Mark Broadie is the Carson Family Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. He developed the new strokes gained golf stats used by the PGA Tour. He works with a number of PGA Tour coaches and players and writes a monthly column for GOLF magazine. His New York Times bestselling book, uses data and analytics to measure and improve golf performance and strategy. Professor Broadie received a BS from Cornell University and a PhD from Stanford University.
After many requests, the PGA Tour gave me access to their amazing ShotLink data. Using their data, together with amateur data that I had collected, I published and presented my “strokes gained” method to various academic audiences. Around the same time, the PGA Tour decided it needed a better measure of putting, since they knew that their putting stats were deficient. Bingo! They had a need and I had a solution. I was following my passion and scholarly inquisitiveness and happened to be working on right topic at the right time. Strokes gained putting debuted in 2011 with strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach, and strokes gained around the green added this year.
MATT WARD: What was the genesis for your interest in analytics in golf?
MARK BROADIE: I’m an academic who played golf since I was a kid. There were many interesting questions in golf — how much would a player’s score drop with 20 extra yards off the tee — that I thought I could answer with my mathematical training and the right data.
MW: Statistics have become a major component for the PGA Tour in presenting itself. Why is that?
MB: Golf is like many other sports in that fans, writers and players would like to know the “why” and “how” behind the victories and defeats. Good stats can be used to enlighten and entertain.
MW: Do the various tours do a good job in assembling the crucial information and in presenting it to fans of the sport?
MB: The PGA Tour does a very good job, thanks in large part to the ShotLink system that they developed in 2002. You can follow the shots of your favorite player on your phone now. How cool is that? All of the other tours are in the dark ages by comparison.
MW: Do announcers on televised golf events use the available information smartly in helping viewers understand who is performing well and who isn’t?
MB: It’s definitely getting better. Announcers discuss strokes gained putting regularly, and are starting to use strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach, and strokes gained around the green. Traditional stats (driving distance, fairways hit and greens in regulation) can be useful and are still widely discussed. In addition, networks now display probabilities of sinking a putt, live FedEx Cup projections, and other useful information.
MW: How can golf telecasts be even better in using such information?
MB: It’s still discouraging to hear “player X is 4 out of 7 in sand saves this week” or “player Y is 20 out of 24 in holing putting inside of 10 feet.” The first comment is a waste because it is such a small sample. The second comment is ridiculous because most putts inside of 10 feet are actually short putts inside of three feet, so there is basically no information content being delivered.
You probably heard announcers talk about Jordan Spieth’s great putting between 15 and 25 feet. That’s true — but the problem is the implication that he’d rather be putting from 20 feet than 12 feet. Not true!
MW: What’s the most underrated and overrated statistic in understanding how someone is playing?
MB: Most overrated golf statistic: greens in regulation (GIR). GIR doesn’t give extra credit for hitting a par-5 in two nor knocking an approach shot stiff. It penalizes equally a missed green on the fringe and a missed green in the sand or water. For these reasons, the GIR stat can be uninformative or misleading. The most underrated golf statistic: strokes gained approach. The players who win the most events and win the most money are, most often, players who excel in approach shots for the season. The winners in a given week are, quite often, the best putters out of the best ball strikers.
MW: With the upcoming Ryder Cup Matches taking place at the end of the month — what role do statistic / analytics play in terms of assisting each of the team captain’s in terms of pairings — especially for the foursomes and four-ball matches?
MB: I’d rather pass on this one!
MW: How can regular golfers better chart their own games?
MB: Shameless plug for my Golfmetrics app that was recently released for Apple and Android phones. The interface was designed to make it as quick and easy as possible for players to enter shot information to get the same strokes gains information the pros use.
MW: Curious to know — do you chart your own game?
MB: Of course! I used to record traditional stats — fairways, greens and putts — but realized that was a useless exercise – it took time with no benefits. Then for years I tracked my shots on a desktop computer, but now I use the far simpler Golfmetrics app. It has definitely helped to slow the decline due to my age and limited playing time.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally – what would it be?
MB: Add more great short courses. They are fun to play but there aren’t any close to where I live.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?