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Opinion & Analysis

Statistically-based pairings for the U.S. Ryder Cup team



The U.S. Ryder Cup team appears to be — based on popular opinion — the heavy underdog against the Europeans. The U.S. team lost some key members due to Dustin Johnson’s leave of absence and Jason Dufner’s injuries that kept him from qualifying. Also, while Tiger Woods has not been a historically great Ryder Cup player, he is one of the best players in the world and a golfer the U.S. counts on for stability and leadership. His well-documented injuries and poor play, however, leave him sidelined for this year’s Ryder Cup.

On the opposing squad, the Europeans have had quite a strong year despite regressions in the play of two superstar players — Luke Donald (who did not make the team) and Lee Westwood.

Despite the opinion that the Europeans will win, I believe that if the U.S. team pairs players that are more statistically favorable instead of the “these two players are good friends, so we will pair them together” strategy, they have a realistic chance at winning the Ryder Cup. While I do not recall Davis Love III using a statistically-based pairing system, his pairings in 2012 mostly fit in line with what the numbers showed, and the U.S. team had a 10-6 lead going into Sunday. So his pairings were not the reason why the U.S. did not win at Medinah. Rather, the players simply failed to close out the Europeans on Sunday’s single matches.

For reference, here is a table of rankings for each member of the U.S. team in the key metrics for Ryder Cup play. The rankings are based out of 177 players:


General principles for pairing players in each format

Four-Ball Format: This is the ‘best score’ format. Therefore, this is more about scoring ability than ball-striking, short game and putting ability. The par-4 play is most important because there are more par-4’s than there are par-5’s and par-3’s. If the golfer is a poor performer on the par-5’s or par-3’s, then they should be paired with a player that performs well on those particular holes. Also, a high birdie-rate is preferable since the majority of time the team will be able to make at least a par.

Foursomes Format: This is the alternate shot format. Therefore, this is more about meshing together the players’ ball-striking, short game and putting ability. Short Game shots from 10-20 yards and the ability to save par is at a premium here. The foursomes format also tends to favor players that hit a lot of fairways, but that is not always needed if the rest of the players’ games jive well together. For example, a player that may miss a lot of fairways may work perfectly with another player that hits it well on shots from out of the rough.

Below is a brief analysis of each member on the U.S. team.

Keegan Bradley


Strengths: Par-4 play, Par-3 Play, All-Around Game
Weaknesses: Par-5 play, Iron play from 75-175 yards
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Fowler, Kuchar, Simpson, Spieth, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Mickelson, Spieth and Watson

While Bradley did not win this season, he has the makeup of an excellent Ryder Cup player. What is interesting is that he struggled a bit on the par-5’s this year despite usually being an excellent par-5 player. With that, I would try and put Keegan with high birdie-rate players that play the par-5’s well in the four-ball format. Keegan should be a quality Foursome partner because he drives it very well and has a good short game. If he is a little off with his driving, it’s because he is missing fairways and I would pair him with good players from the rough that don’t make many bogeys.

Rickie Fowler

Strengths: Par-4 play, Par-5 play, Bogey-rate, Birdie Rate, Driving and shots from 10-20 yds
Weaknesses: Hit Fwy %, Shots from the Rough
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Bradley, Kuchar, Mickelson, Simpson, Watson, Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Furyk and Mahan

Fowler struggled massively with the putter early on and has made a huge turnaround on the greens since Riviera, so he is riding a hot putter coming into the Ryder Cup and played superbly in the majors this year. The only weaknesses are his play from the rough, and he does not hit a ton of fairways.

He is better in the four-ball format given his scoring metrics so you can pair him with just about anybody there. In the Foursome format, I would lean towards a good player from the rough that finds a lot of fairways so he does not have to hit many shots from the long grass.

Jim Furyk


Strengths: Par-4, Par-5 and Par-3 play. Bogey rate, Hit Fwy %, Iron Play, Short game
Weaknesses: Age and historically a poor Four-ball format player.
Suitable Four-ball Partners: N/A
Suitable Foursome Partners: Kuchar, Zach Johnson, and Simpson.

While Furyk plays the par-4’s, par-5’s and par-3’s superbly, he has historically struggled in the four-ball format because he is not a birdie-maker. Therefore, I would not even consider him in the four-ball format. He is better suited in the foursomes format because he finds fairways, hits greens and makes saves. I think he would be best with a player that also finds a lot of fairways, hits approach shots well from the fairway and is a good putter.

Zach Johnson

Strengths: Par-5 play, 175-225 yard play, Driving, fairway play, Hit Fwy %, Shots from 10-20 yards
Weaknesses: Age, Driving Distance, Shots from Rough
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Kuchar, Mickelson, Simpson, Spieth, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Furyk, Kuchar, Mahan and Simpson

Johnson is much like Furyk except he is a more suitable player in the four-ball format because he makes more birdies. He is a player that Watson could possibly ride since he fits both formats pretty well. However, his putting has not been as good as people think (79th in Strokes Gained: Putting). So, in the foursomes format I would want to stick him with some good putters that keep the ball in the fairways.

Matt Kuchar


Strengths: Par-4 play, Bogey and Birdie Rates, Driving, Hit Fwy %, Shots from 175-225 yards, Short Game and Putting
Weaknesses: Driving Distance and shots from the rough
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Bradley, Fowler, Zach Johnson, Mahan, Reed, Simpson, Spieth, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Furyk, Zach Johnson, Mahan and Simpson

Kuchar is more like Zach Johnson in that he fits in nicely in both formats and Tom Watson may want to ride him a bit. He suits almost anybody in the four-ball format. Given his troubles form the rough (130th), I would try and give him partners that find the fairway, strike it well from the fairway and can putt.

Hunter Mahan

Strengths: Par-4 play and Driving
Weaknesses: Par-3 play, Bogey Rate, Birdie Rate, Shots from 175-225 yds, Shots from the Fairway and Shots from 10-20 yards
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Kuchar, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Fowler, Zach Johnson, Simpson and Spieth

The metrics show why I am not a fan of the Mahan pick. However, he has a decent track record in the Ryder Cup and played fairly well at the Open Championship. Mahan’s game has been highlighted by excellent driving and hamstrung by his inability to hit his irons well. This year he did not play well from 10-20 yards so this makes me a little more averse to putting him in the foursomes format.

I would like to see him with Bubba Watson in the four-ball format and re-create a similar team that Paul Azinger created with Boo Weekley and JB Holmes. Weekley, one of the best drivers in the world that hits the ball long and straight, would tee off first and consistently hit good drives past his opponents. If Weekley was in good position, that allowed Holmes a free rip to hit a drive 380 yards. I could see the same working with Mahan and Bubba.

Phil Mickelson


Strengths: Par-4 play, Bogey and Birdie Rate, Shots from the Rough and shots from 10-20 yards
Weaknesses: Hit Fwy % and Shots from the Fairway
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Fowler, Spieth, Simpson, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Bradley, Spieth, Watson and Walker

While Mickelson had one of his worst seasons in recent memory, his game is better suited for the Ryder Cup this year than in year’s past. He is still a player best suited for the four-ball format because he plays all of the holes well and makes a lot of birdies. I know there will be the temptation to place him and Bradley together in the four-ball format. It is not a bad idea, but the numbers indicate that other players like Fowler and Watson would be better suited in the four-ball format.

In the foursomes format, Mickelson’s driving has improved enough that he is not a burden to his partner off the tee. However, that partner will still need to be able to hit it well from the rough as Phil does not find many fairways. I would pair him with good overall drivers of the ball that hit the irons well, particularly from the rough.

Patrick Reed

Strengths: Streaky fantastic play, great past record in match play.
Weaknesses: Streaky poor play, Driving, Hit Fwy %, Shots from the rough and shots from 10-20 yds
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Kuchar, Spieth and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: n/a

Reed is an extremely streaky player. His metrics are not very impressive, but what I have recorded is that when he is on, he is as good as he thinks he is. And when he is off, he shuts down and calls it a week.

I would steer clear of putting him in the foursomes format because he is not very accurate off the tee and he is not very good with the Short Game. I think the streaky player likely works best in the four-ball format where they can kind of do their own thing.

Webb Simpson


Strengths: Par-4 play, Birdie Rate, Shots from the Fairway, Shots from 10-20 yards, putting
Weaknesses: Shots from 175-225 yards, Shots from the rough
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Bradley, Fowler, Johnson, Kuchar, Mahan, Mickelson, Spieth, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Furyk, Kuchar and Johnson.

Simpson was a bit of a controversial pick and I can understand why. He is best suited for the four-ball format, but has struggled to avoid Bogeys. He has some good metrics for the foursomes format, but has massively struggled on shots from 175-225 yards and shots from the rough. I think the obvious choice in the four-ball format is to stick him with Bubba Watson, which worked well in 2010. I would recommend using Simpson in the foursomes format in a pinch, but find a player that hits a lot of fairways and can get up-and-down for when Simpson misses the green.

Jordan Spieth

Strengths: Par-3, Par-4 and Par-5 play. Birdie Rate and Putting
Weaknesses: Hit Fairway %
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Bradley, Kuchar, Johnson, Mickelson, Reed, Simpson, Watson and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Bradley, Mahan, Mickelson, Watson and Walker

Jordan should be a player that is suitable in both formats. He is better off in the four-ball format, but in the foursomes format they should try and protect against his occasional driving woes and find a player that strikes it well off the tee and can hit it well from the rough if Jordan misses the fairway.

Bubba Watson


Strengths: Par-4’s, Par-5’s, Birdie and Bogey Rates, Driving, Distance, Shots from the fwy, Shots from the rough,
Weaknesses: Hit Fairway %, Shots from 10-20 yards, Putting
Suitable Four-ball Partners: Bradley, Furyk, Johnson, Kuchar, Mickelson, Spieth and Walker
Suitable Foursome Partners: Bradley, Mickelson, Spieth and Walker

Watson is better suited in the four-ball format where he pretty much fits well with just about every player on the team. The only question mark is that historically Watson has been a poor player on the par-3’s. He has done a good job on the par-3’s this year (57th), but I would still be guarded against that and seek out the players that are strong on those holes.

In the foursomes format, the main emphasis should be on putting and short game play along with shots from the rough. He is actually more accurate off the tee than most people give credit for, but when he misses he tends to miss big and you need a player that can recover from those shots.

Jimmy Walker

Strengths: Par-3, Par-4, Par-5 play, Birdie and Bogey Rates, Shots from 175-225 yards, Shots from the Rough and Putting
Weaknesses: Driving and Hit Fairway %
Suitable Four-ball Partners: All players
Suitable Foursome Partners: Mickelson, Spieth and Watson

Walker looks to be a great fit in the four-ball format. He is like a poor man’s Mickelson — an ineffective driver of the ball due to his inaccuracy off the tee, but he hits it a long way and is a great iron player with a good short game and putts very well. In the foursomes format I would pair him with players that are good from the rough, but he is much better suited for the four-ball format.

The U.S. teams have traditionally been very well-suited in the four-ball format. This team is no different as most of the members of the team appear to be quite strong in that format. However, the foursomes format has given them issues and this is a team that is very suspect in this format. Therefore, I feel that Captain Tom Watson should likely focus most of his efforts on the alternate shot format and if the U.S. team can break even in that format, they stand a good chance of winning.

My recommendations for the Friday pairings for Team USA

Foursomes Format


Four-Ball Format


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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10



  1. Pingback: ¿Cómo se confeccionan las parejas de la Ryder Cup? -

  2. Greg Palmer

    Sep 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I think metrics have become an important component to every sport, golf included, but by design, what they don’t take into account are the emotional nuances which are also critical elements – especially at events like this. The “statistical” approach alone has never produced a championship of any kind that I can remember. Clearly, champions produce mostly great statistics –

    If I were managing the pairings, I would be looking for a combination of statistics, guts for the moment, past records and experience to a point, and the ability to deliver on the big day. Obviously, being hot right now is a good thing too!

    Currently, the hottest players on the fall playoff list – a list in which Americans have 8 of the top 10 players – feature 6 American Ryder Cuppers. The top 2, Horschel and Kirk are out. That leaves in order 4-9: Furyk, Watson, Mahan, Walker, Kuchar, and Fowler. Spieth was not far behind, Simpson and Zach Johnson also were right there.

    Patrick Reed is the wildcard. He’s cocky and very streaky which might play out well in this format.

    Mickelson and Bradley are known commodities, 3-0-1 in 4somes and 2-1 in 4ball, and should be used together as long as they are competitive in these matches. If healthy and feeling good, they are a must play in every team match (3 of 4 for sure).

    Furyk scares me because his Ryder Cup record is awful! He is a gritty and tough grinder and I would be looking to pair him with another hot golfer out of the gate in foursomes – maybe even a rookie to bring some energy/spark to his play. He is 1-8-1 in fourball at the Ryder Cup, and therefore, he would not play one fourball match for me all weekend.

    In terms of matchups, I want Mickelson or Fowler going up against Rory at every possible team match. I might even throw Bubba in there for length at times, but Mickelson and Fowler played on the big stage this summer with Rory and if not for a couple of errors, either could have won a major – and Fowler multiple. To me, Fowler is the horse for the Americans in these matches – a must-play in all 5 games.

    For Friday, if I’m trying to win and combine what I know about metrics and guts, I’m going with:


    Fowler/Spieth or Mahan

    Four-Ball Format on Friday afternoon – I want Fowler, Mickelson and Watson anchoring a team each. All can make birdies like crazy and that is what I want in this format. I would be making my afternoon pairings based on morning performance. Rotating out the guys who are average and keep in the guys who are hot. Hardly a rocket science idea.

    Possible Pairings:

    Watson/Mahan or Spieth depending on how the morning went
    Mickelson/Bradley or Simpson

    One of the real wildcards in these matches will be Tom Watson. He has become even more stubborn with age and I am not confident in his ability to make adjustments on the fly. We’ll see how it plays out, but I sort of like the idea of being underdog – could play out well.

    • Greg Palmer

      Sep 29, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Just looking back, the US Team faced a huge uphill battle to win these matches, but the Captain did not do them any favors. Past Captains felt that Mickelson’s comments were out of line, but he is probably mostly right about what he said.

      Watson did not make sound adjustments either day during the afternoon matches. The hottest team on the entire golf course dispatched their European opponents in 14 holes in the morning on Friday, and at ages 21 and 25, sat the afternoon. This was a very strong indicator that Watson was completely out of touch.

      And then to sit Mickelson for the entire day on Saturday made no sense after he played twice and went 1-1 on Friday.

      The coach never put these guys into position to win. Not that they could have anyway, but he did not nothing to help the cause.

      Finally, Bubba Watson showed once again why he can’t be relied on in these matches.

  3. Todd Barnes

    Sep 24, 2014 at 2:19 am

    Or a Zach Johnson/ Kuchar pairing instead of Fowler from a statistical view but Rickys swing changes seem to have taken hold and his numbers the last couple of months off the tee are much better than at the start of the season. Thanks Rich.

    • Richie Hunt

      Sep 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

      Fowler hasn’t had many issues off the tee this year to begin with. What was plaguing him was his putting was atrocious early on (worst on Tour in Strokes Gained – Putting). He then turned it around.

      I don’t think he is a bad player for the 4-some format. But, he doesn’t hit a lot of fairways, he’s only decent from 175-225 yards and is below average on shots from the rough. So, you will need to pair him with a partner that hits a lot of fairways, hits it well from the rough and has a really good short game in case Fowler misses from 175-225 yards.

      If you look at the history of the event, you’re better off trying to get as many golfers out playing on Friday as possible. My pairings have all but 1 player playing the first day (Webb Simpson). That way you’re not burning out players, the players are not coming off the bench cold and Tom Watson can get a better feel for who is playing well and who is not and then plan accordingly for Saturday.

      • Todd Barnes

        Sep 24, 2014 at 12:55 pm

        That makes sense Rich, I’m just terrified of which Phil will show up for a foursomes match day 1. Hopefully Bradley/Mickelson will pick up where they left off from Medinah. What if you did a Bradley/ Mahan foursome and a Mickelson/ Watson fourball for day 1 and left the rest of your pairings alone?

  4. truth

    Sep 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    fowler needs to play in every match everyday for usa to have a chance. None of the people you have playing twice on friday should be unless you want usa to be in a big hole after the first day

    • Richie Hunt

      Sep 24, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Difficult to not have several golfers playing in both matches on Friday because of how the Ryder Cup is set up. And if you look at the history of the Ryder Cup, usually the team that stockpiles their players on Friday, falter on Saturday and Sunday. It burns out those players that played and the apparently the players that have to play end up ‘coming off the bench’ cold.

      Not sure why Fowler has to play every match. It’s very arguable that he is even the best player on the team. And he has had a less than stellar Ryder Cup record.

  5. Philip

    Sep 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Very interesting, I like how you lined up the stats. Of course, the final deciding factor would be whether they gel with each other, but the stats are definitely a good start.

    What was the thing about age as a weakness for only Zach and Jim?

  6. ally smith

    Sep 23, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Great read, Hope the boys do well and put a good show. Either way i know i’ll enjoy this week end. Great writing Rich, always appreciate your work.

    Cheers !!!

  7. TR1PTIK

    Sep 23, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Interesting that you list “age” as a weakness for Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson, but not Phil Mickleson. Nor do you list age as a strength for any of the younger players – not sure what age has to do with anything anyway. I stopped reading as soon as I got to that point. Maybe you can find something else to write about like knitting or something.

    • Richie Hunt

      Sep 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Mickelson and age was a simple oversight when I looked at weaknesses. But, I fully believe that is an issue since he dropped out of 4-some match on Saturday at Medinah and has had some injury issues this season.

      As far as it being a ‘strength’ for younger players, I just don’t think that youth can actually be a strength. It’s a nice benefit if the player starts out on fire because you can use them for the rest of the event. But, if they are playing lousy…youth is not going to change that.

      • TR1PTIK

        Sep 24, 2014 at 6:19 am

        I get what you’re saying, but still don’t see what age has to do with anything. Mickleson has a well-known arthritic condition, and Matt Kuchar has had issues with his back this season. Furyk and Johnson? Nothing that I’ve heard of this season. I guess you could argue that they could fatigue faster or something, but then again, the world no. 1 Rory McIlroy used fatigue to brush off his poor play in the playoffs. Bottom line, age isn’t a good reason to discredit someone when you’re talking golf. All of this coming from a 27 year old by the way…

  8. Mark Davis

    Sep 23, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks so much for this excellent breakdown going into the Cup. No doubt many will argue but it’s great to read an analysis from which we can start our own pondering… especially if, like me, you’re weak on stats and ares going with much more informal evaluations of the players.

    It’s Ryder Cup. Anybody can rise, anybody can fall, anything can happen.

  9. John

    Sep 23, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    C’mon… We wanna win this damn thing. Here we go:





    Now I’ll accept a rebuttal…

    • Richie Hunt

      Sep 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      One of the issues is that you only have 10 different players on day 1. We have to be leery of burning out our players and having them get ‘cold’ by having to wait until Saturday to play. Reed is a good example because he is not suited for the 4-some format. So if he doesn’t play on Friday, he’ll have to wait until Saturday afternoon to finally play. I only left out 1 player (Simpson), but he was a captain’s pick and has the experience to wait a little. And I can use him in the 4-some format if necessary.

      Mickelson and Bradley in the 4-ball format I’m a bit averse to because Keegan hasn’t played the par-5’s well this year and Mickelson has been decent. I would rather go with what I feel are stronger pairings and also give Phil some rest for the 4-some format with Keegan for Saturday if possible.

      I don’t think your pairings are bad by any means and if Watson were to go that route I think it’s not a bad job of pairing players, but I do think there are some better teams out there statistically that go beyond the ‘big names.’ I am also curious on how well Reed performs because I could see him getting out on Friday and dominating and then we can ride him on Saturday.

      • Todd Barnes

        Sep 24, 2014 at 1:24 am

        Hey Rich, love your moneyball approach as I believe that the USA won’t win until they start getting the RIGHT players, not the best players. 1980 USA hockey should be a lesson but the USA hasn’t seemed to learn it yet. Anyways, my question is why did you put Mickelsons/ Bradley in fours some? Mickelson and Bradley are both so streaky off the tee but can make tons of birdies in the four ball matches which you didn’t put them in so I am wondering why. Also I would put Kuchar/Fowler in foursomes because they both drive and putt really well, and move Mickelson/ Bradley to fourbball to light up Europe. Now I would like to know why my idea is bad. Thanks again love your articles.

        • Todd Barnes

          Sep 24, 2014 at 2:25 am

          Or a Zach Johnson/ Kuchar pairing for foursomes instead of Fowler/Kuchar but from a statistical view but Rickys swing changes seem to have taken hold and his numbers the last couple of months off the tee are much better than at the start of the season. Thanks Rich.

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Opinion & Analysis

The best bets for the 2023 Scandinavian Mixed



There could hardly be a more distinct difference between two courses holding consecutive events.

Last week, 20-year-old Tom McKibbin pounded his way around the 7500-odd-yards of Green Eagle to break his maiden in impressive fashion, courtesy of this outstanding approach shot to the 72nd hole. Remind you of anyone at that age?

Fast forward not long and the DPWT arrives at Ullna Golf and Country Club for the third renewal of the mixed-gender Scandanavian Mixed.

The welcome initiative sees male and female players on the course at the same time, playing to the same pins. Only movement of the tee boxes distinguishes the challenge, and whilst there is water aplenty at this coastal track, yardages of no more than 7000 and 6500 yards should frighten none of the top lot in each sex.

Genders are one-all at the moment, with Jonathan Caldwell winning the inaugural event thanks to a lacklustre Adrian Otaegui, and the brilliant Linn Grant winning by a country mile last season.

Most will be playing their approach shots from the same distance this week and with neither particularly stretched, this may be the most open of mixed events yet.

Defending champ Linn Grant and fellow home player Madelene Sagstrom look on a different level to the rest of the European ladies this week, but preference is clearly for the 23-year-old winner of eight worldwide events, including her last two in Sweden.

Last season, the Arizona State graduate took a two-shot lead into the final round before an unanswered eight-birdie 64 saw her cross the line nine shots in front of Mark Warren and Henrik Stenson, her nearest female rival being 14 shots behind.

Since that victory, Grant has won two events on the LET, the latest being a warm-up qualifying event for the upcoming Evian Championship, held at the same course and at which she was 8th last year. The Swede is making her mark on the LPGA Tour,

Given the yardage advantage she has off the tee amongst her own sex, the pin-point accuracy of her irons and a no-frills attitude when in contention, this looks no more difficult than last year.  If there is a a market on ‘top female player,’ there may be a long queue.

He’s been expensive to follow for win purposes, but Alexander Bjork is another home player that will revel with the emphasis on accuracy.

There isn’t a awful lot to add to last week’s preview (or indeed the previous week’s) which both highlighted just how well the Swede is playing.

Recommended Bets:

  • Linn Grant
  • Alexander Bjork


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Opinion & Analysis

Winning and the endowment effect



A central concept in behavioral economics is the endowment effect. Coined by Richard Thaler at the University of Chicago, the endowment effect describes how people tend to value items they own more highly than they would if they did not belong to them. So how does this relate to sports, or more specifically, to golf? Let me explain.

Golf is hard. Winning is harder. Golf has created a lure where winning major championships is the hardest of all. The problem is that mathematically a win is a win. This means that valuing wins differently is actually an instance of the application of the endowment effect in golf.

Winning in golf creates an inverse normal distribution where winning can be very hard, then easy, and then very hard again. To win, players must evoke the “hot hand”; this is the idea that success breeds success. In golf, the reality is that birdies come in streaks; players typically enjoy a run of birdies over a couple of holes. The goal for every player is to hold this streak for as long as possible. The longer and more often they are able to do this, the more likely a player is to win.

Another question is, how much do players value wins? At the current moment, up to the PGA Jon Rahm sees winning as easier (or less valuable) with his recent win at the Masters and other early season events to accompany his U.S. Open win from 2021. However, that changed at the PGA, when he opened with a round in the mid-70s. All of a sudden the lure of the trophy distracted Rahm. Likewise, we saw both Corey Conners and Hovland hit extremely rare shots into the face of the bunker on Saturday and Sunday. These are shots that do not happen under distribution. In my opinion, the prestige of a major was at the root of these shots.

To overcome the barrier of becoming a champion, players must first understand that winning is not special. Instead, winning is a result of ample skills being applied in duration with the goal of gaining and holding the hot hand. The barrier for most players with enough skill to win, the endowment effect tells us, is that they overvalue winning. Doing so may prevent them from ever getting the hot hand. So maybe, just maybe, the key to winning more is wanting to win less. Easier said than done when one’s livelihood is on the line, but to overvalue a win at one specific tournament, be it the Masters or the two-day member guest, may be doing more harm than good.

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Opinion & Analysis

The best bets for the 2023 Porsche European Open



Green Eagle hosts the European Open for the sixth consecutive time, missing only the pandemic year of 2020.

Known for its potential to stretch to 7800 yards, this monster course in Hamburg is able to reduce itself to around 7300, a far less insurmountable proposition that allows the non-bombers to make use of their pin-point iron play.

Of the top 16 players last year (top 10 and ties) nine fell into the top 12 for tee-to-green, split into those that made it off-the-tee (six in the top-12) and those from approach play (total of four players). Go back to 2021 and champion Marcus Armitage won the shortened three-round event with a ranking of 40th off-the-tee, whereas four of the remaining top-10 ranked in single figures for the same asset.

It’s a real mix, and whilst I’m definitely on the side of those that hit it a long way, there are more factors at work here, particularly a solid relationship with the Italian Open, as well as events in the Czech Republic and Dubai, weeks that allow drivers to open up a tad.

Last year’s winner Kalle Samooja has a best of 2023 at the Marco Simone Club, a tournament won by Adrian Meronk, and with a top-10 containing the big-hitters Julien Guerrier, Nicolai Hojgaard and Daniel Van Tonder, with Armitage a couple of shots away in ninth place.

Like Armitage, the Finn also boasts a win in China (although at differing courses) where solid driver Sean Crocker (third) carries a link between the Czech Masters, being runner-up to Johannes Veerman (10th here, eighth Italy), and another bomber Tapio Pulkkanen, whose best effort this year has been at the Ryder Cup venue to be.

Of the 35-year-old Englishman, his only other victory came in the 2018 Foshan Open, where his nearest victims included Alexander Knappe, Mattieu Pavan and Ryan Fox, all constantly there in the lists for top driving, with Bernd Ritthammer (tied runner-up here 2019) in ninth place.

Amidst plenty of Crans and Alfred Dunhill form on various cards, 2022 Italian Open winner Robert Macintyre was the second of three that tied in second place here behind the classy Paul Casey in 2019, as well as tying with Matthias Schwab at Olgiata, Italy, in the same year.

The Austrian, now plying his trade on the other side of the pond, also brings in the third of three players that ran up here, a seventh place at Green Eagle, two top-10 finishes at Albatross and top finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and China.

Current favourites Victor Perez and Rasmus Hojgaard both disappointed last week at the Dutch Open, and whilst that occurred in completely differing circumstances, they give nagging doubts to what would otherwise be solid claims on class alone.

The Frenchman hadn’t recovered from a week away at Oak Hill when missing the cut, but probably should have won here last year when eventually third, and his ball-striking doesn’t quite have the same sound at the moment. On the other side, the Dane star again had a chance to prove best last week, but for the fourth time in nine months, failed to go through with his effort after entering Sunday in the final two groups.

If wanting a player to link up all the chosen comp tracks, then Jordan Smith would be the selection, even at 20/1 or thereabouts. However, having been safely in the draw for the weekend after 12 holes of his second round at Bernardus, the 2017 Green Eagle champ completely lost control of his tee-to-green game, dropping nine shots in his last seven holes. The 30-year-old is made for this place, as his two further top-11 finishes indicate, but last week’s effort needs a large bunker of forgiveness and I’ll instead nail my colours (again) to Alexander Bjork, the man that beat Smith in China in 2018.

I was with the Swede last week based on crossover form, and this week he makes similar appeal being able to back up that Asian form with top finishes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi (see Casey) and Crans (Armitage and shock winner of this event Richard McEvoy). Of that sole victory at Topwin, it has to be of interest that former China Open specialist Alex Levy won the last running of the European Open at Bad Griesbach before finishing second and 13th here, whilst impossible-to-read HaoTong Li, the 2016 Topwin champ, was 18th on his only try around the monster that is Green Eagle.

Last week’s top-30 made it 10 cuts in a row for 2023, with some impressive displays through this first half of the year, including top-20 in Dubai, second in Ras and back-to-back fourth placings at both the Soudal and Italian Opens.

The 32-year-old ranks fifth for overall performance over the last 12 weeks comprising 32nd in total driving, 24th for ball-striking and 12th for putting. He is exploiting his excellent tee-to-green game, and now ranking in third for scrambling, remains one of the rare players that can recover well when missing their target – although at 19th for greens-in-regulation, this isn’t that often.

Bjork has made all four cuts here, with his last three finishes in the mid-20s, but is in probably the best form of his life. With doubts surrounding many of the rivals at the top, his constant barraging of the short stuff should see him challenging over the weekend.

Home favourite Yannik Paul has been well backed from a far-too-big early price, and there is a case for making him still value at 30+, but Jorge Campillo needs forgiving for an awful display from the front last weekend, even if that was an outlier to his otherwise excellent run, that includes a victory and top-10 in Italy.

There seem to be an awful lot of doubts about the top lot in the market (save a mere handful) so take a trip downtown and try nabbing a bit of value prices that will pay nicely should they nab a place.

Whilst Gavin Green would seem to be an obvious place to go, he sits in the range between 50/1 and 100/1,  full of untapped talent and players, that have least not had too many chances to put their head in front.

Jordan Smith won on debut here, so it’s not impossible, and whilst Jeong Weon Ko may need another year or two to reach his peak, he is one that appeals as a ‘watch’ for the rest of 2023.

The French-born Korean dominated his home junior scene before taking his time through the Alps and Challenge Tours, eventually settling in during the second half of 2022. From July to September, Ko played 14 times, recording four top five finishes, two further top-10s and a pair of top-20s, those results including a fourth place finish at the Challenge Tour finale.

His rookie season at this level started well with a 30th and fourth place in Africa, and he has since progressed steadily as the DPWT ramped it up a level.

Top-20 finishes in Korea, India and Belgium, where he was in second place at halfway, suggest he should soon be competing on a Sunday, whilst in-between those, a third-round 67 was enough to launch him to inside the top 10 at St. Francis Links.

On the 12-week tracker, Ko ranks 12th with positions inside the top-30 for all the relevant stats.

15th for distance, 25th for greens, and top-10 for par-5s, he has a bit of Green about him but without the question marks. Whilst he hasn’t won on the professional stage, his second to bomber Daniel Hillier at the Swiss Challenge reads nicely, as does his top-15 at the Di-Data in 2021 when surrounded by longer hitters, and he appears to be of the quality that will leave these results behind in time.

Hillier himself can be fancied, especially after last week’s fifth at the Dutch Open, but I’ll go with the man that beat him by a single shot last week in the shape of Deon Germishuys.

The DPWT rookie has already had a season to remember, leading home fellow South African Wilco Nienaber at U.S Open qualifying at Walton Heath at the beginning of May, and securing his ticket to his first major.

Interestingly, two of the other five qualifying spots were won by Alejandro Del Rey and Matthieu Pavon, all four names being some of the longest drivers on the tour.

That may well have been the boost that pushed the 23-year-old to record his best effort on the DPWT so far, his third at the Dutch Open marking another step up from the 15th in Belgium just two weeks previous, and a top-10 in Japan when just behind Macintyre, Paul, Smith and Campillo.

In what is a fledgling career, this event starts just a few days after the anniversary of his first victory on his home Sunshine Tour where he beat some of the country’s longest hitters to the biggest prize for a non co-sanctioned tournament, before nabbing his DPWT card via a 20th place ranking at the end of the Challenge Tour season.

The three mentioned top-15 finishes have all appeared on his card since the beginning of April, and this rapidly-improving player now has last weekend’s finish fresh in the mind, finishing in front of Meronk et al, despite not being able to buy a putt on Sunday.

A lot of what Deon is doing on the course reminds me of compatriot Dean Burmester, who had a terrific record at the Di-Data at Farncourt, something being repeated by the younger man (20th and 7th). Now signed by LIV, Burmy also had a solid record at Albatross and in Italy, where a best of fifth place should have been higher at the bizarre Chervo track, biased towards long-hitters but won by a demon putter instead.

I’m tempted by the names Tom Mckibbin, nowhere near a finished article and keen to attack this course, flusher Dan Bradbury, and bomber Marcus Helligkilde (still not convinced he is absolutely one-hundred percent), but they may only make the top-10/20 bets.

Kalle Samooja should go well in his bid to defend his crown, but I’m taking fellow Finn Tapio Pulkkanen to improve on his 18th here last year with the chance to again make his length count.

Having won both the Nordic League (2015) and the Challenge Tour Order of Merit (2017), the be-hatted one was always going to be a player to look out for and, in truth, it hasn’t really happened.

However, his case lies with the best of his efforts, all of which combine to believe that should organisers stretch this course to over 7500-yards at any point, then he is one of a few that could handle the layout.

Silver and bronze at the Czech Masters, Pulkkanen thrived on the open layout of the Dunhill Links, finishing top-10 twice since 2019.  Add those to a second (Hainan) and 14th in China, top-20 finishes in Dubai and Himmerland, as well as good finishes at the classier BMW at Wentworth and he just needs to show something to make appeal at one of only half-a-dozen tracks that he could be fancied around.

The 33-year-old led in Chervo in 2019 before showing he enjoys Italy with his best-of-the-season 16th at the Marco Simone at the beginning of May, where he should have done better, having been in the top five for all the first three rounds.

By no means one to place maximum faith in, he is similar to the likes of Veerman and Joakim Lagergren in that they suit certain types of tracks, and they are the only ones they could be backed at. This one, Green Eagle, together with Pulkkanen, seems like one of those times.

Recommended Bets:

  • Alexander Bjork 
  • Dean Germishuys 
  • JW Ko 
  • Tapio Pulkkanen 
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