Science and Golf II: Proceedings of the 1994 World Scientific Congress of Golf

By A. J. Cochran; M. R. Farrally | Go to book overview

30

Comparing players in professional golf

P.D. Larkey

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Abstract

Ranking professional golfers is a special case of the following general rating problem: Rate each player's performance relative to that of the other N-1 players when N players have participated in varying subsets of M tournaments and there is no useful exogenous information about the relative skills of players or about the relative difficulty of the tournaments. This paper describes an algorithmic approach to solving this problem and presents some player rankings that result from applying the algorithm.

Keywords: Golf Statistics, Golf History, Performance Ratings, Performance Measures


1 The Problem of Comparisons

The first difficulty in comparing professional golfers fairly is that there is an insufficient basis in common events to support the comparisons. Players, even two players on the same tour in the same year, are apt to have a limited number of common events as a basis for fair comparisons; Faldo and Langer or Price and Norman usually play in ten to fifteen common events and a like number of “uncommon” events, events in which only one of the pair participates. For comparing many players across tours and years, there is apt to be little or no basis for fair comparisons in common events; Faldo, Langer, Price and Norman may all appear in only the Majors and a handful of other events such as the Memorial and the Player's Championship. The most ambitious comparison, an all-time comparison including the likes of Vardon, Taylor, Braid, Jones, Hagen, Sarazen, Nelson, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo, Langer, Price and Norman, has no possible basis in common events.

Comparing the performances of professional golfers, then, requires the use of uncommon events, events that often vary significantly in scoring conditions, purses, and field quality. The analysis is unusually difficult because there is no directly observable, uncontaminated dependent variable on player performance that can be used to understand the factors that affect performance. We cannot know the quality of a player's performances until we understand the difficulty of the contexts in which the performances occur; but we cannot know the difficulty of the contexts-the quality of the competition-until we know the relative quality of individual players. Solo third at The Open or the Masters is surely a more significant accomplishment than solo third in the German Open or the Hardee's Classic. But how much more? Ultimately, the relative significance turns on the relative quality of the competition.

The second main difficulty in doing fair comparisons is choosing a base measure of performance. Candidate measures include money won, stroke average, total strokes, and various measures of rank (e.g., # of top ten finishes). Each of these candidates is flawed. Money won is grossly misleading in intertemporal comparisons because both the value of money and the amount of money available to win have changed significantly over time. Money won is also misleading in contemporaneous analyses of performance because purse sizes and the significance of the events are imperfectly correlated. Stroke measures are treacherous because there are so many factors that have a profound influence on scoring difficulty; high winds, wind from an unusual direction, soft fairways and hard greens, the speed or grain of the greens, and a few nasty pin placements are some of the many factors that might inflate the scores of any field on a given day. Scores have meaning only relative to the performance of a field of known

Science and Golf II: Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf. Edited by A.J. Cochran and M.R. Farrally. Published in 1994 by E & FN Spon, London. ISBN 0 419 18790 1

-193-

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