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Mike Weir ranks in golf’s elite, UBC study shows

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Vancouver, BC – Researchers at the University of British Columbia have shown what most weekend golfers already know: it’s hard to play consistently good golf. A new study, to be presented at UBC this week, employs advanced statistical methods to assess the career records of golfers competing on the PGA Tour.

Dr. Martin Puterman, a Professor in the Sauder School of Business, teamed up with Research Assistant Stefan Wittman to offer the first systematic analysis of professional golf performance. Their study compares records of 440 players from different eras, showing how hard it really is to succeed in professional golf. Both Dr. Puterman, whose research usually focuses on improving access to the health care system, and Wittman, a UBC grad, are avid golfers.

“This project gave me a way to combine two of my passions, golf and statistics,“ says Dr. Puterman, 62, a 13 handicapper. Wittman, 25, handicap 7, says the study should give a dose of reality to young golfers contemplating a professional career: “Success is elusive. Only a handful of players ever make it on the Tour.”

The pair analyzed annual PGA Tour earnings data for the period 1980-2006, establishing categories of players who performed similarly throughout their careers. Using money-list data, the researchers classified players into five groups: Elite, Distinguished, Established, Journeymen, and Grinders.

Analysis of the groupings showed that:

  • Very few players (only 28 of the 440 studied) achieved Elite status.
  • Tiger Woods’ performance was distinct from any other players’ during this period. He failed to make the Top 10 only in his first year on tour.
  • Grinders (48) spent over 90% of their careers outside the Top 125, the qualification cut-off for the next year’s Tour. Journeymen (156) made it to the Top 125 less than half of their careers. In these groups, players efforts regularly focus on gaining exempt tour status though Q-School and the Nationwide Tours.
  • Between 1980 and 2006, only 1484 players earned money in any PGA Tour event. Of these, only 440 earned money in three or more events annually for five or more years.

The study also helps answer the time-honoured topic of conversation on the 19th hole: “Who ARE the best golfers?” Players including Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Greg Norman and, of course, Tiger Woods make up the 28-man group of the Tour’s best. Mike Weir was the only Canadian to make it into the Elite category.

The researchers also looked at which players fell into each of the other performance groups. Of Canadians, Stephen Ames made the Distinguished group, Dave Barr was in the Established group, Dan Halldorsen and Glen Hnatiuk fell into the Journeyman group, and Ian Leggatt and David Morland IV were Grinders. Other findings show how players in each category differed regarding average money-list rank, number of years on the Tour, and average tournaments played in a year.

Dr. Puterman says the golf study will be useful in his teaching and further research. He hopes that a follow-up study relating shot making to player performance will impact PGA Tour policy.

All data was drawn from pgatour.com and was analyzed using a set of statistical methods referred to as cluster analysis. Cluster analysis has many applications, notably in improving the efficiency of Internet search engines. It also is used to identify information patterns in fields as diverse as health care, consumer behaviour, and crime detection.

To download the paper in its entirety, visit:
www.chcm.ubc.ca/marty/papers/golf.pdf
www.chcm.ubc.ca/marty/papers/golfappendix.pdf

Contact:
Derek Moscato
Sauder School of Business
University of British Columbia
2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
Canada
P: 604-822-8345
E: derek.moscato@sauder.ubc.ca


Professor Martin L. Puterman
Sauder School of Business
University of British Columbia
2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
Canada
P: 604-822-8338
E: marty@chcm.ubc.ca