Friday, June 8, 2012

The Short Game's the Thing? Nope

Conventional wisdom holds that the short game is the key to golf success. If you want to win on Tour, or even in matches at the local course, you've got to chip, pitch and putt like a magician.

If that's true, however, how do you figure Tiger Woods's win last week at the Memorial? He ranked 41st in the Tour's new strokes-gained-putting metric, and 42nd in strokes gained—short game (shots inside 100 yards excluding putting)? Or Jason Dufner's victory at the HP Byron Nelson two weeks earlier, when he ranked 56th in putting, actually losing strokes to the field on the greens?

Mark Broadie, the Columbia Business School professor who came up with the strokes-gained-putting statistic now used by the PGA Tour, has devised a way to quantify the relative contribution to scoring of the long game and the short game, and his conclusion is probably not what you think. He is expanding this and other interesting new golf statistical research into a book for publication next year, but here's the take-away: Shots that originate more than 100 yards from the hole have twice the impact on score of shots from inside 100 yards—including putting. Long-game results account for about two-thirds of the variability in scores among golfers on the PGA Tour (the short game is one-third).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Golfing in North Korea: The Hermit Kingdom's Newest Pastime

About 30 km outside the North Korean capital, the Hermit Kingdom's only golf course cuts through heavily forested slopes running down to the waters of Lake Taicheng. The late Kim Jong Il is rumored to have once frolicked there on a luxury yacht. He is also famously credited with shooting a world-record 18-hole score of 38 under par — including five holes in one — on the day he opened the course. The story was reported by the rogue state's lone news service, the Korean Central News Agency, which said 17 bodyguards witnessed the round. Strangely, nobody at the course seems to recall his presumably spectacular performance.

More recently, the secluded course played host to a different type of visitor: tourists. Last month, 15 foreigners and one North Korean competed over three rounds in the second Democratic People's Republic of Korea Amateur Golf Open. The tournament, organized by Dylan Harris of the U.K.-based Lupine Travel company, brought together golfers from six countries for eight days of golf and sightseeing. The experience offered a rare glimpse into one of the world's most reclusive countries — and an even rarer chance for everyday hackers to win a national championship.

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