SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — We know Kevin Chappell led the field in proximity to the hole from 125-150 yards and Brandon Harkins had the best strokes gained approach-the-green average at the 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. We even know that the tournament’s winner, Ted Potter Jr., ranked 10th that week in putting from inside 10 feet.
But if the USGA maintains the status quo, next June at the 119th U.S. Open, our country’s national championship, we won’t know such things.
Fox Sports recognizes that sports fans have grown to love analytics and numbers-based graphics during broadcasts. With TrackMan launch monitors on every tee box, it provided viewers with real-time shot information such as ball speed, height and carry distance. Tracer patterns filled the virtual skies, and on several holes, computer-generated putting paths revealed the ideal line from the ball to the hole.
Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, the governing body of golf in the United States relied on stats similar to those available to Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen in the 1920s. The U.S. Open website provided fans with stats such as driving distance, fairways hit, greens in regulation, putting, sand saves, number of birdies and number of eagles. Fans could also follow players, shot by shot, under each player’s scorecard information.
Each evening, after the conclusion of play, media members were emailed a stats package with that information, along with strokes gained putting and strokes gained tee-to-green numbers.
The strokes gained information could be determined because the USGA had volunteers using lasers on every hole to track shots, which is how the PGA Tour gathers data that is fed into ShotLink. That’s the most frustrating part: The USGA, which is gathering as much data as it can this year to holistically study the effects of distance on the game, was collecting tons of useful information at the U.S. Open and not making it available to media or fans.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Open is not the only major championship that does not provide advanced stats. The website for the Masters, which is taking a more prominent position in growing the game around the world, provides only remedial stats such as birdie leaders, par-3 birdie leaders and greens in regulation. Similarly, the British Open’s website lets users see things such as fairways hit, scrambling and longest average drive.
The PGA Championship is unique among golf’s four majors because it makes available most of the advanced statistical information we get at week-to-week events. So we get a deeper understanding of that tournament than we do of the Masters, U.S. Open or British Open.
There is a growing audience for richer stats and analytical content. And several websites and social media accounts have sprung up over the past few years to fill the void created by the tournaments. You can go on Twitter and get predictive, in-tournament win probabilities, strokes gained calculations and player comparisons.
The data these sources compile and share, however, while typically consistent, is not official. Different methods of calculating stats and rounding the numbers can produce slightly different results.
The bottom line: Golf, like nearly every other sport, is becoming more analytical, yet the organizations that run three of the four most prestigious events have failed to keep up. Keep your fingers crossed that 2019 will be the year things change. Gwk