Thursday, June 15, 2006

I Don't Even Like Golf

As many of you know, I spent a summer as a sport psychology intern at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida. One of my rotations was at the David Ledbetter Golf Academy. While I was there one of my responsibilities was to give daily sport psychology lectures to the young attendees. The topic of one lecture was clutch performance and some of the materials I was provided included a comparison of the PGA Tour statistics of Fred Funk and Barry Cheesman (I promise you he is a real golfer).

Apparently during the year prior to my internship these two golfers had identical scoring averages. The difference was that Fred Funk had earned a large sum of money and Barry Cheesman did not (I don’t remember the specifics, sorry). The point my lecture focused on was that although the two golfers had the same average score per round, Fred Funk seemingly performed his best when it mattered (i.e. on Sundays) and subsequently brought home the mad cheddar.

Because this point had gone over so well during my lectures and given my predilection for statistical quirks I have frequently worked to examine and update these stats for future use. What I recently found will be the topic of this piece.

Here are the most recent PGA Tour statistics for two golfers:

Golfer A
Events: 13
Rounds: 47
Scoring Avg: 70.1

Golfer B
Events: 14
Rounds: 47
Scoring Avg: 70.06

Alright so far, so good and the two look to have nearly identical statistics. Now given my earlier story you might have guessed that a discrepancy exists between their current earnings. If so – bingo – good guess, that’s why you read such an educated blog. Anyway here are the yearly earnings for these two golfers:

Golfer A - $2,798,212

Golfer B - $941,521

That works out to a difference in income of $1,856,691 or roughly the equivalent of the current salary of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Austin Kearns.

Again a logical guess would be that Golfer A is a more clutch performer and as a result, has probably played more final rounds, likely has a lower average final round score and might have even won a tournament or two. In this case you would be only partially correct.

Both Golfer A and Golfer B played 14 final rounds, so the discrepancy is not due to differences in the number of Sundays spent on the links. In addition, it is important to note that Golfer A has indeed won twice thus far in 2006, while Golfer B has yet to win a tournament. Given this information one would probably assume then, that Golfer A has a lower final round scoring average than Golfer B. Here is where that assumption dies an honorable death.

Final Round Scoring Avg.
Golfer A – 72.0
Golfer B – 69.8

For the record Golfer A is Stuart Appleby and Golfer B is Stewart Cink. As you can see, in this instance (and with only a cursory glance at the stats) we are not able to attribute the discrepancy in earnings to clutch performances when the big money is on the line. From a sport psychology perspective it just seems counterintuitive that a player who earns that much less than Appleby would actually score lower on Sundays. I’m not exactly sure what to attribute the differences to. Maybe Cink is out of the top 10 on Sundays and can perform without that added pressure or perhaps Appleby has had big leads going into Sunday and has then not needed his top performance. Or maybe once again we should turn to the immortal wisdom of Homer Simpson as it was he who uttered the following:

“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that.”


Post a Comment

<< Home