Baseball is famous for the volume of statistics used to analyze individual performance. Because there are a limited number of quantifiable results on any given pitch — and there are hundreds of thousands of pitches thrown every season — it is relatively easy to measure the success of a given player over the course of a season.
Other sports, like basketball and hockey, are harder to analyze via statistics. How do you measure the success of a forward whose coach insists he play point guard? Or the value of a hockey center whose would-be assists were wasted by poor-shooting teammates?
It seems funny that golf doesn’t get analyzed the way baseball does. After all, a golf tournament produces thousands of shots at a time — all on the same turf in the same weather. Why don’t the announcers talk about Tiger’s stroke-average when hitting from the rough? Why don’t they ever talk about Rocco Mediate’s sand average or Boo Weekley’s bump-run-rate? Actually, maybe they do but we’re asleep on the couch and don’t hear it.
Anyway, a group of researchers recently decided to rectify this situation by studying about 200 professional golfers from 2004 to 2008. The first breakthrough finding of the study: golfers are more likely to hit par putts than birdie putts of comparable difficulty. The reason? Something that can be best be described as “bogey aversion“:
Even the world’s best pros are so consumed with avoiding bogeys that they make putts for birdie discernibly less often than identical putts for par, according to a coming paper by two professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. After analyzing laser-precise data on more than 1.6 million Tour putts, they estimated that this preference for avoiding a negative (bogey) more than gaining an equal positive (birdie) — known in economics as loss aversion — costs the average pro about one stroke per 72-hole tournament, and the top 20 golfers about $1.2 million in prize money a year.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I blogged this story and chose that quote just so I could make a “stroke per hole” joke at the end of the post. Well, you’re wrong. I just thought it was a cool story about statistics and sports.
Plus I couldn’t think of a good one.