Deciding on a relevant context for comparisons

By |2018-06-16T00:07:20+00:00June 16th, 2018|For Coaches, Golf Statistics, Strokes Gained|2 Comments

We really like the way the Strokes Gained methodology works. It catches nuances of the game that would otherwise go unnoticed and gives you way more information on what actually happens on the golf course.

Your stats really come alive when they are put in a relevant context.

You can read more in detail about how Strokes Gained works here. The issue with Strokes Gained, as well as with a lot of other statistical variables, is that it’s tough to know ‘how good is good?’ until you have a lot of data from other players. Last year, 14 women’s teams came together to try to answer this question and more (including ‘what is a good strokes gained value for female players?’); the men’s teams in the Pac-12 have also been sharing information in order to develop a ‘Pac-12 benchmark’ to compare their players against.

By nature, stats are a lot better when you can compare your own statistics to those of your peers.

As far as we have been able to tell, no one has in a serious way attempted to really figure out how good players are that are not on the PGA Tour. In that way, Anova is a research project: We want to figure out, by using a very thorough and well thought-through method, exactly how good players are at a variety of different performance levels.

Anova is also a research project: we want to find out exactly how good players are at a variety of skill levels.

Without a relevant comparison, the stats are just plain numbers; when put into a relevant context, the numbers come alive and can tell you amazing stories about your golf game. They can tell you exactly what you need do to do bridge a performance gap, and let you know how close you are to getting to the level you want to get to. When used properly, they become extremely interesting and motivating, and this can be the difference between feeling motivated and encouraged vs overwhelmed.

What a relevant context is for you depends on what your current performance level is, and what your short-term desired performance level is.

So what is a relevant context? It depends on what your current performance level is, and what your short-term desired performance level is.

In order to get better at any skill, golf included, a player that wants to get better has to do three things:

  1. Collect. Identify exactly what your current performance level is.
  2. Analyze. Decide and figure out exactly how good players are at the level you want to get to. Compare their level to your current level. What are they doing that I’m not? Exactly how are they better or worse? (here is another article about improvement cycles)
  3. Bridge. Work with a teacher/coach who can help you come up with an action plan to bridge your performance gaps.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to deal with (2) above: How do you find the most motivating relevant context for each player?

For an incoming freshman, making the traveling team could be the most motivating target level possible.

For an incoming freshman, making the traveling team could be the most motivating target level possible.

It’s super boring to not make the traveling team, so making your #5 player your target performance level is a great idea in this case. This really hits home: the players know each other and play with each other all the time, and with Anova we can find out exactly how these players differ in performance, down to the specific shot category and distance bracket.

Different players will end up with different relevant contexts; your number 1 player might want to turn professional and for that player the comparison with the tour numbers are the most motivating; for your number 3 player it might be to start regularly performing better than your number 1 player; and you might also pick other players in your conference to compare against (which is what the Pac-12 is doing). The key is that we need to find the most relevant and motivating relative comparison for each player on your team.

The key is that we need to find the most relevant and motivating relative comparison for each player on your team.

While it is good to have ambitious long term goals, it is super important to find relevant, motivating and inspiring shorter term improvement targets, and the way to identify them is to work with each player to see what appropriate and relevant context that works best for them.

About the Author:

Thomas is a professional golfer and has played events on the European Tour, Web.Com Tour, Asian Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia as well as on PGA Tour China/Canada/Latinoamerica. He built Anova.Golf when no existing products could answer his detailed performance questions. The resulting information from Anova was astonishing: what he thought of as his biggest strength ended up being his biggest weakness.

2 Comments

  1. Chris Conklin July 23, 2018 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    I think picking an appropriate benchmark is a crucial point that is often overlooked. It makes me wonder as well, do you think stokes gained provides more insight when the benchmark is very close to or very far from a player’s current level? So far strokes gained has been primarily used on tour only, where there are not large differences between players. On the one hand, I could see the statistic providing the most insight for marginal gains, since a player making large gains likely has to improve on everything. On the other hand, perhaps comparing a beginner to a scratch player would highlight a few of the most important factors to playing well (e.g. if you can’t reach greens in regulation it doesn’t matter much how good your putting is). Thoughts?

    • Thomas Petersson July 30, 2018 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Chris! I definitely agree that picking the appropriate benchmark is very crucial. However, I think that the strokes gained methodology has the potential to generate equally good insights regardless of what the player’s performance level is. The key is to be able to compare you ‘raw’ SG performance numbers to someone at a similar or slightly better performance level than the one you are currently at. College teams do this by not really worrying about what the number is in relation to the benchmark, but what the relative numbers are in relation to their other players, not just on their own teams but on other teams that share information as well. This means that we are in essence treating the absolute sg numbers as pure performance indicators, that are filled with meaning when putting them into a relevant perspective.

      I think there are many interesting analyses to be made, including some of the ones you mentioned such as the beginner to a scratch player etc. In general though, the best practice in my opinion is to pick a relevant benchmark that is just better than the one that you’re currently at, to see what you have to in the short term to improve.

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