I.T.N. No. 21
PUBLISHED June 25, 2020
Inside The Numbers ...
is a brief numerical summary of the current happenings in the world golf, published every Monday — hopefully.
Bubba Watson only seems to play well at specific tracks on the PGA Tour; among them are Augusta National, Riviera, and this week's venue, TPC River Highlands. An interesting question then, is just how much better do betting markets think Bubba is when playing a course that he has proven to be comfortable on. At last week's RBC Heritage, which had a slightly stronger field compared to this week's post-coronavirus-withdrawals Travelers Championship, DraftKings Sportsbook priced Watson at European odds of 56; this week, Bubba's odds stand at 29. Last week he was priced near the likes of Kevin Kisner and Ian Poulter; this week his neighbours on DraftKings are Colin Morikawa, Patrick Reed, and Patrick Cantlay. Using a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we estimate that DK's shift in Bubba's price indicates they think he is a golfer that is about 0.5 strokes better per round this week than last. For reference, 0.5 strokes is the difference between the 65th and 140th ranked golfers in the DG Rankings. This is almost certainly too large of an adjustment to Watson's skill level; in our model, for his excellent history at TPC River Highlands, Bubba is getting about 40% of the boost that the books appear to have applied.
If the hype is to be trusted, Bryson DeChambeau has seemingly managed to become the greatest driver of the ball ever while in quarantine for 3 months. According to our metrics, his current skill off the tee is second only to Rory McIlroy. However, those estimates are in part derived using data from the pre-hulk era for DeChambeau; and, as the plot below indicates, Bryson's off-the-tee game is trending aggressively upwards. The blue line in the plot above is a benchmark indicating what the off-the-tee leader on the PGA Tour typically averages in a season (approximately +1.25 strokes per round). So far in 2020, Bryson leads the tour according to our adjusted metrics at +1.14 strokes-gained off-the-tee per round. In 2019, Rory McIlroy led the tour in driving, on average gaining 1.32 strokes per round with the big weapon. Therefore, 2020 Bryson is still losing 0.18 strokes per round to 2019 Rory off the tee; it remains to be seen whether that deficit will be turned into an advantage by 2020's end.
While professional golfers have certainly mastered their craft, that doesn't mean you should listen to everything they say about the game. In his press conference on Tuesday, Bubba Watson claimed that being paired with certain players can be the equivalent of a 1 to 2 stroke penalty for him. The difference between Rory McIlroy and Lanto Griffin is 2 strokes per round. If there is a player on Tour, whose mere presence can transform a golfer from Lanto to Rory, we need to start allocating Data Golf's R&D budget to very different research areas.
Former World Amateur Golf Rankings #1 ranked player — as well as former Data Golf Amateur Rankings #1 ranked player — Sahith Theegala makes his professional PGA Tour debut at this week's Travelers Championship. In his last weeks as an amateur, we estimated that Theegala was about 1.9 strokes per round better than the average golfer in the NCAA Division 1 Championship; as previously mentioned, this was good enough to put him at the top of our amateur rankings. Flash forward to this week, and while Theegala is still the same golfer, those he will compete against are not. Theegala fell 224 ranking positions in making the transition from the amateur to professional ranks; his skill level is now benchmarked against the average PGA Tour player, against which we estimate he loses 0.43 strokes per round.