As part of our golfer-focused work at 15th Club, we offer data-driven scheduling services, helping golfers identify events that will help them best achieve their goals (e.g. winning a tournament, keeping their card, getting into the top 50 in the world, etc). James Morrison explained some of the challenges inherent in deciding upon a schedule each season in his recent piece for National Club Golfer. Golfers need to decide their goals before each season and build a schedule designed to meet those goals while also fulfilling a variety of other commitments.
The challenge for a top player who aims to play in the big events is that between the majors, WGCs, Players Championship, and possible sponsorship commitments, there’s only room to choose perhaps 8-12 additional events each season. It becomes even more challenging for those wishing to play on both the PGA and European Tours as each has a minimum events requirement.
Other golfers who aren’t playing a full schedule of elite events have more discretion to choose where they play, but might be limited by their status – forced to enter any event they qualify for rather than picking the schedule best suited to meeting their goals. In his article, Morrison stated that he mainly focuses on places he feels he plays well at, while also trying to stay as fresh as possible. He has averaged about 28 events per year over the last half decade, which means deciding which of nearly 50 European Tour events best suit his game, while also leaving room to take advantage of good stretches of play which qualify him for majors, WGCs, and elite European Tour events.
Our approach to the scheduling process is directed at three different areas:
- Strength: points/money available relative to strength of field
- Style: Course suitability fit, relative to your game
- Timing: Travel, rest and recovery (periodisation)
Strength of field is the first crucial aspect to examine. No matter what goal the golfer wants to optimise for (winning an event, earning prize money, improving their world ranking, etc.), it’s important to recognise the impact of the field you’re up against. Playing in elite events against top players may give you more access to prize money and world ranking points, but your earning power (for points and/or prize money) may actually be greater in a lesser event. We have also identified events which award greater prize money and/or more world ranking points than they should based on the strength of the field. For example, in recent years the Spanish Open has attracted a much stronger field than the purse represents, meaning a great performance at that event would be less well rewarded than at other similar tournaments.
Our next major focus is using statistical analysis to find the courses a golfer is best suited to. This is especially crucial for golfers who are just starting out on or transitioning to the PGA Tour or European Tours because they don’t have the benefit of having played the courses a number of times to find their comfort zone. Using our research we can identify which types of courses your game suits, which types of courses are similar to others you’ve had success on, and which courses have historically favoured golfers who play similarly to you.
Different courses can vary dramatically in terms of suitability for an individual golfer. It’s not uncommon for a Tour player to vary by half a stroke or more per round better or worse depending on the course. This means an average cardholder could be expected to play like a top 50 ranking golfer on his most suitable course, but one of the worst players in the field on his least suitable course.
One key to predicting the Masters every year is identifying those golfers best suited to take on the right to left dogleg holes that make up nearly half of the non-par 3 holes on the course. Our research shows the reigning Masters champion Danny Willett has performed best at right to left dogleg holes over the past three seasons – surely a factor in his success last year. We factor these course-related data points into our statistical analysis to find the most suitable courses to bring out a player’s best performance.
We’ve included an example of the three most suitable and least suitable courses for a prominent player on the PGA and European Tours below:
Our final data-driven focus for scheduling is on the timing of and travel to events. Golf – especially on the European Tour – involves nearly constant travel as the schedule touches six continents in some years. European Tour golfer Bernd Wiesberger spent nearly two weeks total in the air and traveled 200,000 kilometres while competing in 2016. Unsurprisingly, our research has found that such a huge amount of travel can hurt a golfer’s ability to compete in unfamiliar locations. For example, golfers who are European Tour regulars suffer performance disadvantages of up to one third of a stroke per round while traveling to North America or South Africa for events. We see the same phenomenon for Asia-based golfers traveling to Europe or the Americas, and North America-based players traveling to Europe.
We have also found small performance boosts for golfers playing consecutive weeks versus those who are coming in cold after several weeks off. While not a major factor in performance week to week, on the whole entering an event after competing the week before should produce the best performance possible in that event. Balancing that natural need to rest and recover with the desire to continue playing when enjoying a good spell of form is key.
By examining each of these areas we can start to identify events to target on your schedule and those to avoid. Think of this process as a quick filter to identify 3-5 events to avoid and 3-5 events to target before moving on to other concerns. In a competitive sport with such tight margins between golfers, optimising your schedule is just another way 15th Club can help you win.
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