Volume Three Hundred Fifty-Nine

Olé or U.S.A., it’s time to cheer, chant, and sing at Muirfield.

Hittin' the LinksHere’s a good question to throw out for your next 19th hole discussion: What week of the golf season features the best group of venues? I think it would be tough to beat this past weekend.

First of all, the Champions Tour players and selected juniors from across the U.S. played the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Not bad for openers, but the week also included the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which was contested on the Old Course at St. Andrews as well as Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. Not a bad trio at all. And just to sweeten the pot a little more, the Web.com Tour Championship wrapped up the finals series on Dye’s Valley Course, you know, the other course at TPC Sawgrass.

Speaking of the Web.com Tour, you could say that the Web.com Tour Championship put the seal on the 2013 PGA TOUR season by determining the final card holders for 2014. This week, HtL looks at the Web.com finale, the Presidents Cup, and more.

Why the U.S. is Getting Dominated at the Ryder Cup

The US Ryder Cup team has not faired well of late, I explore why that is and how to fix it.

Thrash TalkFor the past ten years the U.S.Ryder Cup team has been pretty awful. Actually the U.S. team has been bad since 1997. Save a miracle in 1999 the U.S. has won only one other time, 2006 at Valhalla. Seven to two since 1997 and one needed at the time the greatest comeback in history to get the win. One could argue that the miracle was matched by the European team in 2012, but still seven to two borders on domination.

For 2014 the U.S. PGA has tried to switch up the momentum and brought on Tom Watson who was a previous captain to try and change the tied. I am a big fan of trying something different. Going with Tom is a bit against the grain and the U.S. team certainly needs a jolt. It is an interesting situation because the U.S. team is so dominate in the other team event, the Presidents Cup. Nearly undefeated in fact, add to that Freddie Couples excellent captain’s picks for this year and I don’t expect the International team will be able to beat the U.S. team. So it is not just that the U.S. is bad in team events, because if that were true the U.S. would have lost at least one of the Presidents Cups. So what is the reason the U.S. is so bad in the Ryder Cup.

Why Tiger Should Win the 2013 PGA Tour Player of the Year Award

The statistical argument.

Thrash TalkTiger Woods has had a spectacular year by all accounts. Five PGA Tour wins and not a single missed cut, but no major victories. And that hurts, sure, but how much? Well, that’s what I am here to identify.

There’s a relatively simply stat that goes a bit beyond Old Man Par, called “z-score.” Z-score is simply a way of comparing how someone scores to how the rest of the field scored. For instance, during Jim Furyk’s 59 at the BMW Championship, the average score for all players that made the cut that week was 71.086. Z-score compares the player’s score to that average, and uses the standard deviation of the round’s scores to measure just how tough the course was playing on a given day. The number that the relatively simple formula spits out is a representation of how many standard deviations a player’s score was from the course average. Only the scores from players that made the cut are used, otherwise you would not be able to compare Thursday and Friday rounds to weekend rounds. (Players who missed the cut are, by definition, playing worse, and not having their scores in the weekend course averages would made it look like the course was playing much easier.)

A simple explanation about the ramifications of z-score is that despite shooting a 69 on Saturday and a 67 on Sunday at the TOUR Championship, Tiger’s Saturday z-score was actually better because the course played two shots easier on Sunday, and because the field’s standard deviation that day was a bit higher.

Using the tournament leaderboards from Yahoo! Sports (the PGATour.com ones were a bit tougher to import into a spreadsheet), I plotted an entire season’s worth of z-scores. (You can email or PM me for the full spreadsheet if you’d like.) I calculated the z-score for every player for every round, and then picked out the records of the PGA Tour Player of the Year finalists: Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, and Phil Mickelson.

How did they fare statistically? Read on the find out.

Titleist Introduces the New 714 AP1 and AP2 Irons

Titleist unveils the new 714 series with updates to the AP1 and AP2 irons.

Bag DropWhile it seems that certain companies (and one in particular) continue to pump out new clubs promising the latest and greatest in golf technology, Titleist golf has taken a somewhat different approach. Every other year, the company reveals a new set of irons and in the years in between we get the new drivers and woods. This year is an iron year for Titleist and with it brings the introduction of the new 714 series of irons. As with the past handful of iron releases from Titleist, this group is comprised of updates to the four existing sets; the MB, CB, AP1, and AP2.

2013 TaylorMade SLDR Driver Review

TaylorMade’s newest driver the SLDR, integrates a lower COG along with a brand new moveable weight technology to provide golfers even more adjustability. Does it work? I put it to the test and find out.

TaylorMade SLDRStarting with the release of the R5 driver, TaylorMade has been pushing the envelope of shifting ball flight by using removable weights in the head of the driver. This has been adapted to a point where the weights were put on either side of the driver in order to coax a draw or a fade depending on what the golfer wanted to play. With the release of the SLDR driver TaylorMade has taken ball flight to a new level. The weight to move is now only a single weight and is set in a slider at the bottom of the clubhead.

TaylorMade also introduced a number of other improvements in order to provide a driver that would help them ensure their number one ranking on the PGA Tour. For this review I was given a 10.5 degree driver with a regular shaft. I was lucky enough to get to take this driver for a spin and here are a few of my thoughts.

Volume Three Hundred Fifty-Eight

Cool weather and hot play… Isn’t autumn a great season for golf?

Hittin' the LinksThe calendar says that it is now officially fall; and though the weather is beginning to cool down, the golf is as hot as ever.

Though the 2013 PGA TOUR concluded this past weekend, the 2013-14 season is just a few weeks away. The Web.com Tour Championship this coming weekend will help determine who will be fulltime participants on the PGA TOUR next year and who will be seeking their 2014-15 cards on the Web.com Tour. The LPGA is on sabbatical, but will return Oct. 3 at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing. And a little thing called the Presidents Cup also tees off Oct. 3.

It’s just a great time of the year for a little golf. Let’s get started.

Volume Three Hundred Fifty-Seven

Some saucy fare from France, a deep dish or two from Chicago, and some home cooking (for me) from Columbus.

Hittin' the LinksIt was a big weekend in golf: an LPGA major and the third legs of the playoffs on both the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour.

Weather played a major role at both the BMW Championship in Chicago and at the Evian Championship in Evian, France. The LPGA’s fifth major was shortened to 54 holes, the last 18 of which were played under lift, clean, and place rules. Rain pushed the final round to Monday at the BMW Championship, where Tiger’s final round woes of 2013 continued as he shot even par 71 and finished T11. Meanwhile, another past Masters winner raced up the leaderboard and toward a possible date with destiny in Atlanta.

In this edition of HtL, we have some saucy fare from France, a deep dish or two from Chicago, and some home cooking (for me) from Columbus.

Graphing the World Rankings

Now with 100% more graphs!

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

Volume Three Hundred Fifty-Six

Sir Isaac Newton should have been a golfer, and Tim Tebow should enter a long drive contest.

Hittin' the LinksJust like the NFL, Hittin’ the Links is back! Even though the PGA Tour and LPGA took the week off, there was still plenty of action on and off the links.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals, maybe you should take a look. While it lacks the star power of the FedExCup Playoffs, you will recognize a lot of names (Trevor Immelman, Ricky Barnes, Will MacKenzie, Ryo Ishikawa, Vaughn Taylor, et al.), and the drama doesn’t end when the tournament leader has a three-stroke lead on the 18th tee. While the top 25 money winners from the Web.com Tour’s regular season have already earned PGA Tour cards for 2014, the four week Finals will determine who gets the remaining 25 cards and the final pecking order of those cards. Next week, the Web.com Tour Finals visit my town — Columbus, OH — for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship at The Ohio State University Scarlet Course, before wrapping up the playoffs and season Sept. 26-29 at Dye’s Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, for the Web.com Tour Championship.

In this edition of HtL, we ask the following: Who is the best PGA Tour player with only one win? Is Tim Tebow’s swing speed really 141 mph? And why you should probably consider Newton’s Third Law of Motion when deciding whether to cut a shot around that tree or just chip back into the fairway.