Revealed! Stats-Based, Nerd’s Eye Ryder Cup Recommendations for Davis Love

September 21, 2016

As previously reported in these pages, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has been drawing on input from quantitative analysts to help formulate a strategy for this month’s matches at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota. Until recently, those statistical findings were kept tightly under wraps. But no longer. SIGolf+ has come into the possession of this report.

From the desk of:
Norbert J. Pencilneck, Quantitative Analyst

To: Davis Love III
C/O PGA of America

Dear DL3,

Forgive the informality but we nerds love saying names composed of numerals and letters. It makes us feel like Star Wars heroes talking to our favorite droid. 

Before we delve into the latest hard data, we’d like to thank you once again for your business and your trust. That athletes of your stature now rely on the expertise of eggheads like us is as personally rewarding as it is remunerative—restitution, you might say, both emotional and financial, for all those schoolyard wedgies your kind gave us years ago.

Not that we regard you as just another mindlessly aggressive jock. Your capacity for reason came through clearly in the three captain’s choices you announced this week: J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar.

As you will recall from our earlier correspondence, these selections square with our initial recommendations: Holmes, because he is undefeated in Ryder Cup competition; Fowler, because the laws of probability suggest that he is bound to win his first Ryder Cup match sometime; and Kuchar, because of the proximity, confirmed by Google Maps, of his residence to your home in Sea Island. As long-time sufferers of social anxiety disorder, we can assure you: You’ll be happy not to have deal with any awkwardness next time you two cross paths in the produce aisle.

Regarding your fourth and last remaining captain’s pick, our quantitative readings point toward Bubba Watson, the highest-ranked player in the Ryder Cup standings not already on your team. Never mind that no one in our office would trust anyone named “Bubba” to so much as count the change in our petty-cash drawer. There’s no doubt he bombs it off the tee, and well, chicks dig the long ball but so do geeks.

Now that Tiger Woods has announced his intent to return to professional competition next month, you may face a hue and cry from the press and the public to anoint your most famous vice captain as a playing vice captain. We recommend against this. You are likely aware that Woods’ career Ryder Cup record is statistically woeful. What you may not know is that, according to our latest measurements, the structural integrity of his spinal column is about as sound as that of the Cleveland Browns’ defense.

Should you feel compelled to thrust one of your vice-captains into action, two candidates stand out in our spreadsheets. The first is Jim Furyk, despite his own shabby Ryder Cup record and the fact that his swing is reminiscent of an epileptic octopus dancing with a mop. The other is Steve Stricker, whom we favor based on his putting metrics, but also because he seems like a very nice man, and not at all the sort of athlete who, back in middle school, would have been inclined to, say, leave a mathematically gifted but physically unimpressive classmate dangling from a locker by his Fruit-of-the-Looms. (Note: the details of this indignity are based on second-hand accounts and not on our own direct experience).

Once the competition gets underway, player pairings and match-order will be of primary strategic importance. We suggest you send Zach Johnson out first in singles, even though he resembles one of us. Patrick Reed should play the anchor match, but not on the strength of his driving accuracy, his strokes-gained putting or any other available shot-making metrics. Here we confess to a personal bias: We just like Reed, probably because, in his demeanor and body type, he reminds us of our esteemed colleague, Randall Nudemeyer, the portly, anti-social quantitative genius who leads our office in weight-gained-snacking in the conference room.

In the alternate-shot format, two natural pairings present themselves: Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, due to the similar power games they play; and Brandt Snedeker and Jordan Spieth, on the strength of their comparable dead-eye putting. We are still parsing numbers for Jimmy Walker. As for Phil Mickelson, for all our study, he remains something of a statistical enigma. On the one hand, his impressive spin-rates and high smash-factor suggest that he could partner well with anyone. On the other, those metrics derive from his post-round ping-pong matches in the clubhouse. We need to look more closely at what he’s done on the course.

Whether your team wins or loses, our projections indicate that the event itself is destined for commercial success. It’s mind-boggling, really, not only that a once-friendly international exhibition has evolved into such an economic juggernaut, but also that Winona Ryder still finds time in her busy schedule to stage a tournament of such prestige and scale. 

Then again, we here in the office have never had much luck figuring the ways of women, especially the pretty ones.

In delivering this report, we would be remiss were we to not also offer this caveat: Given the variables of wind, weather, course conditions and each player’s ability to handle pressure, to say nothing of the relatively tiny sample size of matches at stake, any data-driven projections we put forth come with such a wide margin of error as to render them virtually meaningless.

Some figures are beyond calculation.

One that isn’t, however, is the total amount due for our services, which you’ll find enclosed.


Norbert J. Pencilneck