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The Golf Engine predicts the top 25 finishers at The Open Championship

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The field for the 147th British Open is set at the historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The Golf Engine modeled over 1,500 statistics tracked by the PGA Tour for every tournament dating back to 2004. We looked at how each stat contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a machine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.

This year’s British Open is no exception as the model is calling for Webb Simpson (125/1 odds) to make a run into the top 10 at least.

Some surprises:

Back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (22/1) inside the top 5.

Webb Simpson (125/1) and Phil Mickelson (66/1) inside the top 10.

Emiliano Grillo (100/1) inside the top 15.

Kevin Na (175/1), Luke List (125/1), and Ryan Moore (150/1) inside top the 25.

Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may under-perform this week. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood don’t make the top 10 cutoff. Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari who finished T2 at TPC Deere Run last week, and Sergio Garcia are all projected outside of our top 25.

Notable left-outs:

Rory McIlroy (16/1) and Tommy Fleetwood (20/1) finishing outside the top 10.

Alex Noren (30/1), Francesco Molinari (33//1), and Sergio Garcia (28/1) all finishing outside the top 25.

A few more points of note:

Top 5

It’s fascinating that Dustin Johnson gets the call for top dawg from both the oddsmakers and the model. No question he is the best player in the world right now, but it’s been a few years since DJ really contended (2011) in this tournament — and at a different course — Royal St George’s. He does have a pair of Top 10’s in 2012 and 2016 and has made the cut every year since 2009 (his first Open).

Justin Rose, not that his name doesn’t come up every year for this tournament, just that his style of play is generally considered to be different than the players on either side of him (Johnson and Koepka).

Speaking of Koepka, few are calling for him to win at Carnoustie though he does shows up inside the top 5 here…

Jordan Spieth, although winning this tournament last year – has not put up the best numbers of his already memorable career the past few months. Frankly I’m a little surprised the numbers bear this out…

Perhaps the third least surprising name to see on this list (aside from Johnson and Rose) is Rickie Fowler, aka: Mr. Consistency, aka: the Perennial Contender, aka: always the Bridesmaid. Rickie almost always brings his A-game, and the data suggests it suits this course well. Curious to see if this is the year his major championship drought comes to an end.

Top 10

Webb Simpson might be the most surprising pick on this list. Clearly the model likes something about his game this year and the way he is set up for this tournament. A career-low 61 to open at The Greenbrier (his last start), T10 at the U.S. Open a month ago and earning his 5th career victory at The PLAYERS were each separated by missed cuts.

Top 25

For a guy with short odds, Rory McIlroy to be projected outside of the top 10, which really speaks to the consistency (or lack thereof) of his game this season.

Other notables:

No love from the model for Matt Kuchar, Scotsman Russel Knox, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter, or Louis Oosthuizen.

Projected Rank Player Odds
1 Dustin Johnson 12/1
2 Justin Rose 16/1
3 Brooks Koepka 22/1
4 Jordan Spieth 20/1
5 Rickie Fowler 16/1
6 Webb Simpson 125/1
7 Justin Thomas 22/1
8 Jason Day 33/1
9 Phil Mickelson 66/1
10 Jon Rahm 20/1
11 Henrik Stenson 28/1
12 Emiliano Grillo 100/1
13 Paul Casey 40/1
14 Patrick Reed 35/1
15 Rory McIlroy 16/1
16 Tommy Fleetwood 20/1
17 Bubba Watson 80/1
18 Tiger Woods 22/1
19 Kevin Na 175/1
20 Hideki Matsuyama 50/1
21 Bryson DeChambeau 125/1
22 Luke List 125/1
23 Ryan Moore 150/1
24 Tony Finau 100/1
25 Charles Howell III 500/1
Odds Courtesy of Bovada

View the projected finish of the entire 2018 British Open Field.

How the Golf Engine makes its picks

In golf, a pro matches up as much with the golf-course as another competitor. Which is why any attempt to predict the outcome of a golf tournament, must take into account the nuances of the course. Beyond conjecture made by the golf pundits, analyzing past and present data through the use of math can more accurately project future performance.

In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are sitting on low round scores.

The machine learns how these statistics can become a unique strength or glaring weakness for each golfer by comparing tens of thousands of different combinations and separating the patterns from the noise. The resulting ‘model’ is able to ‘deep dive’ and determine when to expect low rounds from a pro, given their unique style of play. These calculations are next to impossible to do quickly and certainly without personal and subjective biases, until now.

Learn more about the author, Pat Ross.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. GolfnRide

    Jul 23, 2018 at 1:51 am

    Umm, back to the drawing board Golf Engine…

  2. Jamie

    Jul 18, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Prediction: Stenson will destroy the course with the Graf Blue Diablo.

  3. Al

    Jul 18, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Stats from the PGA Tour…so what about the European tour

  4. Jim McPherson

    Jul 18, 2018 at 1:47 am

    So did the person that runs this “golf engine” put their money where it’s mouth is?

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TG2: Callaway’s MAVRIK driver leaked and Bryson has some gains in the gym?

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The MAVRIK driver is out in the open and we speculate on it. What do we think of the color and design, anything we can tell from the photos on new technology. Bryson is bulking up and has gains in the gym already, but will it help?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Why aren’t more small golf companies making it big?

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More and more in the golf industry, success is based on skills that are not required to make a birdie or par. The people who design today’s driver heads are in some cases, actual rocket scientists. A digital expert who has never been on a golf course is often more valuable to a company than a tour player. Yet when you look at the smaller companies that exist in the golf industry, and particularly in the golf equipment industry, you generally see companies that are heavy on golf passion and light on modern business expertise. It’s killing them.

Golf equipment, in particular, is now more driven by the big brands than it’s ever been, and this is totally the opposite of what’s happening in so many other industries. The food business is a wonderful example. I was in CVS last week and was surprised to see a “Keto” meal replacement shake being promoted on an end-cap. On the same end-cap was a vegan protein powder.

Five years ago, I had never heard of Keto. I knew very few vegans. Today, I know people on both diets. If you have an ability to surf the web, it’s been quite easy to take part in the food revolution that’s happening right now in the U.S. And one of the most interesting things about it is that it’s been almost entirely driven by small companies.

The big food business is hurting because it’s struggling to meet the evolving preferences of consumers. Smaller brands have been much more in touch with customers, and as a result, much more innovative with their products and marketing. There’s no disputing this. Many small food brands are crushing it.

And the same trend is happening in retail. Been to a Sears lately? Mine closed. When my wife wants to go to the mall, it’s only because of a product that was recommended by an Instagram influencer (think of Influencers as micro-brands). Usually, it’s something from Madewell. I digress.

Last month, I bought the most beautiful double-walled, glass coffee cups from Fellow, a premium coffee accessories brand that sells online. I had no way of knowing I could enjoy coffee cups this much. This little company knew what I wanted before I did. So like a lot of modern consumers, I took to Instagram to celebrate. I tagged the company. A few friends texted me to ask about them (many of my friends are very into coffee).

So how is it that people can buy the most wonderful products from small, innovative companies in nearly every space, but they struggle to do this in golf? Or is it just that they’ve never heard of all the great small golf companies. And if so, whose fault is this?

It’s true that with enough time the most serious golfers will eventually find out about the best small golf companies. But the problem isn’t that small companies can’t reach the most serious golfers. Many can. It’s that most small golf companies can’t reach anyone else.

Across the board, small golf companies are failing to embrace a strategy that would actually resonate with a sufficiently large audience. In most cases, this is because they’re trying to play the same game as the big boys. They’re obsessed with making products that they can say are “better.” That strategy can only work if you have a lot of money to spend.

When I worked with GolfWRX, one of my jobs was to speak with big and small golf companies and pen articles about their new products. And in most cases, the claims checked out. The smaller company’s clubs were sometimes 10 yards longer or 10 percent more forgiving, etc. as they said.

But I always had a feeling in these interviews and testing sessions that for certain companies, this extra performance wasn’t going to make a meaningful impact on sales. Not enough golfers were going to try it. Not enough golfers were going to talk about it. And the cycle would continue. I watched several of these companies run out of money only to blame “a slow down in the golf industry” for their failure.

What these companies were missing is that having an exceptional product is simply the cost of doing business. It’s not game-changing to make a product that’s as good or slightly better than the big boys. You won’t move the needle with products that are “just as good” but cost less. The only way small companies can make it big is to play a different game, and I believe it’s a better game.

Marketing works best when customers are willing participants in the process, and if you believe that, then the first step is obvious. A company has to find ways to make customers genuinely curious about its products or services. When customers feel this way, they’ll want to learn more. They’ll follow a company on social media. They’ll read a company’s website from cover to cover. They’ll often walk away liking a company so much that they can’t stop talking about it. Not just to their playing partners, but to their brother-in-law. Their friends at work. Their old college roommate. The guy sitting next to them on the plane.

We’ve all had these positive experiences with a brand or product at some point, and they’re magical. It’s exciting to share a great find, even if it’s something as trivial as a coffee cup.

What you’re seeing right now in other industries is small companies that are succeeding because they stand for excellence in a specialized way. To communicate their excellence, they’re not talking at their customers. Their communication feels like an invitation. It feels like the marketing campaign was designed with them in mind. And this strategy is even more effective when the product stands for an idea that’s bigger than golf, which isn’t as pie in the sky as it sounds.

For PXG, it’s status—and a bit of rebellion. For Titleist, it’s trust. And if these companies are doing their jobs well, these big-picture ideas are built into the product DNA—not attached ad hoc when it’s time to sell.

When companies create products that stand for something, it becomes so much easier for them to build authentic relationships with their customers. They suddenly have choices beyond beating their chest about their most recent accomplishment, which rarely works. Think about it this way; when your friends brag to you, you probably want to roll your eyes. When strangers do this to you, you quickly walk away. And when brands do this to you, you ignore them.

I believe that golfers want to change their buying habits in golf as they have in other industries. But they need more small companies to shake things up in a positive way. They’re waiting for the right message at the right time. And because that’s not happening, they can only hear the loudest voices in the room. And it’s a shame.

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The Gear Dive: TXG’s lead builder Mike Martysiewicz

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In this newest episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with Mike Martysiewicz of TXG.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.


Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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