Golf Magazine Innovators 2013: A professor using statistics to reveal the true nature of scoring

February 17, 2013

The Numbers Cruncher
Mark Broadie, 55

I've been a golfer since I was a kid, and I always wondered what separated different types of players when it came to scoring. Which parts of the game should golfers focus on the most if they want to improve?

We all know a good, powerful swing when we see one, but it's hard to know how much of the difference between a low-70s shooter and a high-80s shooter is due to superior ballstriking and how much is due to putting or other parts of the game.

As a professor at Columbia Business School, I tend to use numbers to answer questions, so I decided to apply the skills I use in finance research to golf. Using a mountain of data from the PGA Tour and amateur data that I collected with help from friends, I developed a mathematical model to differentiate one level of player from another, which is valuable information to pros and everyday players alike.

My "strokes gained" method is now the standard for measuring putting performance on the PGA Tour. Instead of simply counting the number of putts a player takes in a round, strokes gained putting takes into account initial putting distances and the player's performance compared to the field.

The PGA Tour debuted this new stat in 2011, and it's been called the most accurate measure of putting skill, because it successfully identifies the best putters on the PGA Tour. My upcoming book, Every Shot Counts (Gotham), applies this approach to the entire game and explains how to make decisions that will lead to your lowest scores.