play and win on the Toughest Course in America, bar none! :razz:

    That's interesting stuff. I would never have guessed that last year was the first since 1978 for an over-par winner.

    The course rating at Oakmont is 78.3, which I would think is higher than most US Opens, but I haven't checked. I'd guess the USGA would be happy with a score anywhere from par to +5 or +6. I just hope they haven't made it too difficult, with the guys struggling to have a decent round.

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