Monday, July 24, 2006

Statistics (and other truths)

While compiling my Top 20 list last week, I relied heavily on the statistics page at LPGA.com. During my deliberations on where exactly to rank Stacy Prammanasudh, I had to judge on-the-fly which stats were more/less meaningful. Despite what many columnists and tv commentators will tell you, there are NO meaningless stats. There are lots of stats that mean less than others, that is true. I decided to spend a little time and try to sort out the wheat from the chaff. So here, in decreasing order of their correlation to being a successful golfer, are the “best” golf statistics.

#1 Victories
My first draft of this list omitted Victories entirely. Then I saw it on the LPGA stat page and went DOH!! You can average 69 strokes a round, hit 80% of the fairways, and 90% of the greens in regulation, but if you never win a tournament you’re just a wannabe (insert reference to attractive winless player here).

#2 Scoring Average
Just nosed out the Money List for #2. I figured since Money and Victories are so closely linked, that Scoring Average should go here. Scoring Average rewards good consistent play and is especially effective at listing the best players over an entire season. You can’t finish high here with too many 76s.

#3 Money List
For many years, the unofficial Tour champion has been the player who finishes first on this list. Actually, that may HAVE been the Official Champion, I don’t know for sure. They’ll do it right this fall at the ADT Championship. Money List has a lot of things going for it – you win 2 or 3 tournaments, make one of them a major, finish in the Top Ten about a dozen times, you’ll be near the top. It discriminates against the player who plays well in events with smaller purses. Those tournaments are official LPGA events; it’s like awarding 200 points for the winner of the Match Play Championship and only giving 120 points to the winner of the Jamie Farr. Granted the larger purses attract a stronger field, but there is still an unfairness about it.

#4 Top Ten Percentage
The number of Top Tens divided by the number of events played. Could be slightly skewed if a player likes to play only the minor events and skips the big purse events, but you’d have a tough time finding anybody who does that. Otherwise, a very reliable gauge of effectiveness.

#5 Rounds Under Par Percentage
Gets skewed by a player who has fewer total rounds – Reilly Rankin at #10 has played fewer rounds than Annika which basically makes her a part-timer. Could also mask a player who shoots 71 for three rounds and then 78 (RUP% would be 75). Also ignores that par can often be a good score. Despite these things, it does a good job of showing who the top players are.

#6 Greens in Regulation
From here on down, I’ll mainly be looking at how well each stat is “predicting” a player’s overall performance. Are the players at the top of this stat the very best on Tour? GIR does pretty well in that respect. The biggest sore thumb is Angela Stanford at #2, virtually tied with Lorena Ochoa for #1. As you might have guessed, Angela is T97th in Putts Per GIR (see #8) so it’s pretty obvious what she needs to work on. And there’s nobody who’s played better than Lorena.

#7 Birdies
The top 20 of this stat are all playing pretty well. The obvious problem with this and most other counting stats is, Annika Sorenstam is nowhere to be found. The players who play every week have a tremendous advantage over those who have taken two or three weeks off. Where is birdie percentage?

#8 Putts Per GIR
Some very good players in the Top Ten, the sore thumb is Eva Dallof who has less than half the sample size of the others alongside of her. She hasn’t played a full schedule and is 121st in GIR so…The second Ten runs the gamut from Annika and Juli Inkster to Beth Bauer and Il Mi Chung.

Enough of that. Here are the stats you hear about every week that, while they may tell you something about a player’s style, they have almost no correlation to success or failure.

Driving Accuracy
This one shocked me. I figured it would be at least as meaningful as GIR, but the only members of my Top 20 in the Top Ten of this category are Mi Hyun Kim, Julieta Grenada and Shi Hyun Ahn. I thought maybe the important thing is to avoid being near the bottom of this stat, but Se Ri Pak is at 140, Brittany Lincicome is at 127, and Pat Hurst is at 112. I guess those rescue clubs really do work.

Putting Average (Putts per Round)
Shi Hyun Ahn is 7th, Seon Hwa Lee is 8th, Mi Hyun Kim is 10th. The Top Five are A.J. Eathorne, Naree Song, Eva Dallof, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, and Gail Graham. Nuf said.

Driving Distance
Drive for show…Ochoa and Lincicome are my only Top 20 members in the top 13 of this category. Others include Natalie Tucker, Kelly Robbins, and Alena Sharp.

Sand Saves
Annika is 7th. You have to travel down to #25 to find the next Top 20 player, Jeong Jang.

That’s enough statistics talk for now. You probably hated that course in school, didn’t you? Let’s watch them play in France and next time I’ll try to post an item a bit more artistic for you.

1 comment:

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