Europe vs. America in Numbers

After the Ryder Cup I thought it would be interesting to compare the European Tour and the PGA Tour. Players participating on both tours provided interesting, and somewhat strange results.

The Numbers GameA stat appeared on my television while I was watching the Ryder Cup on Sunday. The stat listed Paul Casey as being sixth on the European Tour in Greens in Regulation (GIR) at 75.1%. As the resident “numbers guy,” I was taken aback. I knew that Tiger Woods was ranked first on the PGA Tour… but with a GIR rate of nowhere close to 75%.

So I thought it would be worthwhile in this installment of The Numbers Game to compare players stats on both sides of the pond – the European Tour and the PGA Tour – to see what it might reveal. I’m not looking to identify the better tour – just see what the numbers tell us. I was surpised what they had to say!

I looked at the players who have played enough tournaments on both tours to be ranked in each statistical category. Some of the tournaments, like majors and WCG Championships, count towards both, but each of the players had enough difference in their numbers to make analysis worthwhile.

The first thing I looked at was my favorite stat – GIR. Below is the difference between the players GIR percent on the European Tour minus their GIR percent on the PGA Tour:

Player                Euro GIR    PGA GIR      Diff
------                --------    -------      ----
Luke Donald             74.0        66.2       7.80
Ernie Els               76.3        63.6      12.70
Sergio Garcia           74.0        66.7       7.20
Retief Goosen           73.7        64.6       9.10
Padraig Harrington      68.4        65.0       3.40
David Howell            71.3        61.3      10.00
Graeme McDowell         63.0        63.3      -0.30
Ian Poulter             70.8        65.3       5.50

As you can see, it is pretty obvious – these players hit a lot less greens on the PGA Tour. Graeme McDowell was the only one to hit more, but only by 0.3%. David Howell and Ernie Els are significantly better. Els is 135th on the PGA tour this year at 63.6% GIR. On the European Tour, the South African is hitting 76.3% GIR on the European Tour, good for second place.

To me, it’s amazing that every single player, outside of McDowell, has a significant increase on the European Tour. Is it possible that they are just better because they are more comfortable with courses in Europe? Not likely when there are 14 players hitting greens at a higher rate than Tiger on the PGA Tour. It’s more likely that it has to do with the style of courses. Bigger greens perhaps?

Well, if these guys are hitting more greens because the greens are bigger, they probably have longer putts… and therefore a higher PA. Right? Well, not exactly.

Player                 Euro PA     PGA PA      Diff
------                 -------     ------      ----
Luke Donald             1.746       1.763     -0.017
Ernie Els               1.775       1.780     -0.005
Sergio Garcia           1.737       1.804     -0.067
Retief Goosen           1.751       1.766     -0.015
Padraig Harrington      1.731       1.755     -0.024
David Howell            1.723       1.735     -0.012
Graeme McDowell         1.789       1.788      0.001
Ian Poulter             1.743       1.791     -0.048

In fact, all the players who hit more greens on the European Tour had better putting averages on the European Tour. Graeme McDowell was the only player, again, to have a higher PA… and he was the one player who hit less greens on the European Tour.

Putting seems to translate similarly between tours when looking at the numbers. Sure the players listed above putted better, but their averages for the most part were relatively close. The two exceptions were Ian Poulter and the ever perplexing Sergio Garcia. For the last few years Garcia has lost his touch on the greens, at least on the PGA Tour he has. I was shocked to see that he was 11th in putting on the European Tour. A .067 difference may not sound like much, but with it he is ranked 159th on the PGA Tour.

Silly, isn’t it? How can one golfer go from extremes like Garcia. He has done so on the PGA Tour over the years, but I never expected such a divergence from tour to tour.

So if guys are hitting more greens and averaging less putts per GIR, then their scoring must be lower, right? Bzzzzzzzzzzt. Wrong again. I’ll take statistical oddities for $600, Alex.

Player                Euro Avg    PGA Avg      Diff
------                --------    -------      ----
Luke Donald             70.22       69.24      0.98
Ernie Els               70.30       69.98      0.32
Sergio Garcia           69.97       70.52     -0.55
Retief Goosen           70.50       70.39      0.21
Padraig Harrington      70.56       70.38      0.18
David Howell            70.88       71.03     -0.15
Graeme McDowell         71.46       71.27      0.19
Ian Poulter             70.73       70.40      0.33

As you can see, most of the players have a lower scoring average on the PGA Tour. Sergio, by virtue of his drastic putting average drop, was the only one to have a siginificant drop in scoring average. That was the only thing that wasn’t surprising.

The big shock is that Luke Donald is nearly one full stroke higher on the European Tour. Even with a huge gain (7%) in GIR and a slight drop in PA, Donald did not drop his average score. Are most of the courses in Europe par 73 or 74? I’m baffled.

In fact, if you look at the two stats alone, we find only one player on the European Tour (Garcia) averaging less than 70 strokes per round while the PGA Tour has 14. Looking at Putting and GIR stats on both tours, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion. Now my brain is starting to hurt.

Ok, so I’m going to go to a different statistical category to give my head a rest.

Player                 Euro DD     PGA DD      Diff
------                 -------     ------      ----
Luke Donald             276.6       284.7      -8.1
Ernie Els               296.2       294.6       1.6
Sergio Garcia           301.1       292.7       8.4
Retief Goosen           284.9       298.7     -13.8
Padraig Harrington      289.1       294.7      -5.6
David Howell            281.0       289.7      -8.7
Graeme McDowell         282.4       290.2      -7.8
Ian Poulter             281.7       288.4      -6.7

This confirmed my what I had originally thought… that the players would be longer on the PGA Tour than the European. That’s primarily because of two things.

First, on average, the courses in the U.S. are at a higher altitude. More altitude equals more distance. Second, and this probably subject to some debate, I think that the U.S. players are a bit more “fitness crazy” than the Euros. I look at the US players – OK I turn a blind eye to Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Tim Herron, and players named Bubba – and see a lot of young, strong and tall players. Europeans seem to be skinny and shorter. Like I said, this might be nuts, but just my impression.

Of course, I also had the impression that the U.S. team would be competitive last week… and that turned out to be quite wrong.

9 thoughts on “Europe vs. America in Numbers”

  1. I’d be inclined to agree with the “more fitness” concept if you weren’t comparing the same players. Know what I mean? They don’t suddenly become more fit when they travel to this side of the pond.

  2. This probably has more to do with differnces in course conditioning than any thing else. I don’t have any first hand knowledge but announcers often refer to the better course conditions and faster greens on the American Tour.

    I am hoping that this is Daves hobby, I doubt he gets paid much.

  3. I can think of the following reasons to help explain the anomalies of scoring and driving distance.

    Scoring – Scoring can be harder in the windier conditions on the Euro PGA and may cause more water balls off the tee and out of bounds locations. I also wonder if the Euro’s pro-rate the scoring averages each week like we do here in the states, so that we can compare apples to apples. The Euro’s may be more focused when they play in the states, because they usually participate in the bigger events.

    Driving distance – Weather is better in the states (less wind) where the PGA plays and the course fairways may be better maintained to help with roll. Another factor may be that the PGA only measures distance on holes that the prima donnas (I mean PGA pro’s) want their distance to be measured, and the Euro PGA players don’t have such a strong say or union (so to speak).

    Just some thoughts.

    Great reading.

  4. Fascinating. Since the Europeans are so whipped into a lather about the Nationwide Tour touting itself as the “second strongest” tour in the world, it might be equally interesting to add a third column comparing the stats of the top 8 Nationwide players.

    But please, don’t go to all that work! I really think any comparison goes beyond the stats. The Ryder Cup is about a state of mind and the Europeans have proven they can play out of their mind.

    A week after Tiger makes few birdies in his matchup with Furyk, he shoots 63 today. Nice.

    Anyway, great job, Dave.

  5. Jack – the problem with that is that most Nationwide Tour players haven’t played enough events on the PGA and European tours to have their stats count. Dave only used statistics of players who have registered stats on both tours.

  6. Erik – you’re right.

    Jack – I still think it would be interesting to compare the two in some fashion. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how…maybe looking at nationwide players performance on the PGA Tour in the same events that the European players are.

    That would be interesting…but hard to pull the data together for.

    And Bob, no, I don’t have too much time…I don’t have any left! 🙂

  7. it appears to me that you have list players which play on both tours but tend to play more events in the USA. this of course doesnt explain much as regards the GIR and PA statistics but perhaps because they are more concerned they score better on the PGA tour??

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