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How to Catch a Tiger: Understanding Putting Performance on the PGA TOUR


  • Fearing Douglas

    (Harvard Business School)

  • Acimovic Jason

    (MIT Operations Research Center)

  • Graves Stephen C

    (MIT Sloan School of Management)


Existing performance metrics utilized by the PGA TOUR have biases towards specific styles of play, which make relative player comparisons challenging. Our goal is to evaluate golfers in a way that eliminates these biases and to better understand how the best players maintain their advantage.Through a working agreement with the PGA TOUR, we have obtained access to proprietary ShotLink data that pinpoints the location of every shot taken on the PGA TOUR. Using these data, we develop distance-based models for two components of putting performance: the probability of making the putt and the remaining distance to the pin conditioned on missing. The first is modeled through a logistic regression, the second through a gamma regression. Both models fit the data well and provide interesting insights into the game. Additionally, by describing the act of putting using a simple Markov chain, we are able to combine these two models to characterize the putts-to-go for the field from any distance on the green for the PGA TOUR. The results of this Markov model match both the empirical expectation and variance of putts-to-go.We use our models to evaluate putting performance in terms of the strokes or putts gained per round relative to the field. Using this metric, we can determine what portion of a players overall performance is due to advantage (or loss) gained through putting, and conversely, what portion of the players performance is derived off the green. We demonstrate with examples how our metric eliminates significant biases that exist in the PGA TOURs Putting Average statistic. Lastly, extending the concept of putts gained to evaluate player-specific performance, we show how our models can be used to quickly test situational hypotheses, such as differences between putting for par and birdie and performance under pressure.

Suggested Citation

  • Fearing Douglas & Acimovic Jason & Graves Stephen C, 2011. "How to Catch a Tiger: Understanding Putting Performance on the PGA TOUR," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-47, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:jqsprt:v:7:y:2011:i:1:n:5

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    Cited by:

    1. Yousefi Kasra & Swartz Tim B., 2013. "Advanced putting metrics in golf," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, De Gruyter, vol. 9(3), pages 239-248, September.
    2. Moffatt Joanne & Scarf Phil & McHale Ian G. & Passfield Louis & Zhang Kui, 2014. "To lead or not to lead: analysis of the sprint in track cycling," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-12, June.
    3. Hickman, Daniel C. & Metz, Neil E., 2015. "The impact of pressure on performance: Evidence from the PGA TOUR," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 319-330.
    4. Stephen Shmanske, 2013. "Gender and skill convergence in professional golf," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports, chapter 4, pages 73-91 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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