Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

The problems with Rory and traditional golf statistics



Mark Twain was once said “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

This is often a popular adage from critics of an advanced metrics point of view. Normally this tends to occur with people who utilize anecdotal evidence to formulate their opinions and when the numbers tell them something they don’t like. The reality is that statistics do not lie, but incomplete and flawed statistics can lead to faulty analysis and conclusions derived from that analysis.

A prime example of this right now is the “fall” of Rory McIlroy’s play. People are stating that his dip in his performance is due to switching equipment. Johnny Miller thinks it is a giant mistake for Rory to switch his irons, as he did the same thing in his prime and he could never quite adjust to the change. Let’s take a look at his “traditional” golf metrics:


As we can see, Rory is better this year in fairway percentage and greens in regulation. He has regressed in scrambling percentage. Most people, including statisticians, would agree that greens in regulation has a larger impact on Tour success than scramble percentage. So, why has Rory performed worse this year despite hitting more fairways and greens in regulation?

Let’s take a look at his putting. While putts gained is not a “traditional” metric, it’s becoming more accepted as a traditional metric. Is the putting the problem?


The table shows that Rory is actually putting better this year than he did last year. It’s traditional metrics like GIR percentage, total driving and scramble percentage that tend to confuse golfers and consequently brush off metrics as “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

However, all it takes is to dig a little deeper and to use more detailed statistics and we start to see a better depiction of Rory’s play in 2012. Here’s a look at my main ballstriking metrics which include:

Driving effectiveness: A proprietary formula that uses the metrics of driving distance, fairway percentage, percentage of fairway bunkers hit, distance from the edge of the fairway and “missed fairways – other” to determine a player’s effectiveness off the tee.

Birdie zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 75-125 yards.

Safe zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 125-175 yards.

Danger zone: Proximity to the cup on approach shots from 175-225 yards.


These numbers suggest that the new equipment is not an issue or at least the new irons have worked out better for him this year.

While he is less effective off the tee, considering this is based out of 190 players on Tour he is still a driving the ball great.

So, where is the issue?

From what I have gathered so far, I would look at the two largest statistical regressions: scrambling and driving.

First, let’s look at my metric called “short game play.” This is the average proximity to the cup on all shots that are no more than 20 yards away from the edge of the green. We have seen that Rory has improved his putts gained, so let’s see if his actual skills around the green have regressed.


So yes, there has been a regression. But we simply cannot stop there because it is not a big enough regression to explain Rory’s dip in play from last year as we the numbers tell us that short game play does not have that large of an influence on a player’s score. Let’s drill down further and look at the attempts per round on shots from around the green.


And here is where we start to see some of the issue with Rory’s play. While he has regressed a bit in his ability to get the ball closer to the cup on shots around the green, one major issue is that he is leaving himself with more shots from a longer distance. With that said, that still does not quite tell the entire story. So, let’s drill down and examine his driving a bit further.

We know that he’s hitting it about the same distance off the tee. We also know that he is hitting more fairways this year. Since he is less effective off the tee this year, that leaves it to examining what I call the precision metrics of driving as we have already examined the power (distance) and accuracy (fairway percentage) metrics of driving.


And here is where we are starting to see more of the entire story into the regression of Rory’s play from 2012. Essentially, Rory is hitting his irons better and putting better. He’s hitting the ball virtually the same distance off the tee and is actually more accurate (fairway percentage), but he is much more imprecise off the tee this year and it is affecting his play despite the fact that he’s been better at the popular “traditional metric” greens in regulation percentage.

This is why I generally avoid examining greens in regulation percentage, particularly on the Tour level. For starters, it is too vague of a metric to really learn from. I have seen plenty of high GIR percentage players who struggle off the tee, but hit it great with their irons (Tiger). Conversely, I have seen high GIR percentage players who hit it great off the tee but have their struggles with the irons (Bubba Watson). It simply fails to tell the golfer how they get the ball on the green in regulation, either from a good drive or a good iron shot or both.

Secondly, across the board the numbers show that proximity to the cup has a higher correlation to success on Tour than GIR percentage. In fact, if you go to a Tour event it is obvious that Tour players have some sense of this as they are more apt to fire at a flag, even with trouble nearby, rather than to aim for the middle of the green. Simply put, the average Tour player makes one birdie putt outside 25 feet per 98 holes of golf!

Thus, Tour players instinctively understand that in order to make birdies on the course they need to get the birdie putt close to the hole. And most of the time the Tour players would take a 25-foot chip shot from off the green than the 50-foot putt that is on the green. And if you’re a golfer, you should probably do the same as well or start improving your short game enough so you start to want to have those much shorter chip shots over those longer putts.

What greens in regulation percentage does not tell us about Rory’s game is that he is hitting a higher percentage of greens in spite of being more imprecise with the driver. And what is happening is that when he misses a green it is coming more from a bad tee shot than a bad iron shot. Not only does that possibly mean that he is finding hazards and out of bounds more often (missed fairway –- other), but his bad drives are much worse this year and it leaves him with much more difficult shots to save par from.

So for now, I would say that the new irons and putter are actually helping Rory. But he now has to figure out how to get back his precision off the tee with the new driver. If he can, he’ll be even tougher to beat.

Your Reaction?
  • 0
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

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. John R

    Apr 20, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Am I understanding correctly? You’re saying that he’s hitting the ball pretty well but when he does miss, he misses big and it’s the occasional big miss that’s costing him. Is that right? Is it possible to validate that with some sort of hole-by-hole scoring comparison? In other words, could we say that in 2012 his scorecard doesn’t have enough big numbers on it but in 2013, there are always a couple of holes that have more influence on the high score?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 20, 2013 at 10:51 pm


      You have the right idea. Essentially, his bad shots off the tee are worse than last year.

      Unfortunately, the Tour does not have track double bogeys or worse on their Web site. However, he was 27th in Bogey Avoidance last year…currently 93rd this year. He was 1st in Birdies last year, 7th this year. The bigger dropoff is obviously in the Bogeys.

  2. Nick

    Apr 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    I think the analysis of Rory’s game is fascinating. That being said, the advice for the average player to fire for the flag is wrong. Pro level short game is so far and above that of the average player that the penalty they pay for a missed green is not even close to what your average weekend warrior plays. Hit a green, and your going to be in at probably two, three max. For plenty of amateurs, 4 strokes from the green side is not entirely uncommon, three is the most likely result. Obviously, the problem their is not firing at flags, its sub-standard short game but that’s what most amateurs are bringing to the table. Combine that with the fact that a pro’s dispersion with his irons is much smaller than an amateur, and I still think firing for center of green is the better play for those who aren’t playing off low/mid single digit handicaps or otherwise don’t have the game to go pin-seeking everytime and make it pay for them.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 19, 2013 at 8:51 am

      It depends on the difference in closer to the hole. While Tour players have very good short games, more amateurs would be better off with a 25 foot chip/pitch than a 50 foot putt. Now if it was a 25 foot shot from the bunker, that would be a different story. And he better amateurs tend to aim for the middle of the green way too often.

      That’s why they can shoot the scores they do despite a Tour average of a little under 12 greens in regulation while averaging 1 birdie putt made from greater than 25 feet for every 98 holes played.

      They are more capable of firing at a flag and if they miss…miss in the right spot and make for an easy up-and-down. If they don’t miss…they end up with a birdie putt that is close to the hole and give themselves a better chance of making the birdie.

      From the amateur data I’ve collected, most amateurs aim at the flag unless there is a bunker or water hazard in the way. The closer to scratch amateurs tend to aim at the middle of the green more often and when they fire at flags…they do not account for where the best spot is located if they miss the green. It’s really the greatest example of poor strategy that kills rounds for good amateurs.

      The best way I would explain it is that regardless of handicap, it should not be mandatory to have to hit 14+ GIR in order to shoot in the 60’s.

  3. Ivan

    Apr 18, 2013 at 2:34 am

    And what if Rory was struggling simply because he has done some changes at his swing?
    His hips seems less rotating during a driver swing …

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 18, 2013 at 10:35 am

      The only difficulty I have with that Ivan is he’s hitting the ball just as far and hitting more fairways. It could very well be the issue rather than the new driver.

      I don’t necessarily think it’s quite either. Rory is a fairly streaky player and he hits a gigantic draw off the tee. I think that plays into why he is streaky…when the ball is not drawing like it should he has difficulty playing for it. Take a player that hits a smaller draw if he starts drawing it more or less than normal, I don’t think it’s quite as big of a problem for them.

  4. Jack

    Apr 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    I’m confused by that his GIR hasn’t dropped, but his distance from the edge of fairway has. Since the distance from edge is a contributing factor to the GIR, doesn’t that just mean his iron play has gotten better? And yet the end result hasn’t changed (getting it on the green), so why? It seems like to me it’s his short game. He’s regressed with less attempts in the 10-20 range. Plus when you add up the totals he gets 4.77 strokes played within 40 yards and 4.48 for 2012. If GIR remains steady, then the lower short game strokes would be beneficial as a cumulative measure. This is getting too involved. I’m just going to blame it on the driver.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 18, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Good points, Jack.

      First, while he’s ranked 103rd in Avg. Distance From Edge of Fairway; that is actually a very good ranking for a golfer that hits it as far as he does. When he ranked 29th in 2012, that was downright outstanding for his length off the tee. Usually good drivers of the ball that are that long are around 150-165th in that metric. He’s also hitting more fairways and hitting his irons better.

      I think it’s fairly simple to see that he’s hitting a lot of great shots on the course and that is allowing him to hit more greens. But, it’s the occasional big miss off the tee (and fairway bunkers) that is really killing his game right now. He didn’t have that last year and that’s why he dominated.

  5. john

    Apr 17, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    he has only played less than 10 rounds… obviously his stats will look better. how about you write another article after the conclusion of the 2013 season? It doesn’t take rocket science to see rory’s struggle. you are just playing devil’s advocate saying all the analysis is wrong for saying he is playing bad..

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 17, 2013 at 10:39 pm


      I disagree with your point because I’m utilizing the rankings instead of pure numbers which makes the comparison more apples to apples.

      I think it’s obvious that Rory is struggling as well as I inferred that in the title. I’m going into *why* he is struggling in spite of traditional metrics like GIR being better (ranking wise) this year.

      And he’s hitting his new irons and putter better which was supposed to be a big part of his struggles. And he’s even doing some things with the driver better. He’s just hitting more of those occasional bad drives than he was last year and that is causing him to lose strokes whether it be off the tee or of the subsequent shots.

  6. Morgan

    Apr 17, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Fantastic article Rich, great read and very informative.

  7. christian

    Apr 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Personally, I would always think it is a biggger issue changing drivers than irons. Especially blade irons, the blade rory plays is probably more or less exactly the same as his old one. With the same grind, look and probably even tha same steel. Starting to use a driver with a “cavity back” would seem to be a much bigger step, equipment wise. So, his driver (and also woods) is probably the issue.

  8. Richie Hunt

    Apr 17, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Thanks Roger. I think if anything, Rory does not have far to go. The assumption that his game has fallen badly off because of the equipment is inaccurate at this point.

  9. timmy

    Apr 17, 2013 at 5:38 am

    i think distance from the fairway edge is too subjective to be included in the calculation

    it is very possible that the player intended to land the ball closer to the edge under certain circumstances.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 17, 2013 at 9:41 am

      It’s not as subjective in the terms you think of it as. It’s very telling of a player’s precision off the tee. That is in part what made Rory #2 in my Driving Effectiveness metric, he hits it super long and was an astouding 29th in Distance From Edge of Fairway.

      All of the data I’ve collected thru ShotLink and Shot Tracker shows that the Tour players are always trying to find the fairway in some regard. The real difference is how much it really matters given the course. A course like Bay Hill…hitting fairways and having a close Distance from the Edge of the Fairway is fairly important to a player’s success. That’s because the rough is usually taller at Bay Hill. But a course like Redstone (Shell Houston Open) hitting fairways and having a close Distance from the Edge of the Fairway has never had statistical importance to a player’s success there. I’ve never been to Redstone, but my Tour clients tell me that the rough there provides virtually no consequences to hit out of.

      So at a place like Redstone, hitting a 280 yard drive in the fairway will provide an advantage over hitting a 280 yard drive in the rough. It’s just that the advantage is smaller than if those drives were hit at a course like Bay Hill.

      And there’s a correlation between distance from edge of fairway and ‘missed fairways – other.’ Strangely, that correlation doesn’t quite exist with fairway bunkers. That’s because the longer hitters who are less precise can often blast it well over the fairway bunkers. But for Rory, that has not been the case this year.

  10. Roger Faithfull

    Apr 17, 2013 at 3:39 am

    Thanks for a hugely detailed analysis on Rory’s game.
    So all he has to do is add a 910D3 in a Covert Cover into the Bag.
    I’m a great Rory fan. I wish him well for the balance of 2013.
    I seem to recall he did a Huge come back in 2012…………….
    Regards, Roger in New Zealand..just below Australia !

    • Eric

      Apr 17, 2013 at 7:40 am

      Great summary but I would want to know are you comparing the statistics from all of 2012 versus the first 3+ months of 2013 or are you comparing the first 3 months of play for both 2012 and 2013? It would be interesting to see how these statistics stack up at the end of the year versus the entire previous year. Anything that shuts Johnny Miller up is a bonus from my point of view. Now… can the average Joe track this stuff 🙂

      • Richie Hunt

        Apr 17, 2013 at 9:34 am

        I’m just comparing the first 3 months versus the entire 2012 season. That’s why I used rankings instead of the actual numbers to help make it more ‘apples to apples.’

        It is also another reason why I thought the short game shots around the green data wasn’t enough to cause the dip in his play. Instead, we see dramatic differences in his drives that go into fairway bunkers and drives that are ‘missed fairway – other’ which is any shot that is not in the fairway, rough or fairway bunker (i.e. trees, hazards, O.B., etc).

        I am currently collecting data that will be able to track specific data for each tournament. I plan to use that soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Opinion & Analysis

Vincenzi’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship betting preview: Course specialists ready for title charge in Bermuda



The PGA TOUR heads to Southampton, Bermuda this week to play the Butterfield Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course.

Port Royal Golf Club is a 6,828-yard, par-71 layout featuring Bermudagrass greens designed by Robert Trent Jones. This is the fifth edition of the tournament and marks the fourth time it will be the primary TOUR stop for the week (after being an alternate event). 

The Bermuda Championship field is relatively weak but will feature a better field than last year with players such as Adam Scott, Lucas Glover, Akshay Bhatia, Cameron Champ, Alex Noren, Sam Bennett and Nick Dunlap making the trip. Fifteen-year-old Oliver Betschart will play this week, making him the youngest golfer to tee it up on the PGA Tour since 2014.

Past Winners at The Bermuda Championship

  • 2022: Seamus Power (-19)
  • 2021: Lucas Herbert (-15)
  • 2020: Brian Gay (-15)
  • 2019: Brendon Todd (-24)

Let’s take a look at several metrics for Port Royal Golf Club to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

Strokes Gained: Approach

The weaker the field, the more I tend to rely on statistics. Strokes Gained: Approach is a great way to measure current form and shows who is the most dialed in with their irons.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Lucas Glover (+29.5)
  2. Russell Knox (+22.2)
  3. Alex Smalley (+18.5)
  4. Ryan Moore (+17.9) 
  5. Justin Lower (+17.0)

Fairways Gained

The rough at Port Royal Golf Club can actually be quite unforgiving, so it will be important to target accurate golfers. As evidenced by both Brendon Todd and Brian Gay winning here, distance off the tee won’t be much of a factor.

Total Fairways Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Ryan Armour (+39.6)
  2. Satoshi Kodaira (+38.5)
  3. Brendon Todd (+37.6
  4. Troy Merritt (+33.3)
  5. Martin Laird (+32.9)

Strokes Gained Putting: Bermudagrass

This is an event that could turn into a putting contest. If the majority of the field is hitting greens in regulation, it might come down to whoever can heat up with the putter. Bermudagrass specialists will have the best chance to do just that at Port Royal.

Total Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermudagrass) in past 24 rounds:

  1. Chad Ramey (+25.3)
  2. Chesson Hadley (+23.0)
  3. Martin Trainer (+19.2)
  4. Brian Gay (+18.2)
  5. Alex Noren (+17.6)

Birdies or Better Gained

In 2019, we saw the winner of this event at 24-under par. In two of the past three years, extreme winds made scoring difficult. Regardless of the weather this time around, the winner will likely have plenty of birdies.

Total Birdie or Better Gained in past 24 rounds: 

  1. Luke List (+22.7)
  2. Adam Scott (+18.3)
  3. M.J. Daffue (+16.1)
  4. Lucas Glover (+15.9)
  5. Carl Yuan (+11.9)

Strokes Gained: Short Game

The first three editions of the tournament have been dominated by the players who have the best short games on TOUR. An added emphasis on who’s the best around the green and putting should help narrow down the player pool.

Total Strokes Gained: Short Game in past 24 rounds:

  1. Aaron Baddeley (+27.4)
  2. Brendon Todd (+27.3)
  3. Ricky Barnes (+24.7)
  4. Scott Piercy (+22.8) 
  5. Stephan Jaeger (+19.8)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (25%); Fairways Gained (21%); SG: Putting bermudagrass (21%); Birdies or better gained (21%) and SG: Short Game (12%)

  1. Brendon Todd (+1800)
  2. Kelly Kraft (+13000)
  3. Mark Hubbard (+3000)
  4. Lucas Glover (+2500)
  5. Ben Griffin (+2500)
  6. Peter Kuest (+5000)
  7. Alex Noren (+2800)
  8. Adam Scott (+1800)
  9. Dylan Wu (+5000)
  10. Satoshi Kodaira (+22000)

Butterfield Bermuda Championship Best Bets

Ben Griffin +2500 (FanDuel)

Last year, Ben Griffin slept on the 54-hole lead at Port Royal but struggled in the final round, shooting 72 and slipping to a tie for third place. The 27-year-old came agonizingly close once again a few weeks ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship but missed an eight-foot putt to win the event and eventually lost on the first playoff hole.

Griffin played well once again last week at the World Wide Technology Championship, finishing 13th. The strong performance should increase his confidence as he heads back to a course he absolutely loves. In the field, Griffin ranks 8th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 11th in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermudagrass and 21st in Strokes Gained: Short Game. His ability to score on shorter courses make him an ideal fit for Port Royal.

With a few frustrating Sunday’s early in his career, I believe Griffin has developed the necessary scar tissue to win the next time he finds himself deep in contention.

Taylor Pendrith +2500 (DraftKings)

Taylor Pendrith came close to winning this event back in 2021 when he had the 54-hole lead before shooting a 76 on Sunday. The Canadian is in excellent from coming into the 2023 version of the event. He’s finished 3rd and 15th in his last two starts at the Shriners and World Wide Technology Championship.

Despite being a long hitter, Pendrith has thrived on shorter courses throughout his career. He has top-20 finishes at Pebble Beach, Sedgefield CC, Port Royal and Sea Island. In addition to being short, those courses are all coastal tracks, which the 32-year-old clearly is fond of.

Pendrith is extremely talented but still winless as a PGA Tour player. a weak field on a course where he’s had success is an ideal spot for his breakthrough victory.

Marty Dou +7500 (DraftKings)

Marty Dou is another player who has thrived on the coast throughout the course of his career. He has top-5 finishes at TPC Kuala Lumpur and the Panama Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour and finished 17th at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship last season.

Dou missed the cut in his most recent start at the Shriners, but that was largely due to his losing 4.8 strokes around the green in his first two rounds, which is an aberration as he’s typically a strong player in that category. In his prior start at the Sanderson Farms Championship, the 26-year-old finished 12th and gained 6.6 strokes from tee to green.

Last year at Port Royal, Dou would have had a great chance to contend if it wasn’t for one bad round on Saturday (75). In his other three rounds, he shot 68, 63 and 68.

Dou has played all over the world and should feel comfortable playing in Bermuda this week.

Adam Long +9000 (DraftKings):

At last week’s World Wide Technology Championship, Adam Long hit 56 of 56 fairways for the week, becoming the first player to hit 100% of his fairways since Brian Claar at the 1992 Memorial Tournament. The driving accuracy propelled Long to a 23rd place finish, but El Cardonal wasn’t a course that necessarily required such precision off the tee. However, Port Royal Golf Club is a bit different. The course isn’t extremely difficult, but it can certainly be punitive to those who miss the fairway.

Even prior to last week (which had no shot tracer statistics), Long ranked 6th in this field in Fairways Gained in his past 24 rounds and 8th in Strokes Gained: Short Game, which are two of the areas I’m focused on when considering course fits this week.

Long has been a fantastic coastal golfer throughout his career, with top-5 finishes at Mayakoba and Corales. Port Royal is a short golf course so Long should have no problem keeping up with the bigger hitters in the field this week.

Austin Smotherman +10000 (BetRivers)

Austin Smotherman was a player who seemed poised to have a big season in 2022-2023 but struggled with consistency. Thus far in the fall, the SMU product has quietly strung together some solid performances. He finished 35th at the Shriners but gained an impressive 4.9 strokes on approach. In his next start, he finished in a tie for 23rd and went low on Sunday shooting -8.

Smotherman played well at Port Royal last year, finishing 22nd fueled by a scorching first round 62. He’s an accurate driver of the ball who prefers putting on Bermudagrass. He’s also had some strong finishes on the coast including a 5th place finish at the 2023 Mexico Open in addition to a handful of similar finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour.

This weak field may be exactly what Smotherman needs to kick start his career.

Carl Yuan +10000 (BetRivers)

Carl Yuan is the type of player who can contend seemingly out of nowhere due to his ability to go low. The volatility can hurt him at times, but it also gives him a higher chance of being in the mix on Sunday if he has it going on that particular week.

Yuan spiked at the Sanderson Farms Championship last month where he finished 6th and gained 8.8 strokes from tee to green. He is typically a poor putter but tends to roll it best on Bermudagrass greens where he is putts close to field average. In the field, Yuan ranks 5th in Birdie or Better Gained.

In his outstanding 2022 season on the Korn Ferry Tour, Yuan had some excellent results while playing on the coast. He finished 2nd at the Panama Championship and 3rd at the Great Exuma in the Bahamas. Ben Griffin and Akshay Bhatia both love that event, with Bhatia winning it in 2022, and both play Port Royal very well also. With some potential leaderboard correlation and Yuan’s ability to go low, he’s worth chancing at the Butterfield Bermuda this week.

Your Reaction?
  • 6
  • LEGIT1
  • WOW2
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

For whose eyes only? A review of Alan Shipnuck’s LIV and Let Die



I’m not encouraging you to skip the first 323 pages of Alan Shipnuck’s coverage of the rise and continued rise of the LIV golf experiment. The ship has sailed from port and the facts are etched in the Earth’s rotations. I’m suggesting that you begin at the end, with the paragraph at the bottom of page 324. It begins Amid all the speculating and pontificating… and ends with three words: changed golf forever. My reasoning is mildly complicated: I want you to understand what you’re taking on, for however long it takes to finish the tome. This story is worthwhile, but it is not a dalliance. It will take you back two, three, four years, to emotions that you had forgotten to lock away.

There were many prescient followers of the professional game, who considered LIV to be the second coming of Covid-19, albeit with a victim pool interested only in golf. There was a multitude of the lesser-informed, who latched onto words like betrayalisolation, and sportswashing, in an effort to understand what was happening in the game of professional golf. Social media apps were awash in uncountable numbers of questions, opinions, accusations, and outright truths and lies, about what was going on with a league that snatched some of the best male touring professionals away from the PGA Tour.

It seemed that, with each passing moment, the massive We was more confused and more uncertain of the road map. Fortunately, we in golf have Alan Shipnuck in our midst. As with all the great writers on the four-lettered game that preceded him, Shipnuck mercilessly pursues a story that doesn’t matter for a moment. He pursues a story that defines an era, reveals character, and translates language not accessible to the masses. If Esperanto was the hope of the late 1800s, consider the language of the world’s wealthiest insiders to be Otnarepse. Very few spoke (or had interest in speaking) Esperanto, and even fewer have access to Otnarepsa. Shipnuck does.

LIV and Let Die is the factual recounting of how the kingdom of Saudi Arabia took an interest in golf, spurred on by an unforgiving, onetime lover of the PGA Tour. It is the story of how an English lawyer’s idea for collaborative golf at the highest level, was at best, emulated; at worst, stolen in the night, and massaged into something impactful. The tale collects a character roll-call that excludes hardly any names that you know, including some long dead.

I picked up my advance copy of LIV and Let Die on a Wednesday, and finished it by Sunday morning. It would have been sooner, so transfixed was I by reveal after reveal, but a prearranged drive through 9.5 hours of the USA, followed by a homecoming, delayed its completion. Along the path of pages, I recalled what it is that most agitates me about Shipnuck’s writing: he seems to take sides, then doesn’t, then switches, then switches back. His research and writing are measured and do their level best to present as many elements of the story, as can fit inside the cover.

There are moments when I wonder how Shipnuck is able to gain the access that he does, to the important persons that continue to shape this story. For some, their massive egos demand coverage and inclusion. For others, they admit that if their story must be told, it should be told by a writer who continues to produce volumes highlighted by thorough, accurate research.

Alan Shipnuck is direct and pointed in his commentary. He does not shy away from controversy, and at times, I wonder how he avoids bodily harm. His words can bruise, cut, and snap, but they are never fraudulent nor off the mark. His work is a welcome addition to the two centuries of golf writing that we may access.

LIV and Let Die traces the arc that began with the return of Greg Norman to the world golf stage, through the defection of the initial 48 golfers, away from the behemoth PGA Tour, to the ultimate announcement that the Saudi PIF would work with the US PGA Tour and the European PGA Tour (the DP World Tour) to continue the “evolution” of professional men’s golf.

Live and Let Die is unique reading -the rear of the dust jacket presents “A small sample of the bitching, bombast, and backstabbing found within,” instead of the amalgamation of quotes from fawning admirers and supporters. Shipnuck utilizes public and anonymous sources fluidly, in order to straighten as many of the story’s tentacles as possible. I suspect that you will find yourself backing up and rereading segments, and I encourage you to keep a highlighter handy for the taking of notes. This isn’t a college course, but hours spent reading are worth our time, to validate the author’s effort.

Your Reaction?
  • 34
  • LEGIT6
  • WOW6
  • LOL1
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP1
  • OB0
  • SHANK12

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

Ryan: The lessons and legacy of Rose Zhang



During her dominant college career, Zhang won 12 out of 20 starts, leading her team to the 2022 NCAA title. On May 30, Rose Zhang turned pro after spending 141 weeks as the number one amateur in the world. Then, on June 4, she won her first LPGA event in her debut appearance.

There is no doubt that Rose is a star. The question is, what does Rose tell us about our system?

The question of whether Rose Zhang will be the last great American player to emerge from college is a compelling one. Her outstanding performance in college and successful transition to the professional circuit indicate that she possesses immense talent and potential. However, the landscape of women’s golf in the U.S. presents some challenges that could impact the development of future stars like her.

Rose Zhang represents the face of the junior girls’ and women’s college golf meritocracy. She has achieved success at every level, including winning on the LPGA tour. However, the system in the U.S. for women’s golf tends to breed overconfidence and lacks the necessary guidance to produce world-class players. While outliers like Rose Zhang may emerge, the future of women’s golf is likely to remain international, unless changes are made.

Photo via Adidas Golf

As a best guess, there are about 400 junior girls in the U.S. who are plus handicaps or have the chance to break par in tournament golf. In Korea, by the same estimations, the number is close to 1,500 (4x). This means that women’s junior golf is not a meritocracy: Even the very best junior events in America have, at best, 20 percent of the best players. Adding players from Europe and Australia, it’s more likely 15 percent.

The overconfidence in the system of junior and women’s college golf is on display weekly. The vast majority of even the best junior girls and college players have limited control and diversity of shots.

On average, most elite college or junior women would have about five different stock shots, while elite men’s college players would have an arsenal of 15-plus different shots with the biggest gap in short game shots and approach.

Each week, potentially dozens of college coaches (many of whom know nothing about golf) spend tens of thousands of dollars recruiting these players. This wrongfully reaffirms to kids that their development is on track and they are special. Once in college, even the most mediocre women’s college players will be treated to four-star accommodations, steak dinners, and trips across the country. However, this pampering doesn’t necessarily lead to excellence or skill development. Instead, at best it fosters comfort and overconfidence, setting up players for failure in both the short and long term.

The emphasis in junior girls golf needs to shift towards fostering a true meritocracy where more players have the opportunity to compete against the best, including internationally allowing them to gauge their skills accurately. Coaches and instructors must focus on enhancing players’ skill sets, ensuring they possess the diversity and control of shots required to excel at the highest level.

Furthermore, the system needs to put values back at the core of junior sports. The focus on playing golf should be fostering a kid’s passion and joy, whereby using the player’s internal drive to build skill. Instead, it’s likely that the current system’s reliance on external rewards may not provide the necessary motivation for players to continuously improve, challenge themselves, and find the process ultimately rewarding.

Rose Zhang represents the very best that our system has to offer. The question is how good is our best talent? My guess is not as good as we think. I think that should give us pause and have us re-evaluate the system to make sure that not only are girls prepared for professional golf but we are teaching them the values and giving them the experience they deserve along the way.

Your Reaction?
  • 35
  • LEGIT10
  • WOW4
  • LOL1
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP0
  • OB2
  • SHANK2

Continue Reading