July 19, 2010

For Golf Stat Geeks

Your Lying Eyes quantifies an issue that a lot of sports fans have felt about golf since the emergence of Tiger Woods in 1997: that golf would be more fun if he had more superstar rivals besides Phil Mickelson, the way Jack Nicklaus had lots of worthy foes such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnnie Miller, Tom Weiskopf and Tom Watson. Here's his graph showing the number of career major championship victories by each year's major champions (excluding Nicklaus' 18 over 1962-1986 Woods's 14 over 1997-)
For example, in 1974 (the second highest point on the graph), the major championship winners were Gary Player (9 career majors), Hale Irwin (3), Gary Player (9) and Lee Trevino (6) for a total of 27. That year, Nicklaus finished T4, T10, 3, 2, so he had strong competition.

Your Lying Eyes argues that Woods's best competitors haven't been as formidable. He is aware of the alternative explanation, however, that maybe there are just more formidable competitors in golf today than in Nicklaus's day and they just cancel each other out.

My heretical view, as detailed in the Your Lying Eyes comments, is that Nicklaus tended to outsmart himself by trying to play smart (i.e., conservative, as he viewed it, like Ben Hogan). He could have won more major championships if he'd been a little dumber. On the other hand, Nicklaus's super-cerebral approach tended to intimidate his rivals such as Arnold Palmer (although not Lee Trevino). So, even though Nicklaus's tactics weren't as effective at winning as he thought they would be, his rivals, with the exception of Trevino (a former driving range hustler who wasn't impressed by anything), tended to agree with Nicklaus that he would beat them because of his brainpower.


ziel said...

Thanks for the interesting comments. I've never read anyone comment about these two titans of the game in any but the most banal terms.

I have a book idea for you - a kind of grand/unified theory on sports accomplishment - in your spare time.

ziel said...

It occurred to me that my analysis favors older players in that they've had entire careers to build up wins while Graeme McDonald, say, hasn't had an opportunity to build up more major wins.

I've re-looked at it comparing Woods and Nicklaus at comparable points in their careers. The results still suggest Nicklaus had tougher competitors.

jody said...

competitive golf, and not soccer, actually is a sport that whites play to avoid competing with blacks.

of course, steve would not write an article about that, because he likes competitive golf and thinks it's a major sport. in reality it's a totally minor sport and there is not a single good athlete on the PGA tour.

the PGA tour is as white as a blizzard. it's the winter olympics of professional sports. it's hard to believe steve continually bashed soccer during the world cup for having "no athletes", yet writes article after article about competitive golf being some kind of respectible sport.

even ESPN knows that competitive golf is weak. whenever their god starts to fall too far back to have a realistic chance of winning a tournament, ESPN immediately reverts back to insulting and clowning professional golfers. ESPN barely even bothers talking about who won any particular tournament, and spends the great majority of their analysis explaining why their god should have won, and why he'll win the next tournament.

again i ask: how good can their god be, if he's only beating pathetic non-athletes?.

jody said...

i also liked how there was no analysis at all of something like, how does a nation as small as uruguay play soccer stride for stride against huge nations? i guess it was because uruguay sees sports the same way as americans do, and wisely elected to put 11 afroletic blackletes out on the field. oh wait.

well, the uruguay method could never work in the US. maybe uruguay can play against the world with it's population of only 3 million europeans, but there's no athletic potential in any of the almost 200 million european americans. americans already know this stuff "for sure", so if america really wanted to play soccer well at the highest level, they would be smart to totally and completely discount every single person who wasn't an afroletic blacklete. they way it generally handles football, for instance.

i think the US national team is already heading down that path. it appeared to operate under a "blacks only" policy for forwards. no skill or touch was required from those players. just speed. useless, do nothing, create nothing, achieve nothing speed. can you run forward quickly in a straight line? then you have the preferred resume for the US coaches.

every forward the americans trotted out there was black, each one more useless than the last. i think i read they took 30 shots and only got 3 on goal. they had to be among the most useless forwards on any team in the tournament.

i was kind of surprised to read the reactions from actual US soccer fans, who were incredulous when the roster was announced. i guess the brainwashers haven't gotten to the soccer fans yet. they still evaluate soccer players based on their ability. i'm sure the brainwashers would prefer american soccer fans to use the binary method instead: is the player black, or does the player suck? this is the way football players are "evaluated" in 2010, and soccer should probably get with the time. but US soccer fans don't yet automatically howl with beer fueled anger if a white athlete dares to attempt to play the sport, so the brainwashers still have a lot of work to do.

OneSTDV said...

Lee Trevino's best work wasn't in golf, but in the movie Happy Gilmore, which ironically was Adam Sandler's most recent good movie.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analaysis Steve. The fact that Watson almost won the British Open at 60 and tha Trevino won the PGA at 46 my clue people in to the fact that these were two very good.

Truly great Golfers are quite rare. Only 12 men have won 2 majors in one year since 1935. Tiger, Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Watson, Player among them.

Its hard to know how much of Tigers success was drug fueled and how much was pure talent. That aside, I don't think anyone has played better golf than he did in the 2000-2003 timeframe.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Steve you missed the point.

There is a well known tendency in all sports for the incidence of extreme achievers to decline over time as the general level of play improves.

The best examples are baseball and basketball. When Babe Ruth quit pitching and started hitting the home run title was held by some guy named Home Run Baker. Baker had hit twelve home runs in a season. Ruth hit 58.

The year Ruth hit 60 that was more than any other team in the league. They changed the architecture of Yankee stadium to accommodate and exploit this phenom.

Similarly when Wilt Chamberlain came into the game they changed the rules and the lines so as to try to keep him from just camping out under the basket. It didn't work. He set a series of records that still seem incredible.

As baseball got more level and coaching and training got better we lost the .400 hitter. The same thing has happened in golf.

BTW can you name the most famous center to ever play for the Boston Celtics? Hint - it's not Bill Russel.


Anonymous said...

Certainly an alternative take on Nicklaus. Dave Pelz made quite the reverse argument. He showed that in most categories, Driving, Putting, Short Game, Jack was good, but unspectacular, not cracking the top quintile in any of those categories.

Sure he had great distance, but he missed the fairway. Terrific lag putter, but he lagged the leaders in percent of putts holed from most distances.

On the other hand, he was bottom quintile from sand.

By Pelz rating, however, he was top quintile in one category, course management. Probably off the charts. He was in a position to win a lot of tournaments because he didn't have to recover from that many big mistakes, like playing from sand.

Sand or 30 foot lag...,

So how has Phil's noted aggressiveness worked out?

Anonymous said...

"competitive golf, and not soccer, actually is a sport that whites play to avoid competing with blacks."

Are you being sarcastic based on your following post?

I agree blacks aren't the answer to getting great soccer players. There are some good black players,but they don't have the touch in most cases.

Anonymous said...

I have to believe golf is more competitive now than 30 or 40 years ago.

Steve Sailer said...

"The fact that Watson almost won the British Open at 60 and tha Trevino won the PGA at 46 my clue people in to the fact that these were two very good."

Right, you would expect that if the old guys were just winners because they were competing against small sample sizes, you would think they would quickly become outmoded. For example, Bill Russell sent a few NBA centers into early retirement in the late 1950s. On the other hand, most people would like to believe that the NBA got a lot better in the 1980s, but you can't tell that from Kareem Abdul Jabbar being NBA Finals MVP in 1985.

Similarly, in 1974 at Rviera, I saw Sam Snead, who had become a PGA star 37 years before, almost win the LA Open over a field that included Nicklaus, Trevino, Palmer, Watson, Weiskopf and a whole bunch of other players. Half a year later at 62 he finished third behind Trevino and Nicklaus in the PGA.

Steve Sailer said...

I would agree with Pelz on the superiority of Nicklaus's course management, but, I think we can see now that he sometimes overmanaged himself. Compare Nicklaus not to Woods for the moment, but to a glorified grinder like Vijay Singh who became highly effective late in his career, and thus is a good example of what can be accomplished with the 21st Century style rather than the Nicklausian style.

Nicklaus played a more elegant form of golf than the Flog and Find It style of driving for maximum distance that is popular now, but the new style really works. Of course, Nicklaus only had two wedges, so maybe technological innovations in golf clubs account for the changes. Similarly, Nicklaus's teeshot flight path was a thing of beauty but a contemporary launch angle computer would say that all that backspin is just eating up distance.

Anonymous said...

Or take the case of Ben Hogan who almost won the 1960 US Open at age 48. Nicklaus has written Hogan was the greatest Ballstriker he's ever seen - period.

The younger, stronger, faster meme is overdone, especially in skill sports like Baseball, Golf, etc. I don't believe pitchers - for example - are that much better today then they were in 1930. The impact of "bigger, stronger, faster" is probably greatest in sports and positions based on pure athletic ability where being 5 percent faster, quicker, stronger, or taller means complete dominance.

Someone could probably (and already has) gone back and compared baseball batting records, adjusted for age, and shown that the impact of intergration and "bigger, stronger, faster" hasn't made that much difference between batting averages in 1940 and 2000.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, and Hogan in 1960 was a broken man after his 1949 accident. He lost the 1960 US Open because he hit in the water on the 71st hole because, in his playing partner Nicklaus's guess, he figured he had to make birdie to win on Sunday because his body wouldn't hold up through a Monday playoff. And Hogan couldn't putt anymore -- but he could strike the ball so well that he was in the hunt in every US Open he played in from age 38 through 48.

Bill said...

so maybe technological innovations in golf clubs account for the changes

Don't forget the balls. Today, the pros use high tech balls get distance off the tee AND spin for control on the green.

Today any duffer can walk into the Golf Warehouse and have a launch monitor match him to a ball or club and ball.

There's also a lot more coaching today too, long with tools like video.