How to: Weave a data-driven strategy in to your game

July 14, 2020
Duncan Carey

We all spent lockdown marveling at the Chicago Bulls team of the 90’s and in particular the drive, focus and preparation of Michael Jordan. A large part of that team’s success was a result of being fully prepared and knowing, play by play, how to beat their opponent. They didn’t spend the days leading up to each ball game learning how to shoot or dribble.

Similarly, Liverpool and the Kansas City Chiefs don’t spend the days leading up to a match practising how to pass or throw a football. They are learning and studying how to strategically and tactically overcome their opponent. The problem with golf is that you can’t affect the performance of the other golfers, so how do you prepare? Simple – they aren’t the opponent. The course is.

Constantly changing variables are what makes golf a unique sport. The players and their teams face a new challenge every week. Each one always different from the last.

At 15th Club, our consultative approach, utilised by many of the world’s top golfers, helps to solve this problem and prepares them strategically each week for the golf course they face.

 

Optimising a schedule

‘Research suggests that there is at least 30% of the schedule that is open for discussion and analysis’.

This process begins back in the depths of winter before the season starts. Creating a strategy for each course is much more effective and impactful if the golfer is playing courses that are suited to their game. Whilst appreciating at the top end of the rankings the schedule somewhat picks itself, our research suggests that there is at least 30% of the schedule that is open for discussion and analysis. Effective scheduling looks at which courses the golfer should be playing to maximise their chances of performing as well as maximising ranking points and earnings.

There are two areas we analyse when looking to optimise the players schedule:
World ranking points and course fit.

A top end ranked player should earn around ~6.00 adjusted world ranking points each week. The world rankings offer opportunities to exploit inefficiencies because many events with weaker fields still offer large numbers of ranking points.

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The continual analytical review of the golfers game throughout the season, and historically builds a picture as to the strengths, weaknesses and trends of their performance. 

A player’s performance is defined as a function of time, where their overall performance can vary along with specific areas of their game (Off the Tee, Approach, Around the Green and Putting). As a result, performance comparisons can be made not only from player to player but from week to week (where it is possible that players may be more closely matched to another player rather than the version of themselves from a different time period). Our 15th Club player matching algorithm uses 6 performance variables to match players by similarity at differing points in time. This allows us to estimate how a player is likely to play at a given course based on how ‘similar’ players have played the course in past events – it also gives us the power to estimate a player’s performance on a course even if they have never played there before.

Once the schedule is set the weekly strategy and planning begins. 

 

Analysing the course demands

Working with the player and the extended team, throughout the season we put together pre-tournament strategic course guides for each golf course. These are bespoke to the golfer and provide them with an extensive overview to structure relevant practise sessions leading up to the event and also supplement preparation at the course. They incorporate the player matching algorithms as mentioned above as well as the players current form and trends, and their historical performance at the course. 

The shot distribution analysis and course demands, as shown below, are key for the team in the lead up to the event as it allows structured and relevant practise sessions ensuring that attention is paid to those shots and distances likely to be faced in the forthcoming weeks. 

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The value of distance vs. accuracy

Distance is one of the hot topics in golf at present and the conventional wisdom is that the longer you hit it, the bigger the advantage you’ll have over the field. We however analyse, week by week, the true value of distance. 

Our Value of distance metric is a measure derived simply from driving distance and hole score. Players will typically score better when approaching the green from a shorter distance – making longer drives more valuable. In order to estimate the predicted gain in strokes for longer drives as a function of different holes, we use previous scoring data to model the average score reduction for an extra yard off the tee. The greater this value, the higher the value of distance for the hole.

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This information is used in conjunction with the Missed fairway penalty analysis. This is the average scoring difference between the golfers that hit the fairway and the players that miss the fairway. In essence, how many strokes will you lose to the players that hit the fairway. 

“This certainty gives me that extra level of pressure that I need to concentrate on each shot, I need that intensity. I know the consequence and the reward.”  15th Club client & OWGR Top-20 Player

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This level of analysis continues through the hole with the result of the approach shots highlighted. In the same vein as the Off The Tee analysis the Value of proximity and Miss green penalty information provides clarity for the golfer and caddie when picking their spots and areas not to miss. 

 

On the green analysis

The putting work is done pre-event with long range putting  the general focus. Where are the players likely to face long range putts – and how hard is it to get them close? This allows extra focus during practise rounds with the player putting themselves in the locations and positions on the green they are expected to find themselves in tournament play. 

 

Shots equate to earnings

‘If a golfer improved on the PGA Tour by 0.5 shots per round it would increase their earnings by approximately 73%.’ 

15th Club is not data analytics.15th Club is Sports Intelligence. Beyond providing detailed insight, we add context to the data. We combine our understanding of the data, with our consultancy capabilities to allow our clients to make the most informed decisions. And subsequently win more. This information isn’t the silver bullet but is another weapon in the player’s arsenal to make those marginal gains that are absolutely needed at the elite end of any sport. 

If a golfer improved on the PGA Tour by 0.5 shots per round it would increase their earnings by approximately 73%.

That’s the upside – but what is the downside for being better informed, better prepared and having an in depth bespoke analysis of the opponent week after week? There isn’t one.

For more information of our bespoke consultancy services, get in touch.