Invested in Ryder Cup Victory


In association with Bloomberg.

Data analysis will significantly affect the strategies of team captains Darren Clarke and Davis Love III.

One of the more famous one-liners in golf history is said to have occurred when Ben Hogan was asked the key to understanding a perfect golf swing.

“The secret is in the dirt,” Hogan said. One could say the same about Big Data’s role in modern investing. Identifying the right data in a haystack of it, and applying the proper analysis to it, takes commitment and hard work. Analysis is a key tenet of what drives investor success at Standard Life Investments, and it will play an important role at the highly anticipated Ryder Cup, in September, which pits the best golfers from Europe against the best from the U.S.

With its focus on sustained delivery of world-class performance and its ability to find potential through intelligent analysis, Standard Life Investments is a natural fit as the first Worldwide Partner of The Ryder Cup, the biennial match play event that will take place at Hazeltine National Golf Club, in Chaska, Minnesota. Team captains Darren Clarke (European Team) and Davis Love III (U.S. Team) will look to data analysis to help determine who plays on their teams, whom they will pair together on the first two days in foursomes and four-ball, and to help shape overall strategy.

Darren Clarke ponders his difficult eagle putt.

Analysis part of strategy

As the head of the European Team, Clarke is keenly aware of the role data and analysis will play in his decisions. “If you’re not analysing the data available at the moment, then you’re putting yourself behind the eight-ball,” says Clarke. “For example, you’re looking for the guys who are consistently holing putts from that 3 to 10 foot range, because those are very important in match play. Analysis of data is also a vital ingredient in getting our pairings rightly matched up.”

“you’re looking for the guys who are consistently holing putts from that 3 to 10 foot range...”

Love III recalls a time in his own experience as a player that could come in handy at the helm of the U.S. Team. “When Tom Lehman was the U.S. captain in 2006, I had to tell him not to pick me because I was hurt,” he says. “To prove to himself that I was, he’d go out and watch me play. I’d see him out there trying to avoid being seen by me. Now, if a player comes to me and says they are hurt or recovering from an injury, I can go look at his performance data. For example, I can look at ball speed he’s generating off the clubface and compare it to times when he was healthy.”

Both captains agree that the younger players they will be leading at The Ryder Cup are very attuned to the benefits of using data and analysis to improve performance. However, they also recognize there’s a right way to go about discussing data analysis with players.

Davis Love III holds his ball whilst standing on the fairway.

“As a team leader, you don’t want to tell players that their performance is weak in a certain area so they should be working on that part of their game,” says Love III. “Today’s players will already know that. As a captain, you're more likely to use it to boost confidence. ‘Look at your numbers. You're playing great. Just relax and go play, you'll be fine.’”

Driving confident decisions

Clarke and Love III agree that part of the challenge in making decisions that will affect their teams is finding a balance between their instincts and the most telling data. Some data is well-constructed, but much of it is just noise. And even good data is of limited value unless you can properly analyse it. Standard Life Investments faces a similar challenge on behalf of investors, but its deep knowledge and expertise help sharpen its focus on applying sophisticated analytical approaches to tease out the true relationship between variables.

“A lot of the work that we do is trying to identify deeper fundamental relationships between economic indicators, financial indicators and asset returns,” says Jeremy Lawson, Chief Economist, Standard Life Investments. “We think about how the correlation structure might be changing over time, and then we think about what that means for the future. If we think a potential investment could be undervalued, we think about how can we take advantage of that.”

Lawson and his colleagues at Standard Life Investments have recognized that it’s necessary to deepen the tools and indicators they use to drive their thinking on global markets and the outlook for returns. For example, over the past few years it has become more accepted that the economic-growth data that comes out of China is flawed, and does not factor in enough volatility. As such, it’s not a very reliable guide to how quickly China’s economy is growing.

“We’ve taken hundreds of economic and financial data points, put them together and found a way to extract an indicator of China’s economic activity,” says Lawson. “We believe this gives us a more reliable real-time indicator of how the economy is evolving. For example, we recently noticed that the economy slowed in 2015 much more aggressively than official data indicated. More recently, with stimulus that has been put in place, we’ve been able to track improvement in those underlying indicators.”

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