The Universal Themes at Play
The winning team at Hazeltine will likely consist of more players performing at their peak than the opposition. Form is one of the many variables at play during Ryder Cup week. Golfers often talk of form in abstract terms, such as feel and touch and confidence.
Professor Mark Broadie is able to add some facts to these nebulous concepts. “I help people better understand golf performance and strategy,” says Broadie, the Columbia Business School professor and a leading voice in the use of statistics and golf analytics to change how professional players approach the game. His book Every Shot Counts uses analytics from the financial world and applies them to golf, developing the revolutionary ‘strokes gained-putting’ statistic adopted by the PGA Tour.
“Data analytics doesn’t take the fun out of sports, it can take the misconceptions out of sports.”
People sometimes view sports data as being about art versus science, he says, but that’s only partially true. “Data analytics doesn’t take the fun out of sports, it can take the misconceptions out of sports. If you’re the sort of person who wants to understand more about what you’re seeing, then it’s better to have the right information. There’s no point in having information if you don’t learn from it”.
Data analytics is playing a more significant role in Ryder Cup golf than ever before, with both captains committed to seeking out as much information as they can before making big decisions on wildcard picks and pairings.
“The captain must make a decision two weeks before the Ryder Cup begins as to who to select as his wildcards,” says Broadie. Team USA contains eight players who have played their way into the team on merit and four who will be selected by Davis Love III, who will attempt to fill perceived gaps in terms of experience or matchplay know-how. Darren Clarke has three wildcard picks for Team Europe.
“The wildcard picks are fascinating because it will test the area of predictive analytics,” says Broadie. “For example, how relevant is their form in relation to the event two weeks later? That’s where I’d be looking in the performance data. Things like the money lists are too random to make accurate predictions.”
One thing we know for sure. Potential, performance and data analysis will hold the key to unlocking the secret to Ryder Cup success come Hazeltine in the fall.