Money Ball

Among baseball statistics junkies, it’s long been an article of faith that Bill James’ On Base Percentage and On Base Percentage plus Slugging is the true way to measure a player’s effectiveness. As a Baltimore Orioles fan from way back, I know all about Earl Weaver’s winning formula: WPG + 3RH = W (a well-pitched game, plus the three run homer equals a win). Weaver knew back then, and Bill James has verified that batting average is overshadowed by the power game.

Now it appears that a similar emphasis on the power game has overtaken golf. And, like the power game in baseball, it has changed the nature of the game.

Geoff Shackelford has compiled some interesting statistics—and written a compelling article—on golf’s new power game.

He argues that professional golf has become professional “flog” (golf spelled backwards), in which the instinct of the top players is to bomb the ball as far as possible off the tee, without caring whether or not it finds a fairway.

Hit it within 160, and for the top players, it’s an 8-iron or less to the green. And with a club of that loft, the punishment for being in the rough is minimal.

Indeed, he says, narrow fairways may actually be contributing to the problem. With 25-yard wide fairways, there’s a good chance you will miss it anyway, so you might as well hit it as far as you can.

Its interesting that the top two currently on the Money List—Mickelson and Woods—rank 145 and 151, respectively, in driving accuracy.

I still contend, however, that you could end this by making the rough on every tour stop US Open-style punishing.

But I don’t think the sponsors will do it, for the same reason that baseball owners won’t push out the fences. People like to see the long ball.

Finally—and here’s the conspiracy theory—leveling the playing field would mean more victories by second and third tier guys at the expense of the superstars. And that’s not what the sponsors want.

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