Data-driven golf

When I read hard data, I try to learn from it. Surprisingly, many people find new data interesting but they don’t change their ways at all.

Data-driven golf by Nancy Knowlton

I am doing no better in resolving my golf addiction. If anything, I have accepted it and celebrate it. A couple of rounds a day is very doable, and I get better the more that I play. Perhaps it is truly just the love of the challenge, or perhaps it’s a sense of urgency for coming to the game late in life. Whatever it is, I am unapologetically obsessed.

Reading up on the subject

Beyond playing and practicing, I am now reading to better understand the game and its mastery. The latest article that I have read about what truly matters caught my attention. Following an analysis of tens of thousands of shots by pro golfers there is a very tangible conclusion – that despite perceptions, there is an absolute ranking of what impacts scoring.

In order of importance the factors are

  • Approach-shot accuracy, which accounts for about 40% of a player’s score
  • Putting, which accounts for about 35%
  • Raw distance of drives (versus accuracy), which accounts for about 25%

I really appreciated this article, because it helps me prioritize where I spend my time.

  • I love my driver, and hitting balls on the driving range is alluring. But it’s a skill that I already have under reasonable control. I will continue to work on some things that allow me to retain my flexibility and improve my core strength. At 25%, I don’t see a lot of opportunity to improve my scoring in this area. On my home course, I pull my driver out of the bag 13 times – 13 shots a game. Thinking about that as a percentage of total shots helps me to allocate the amount of time and energy that I apply to my driver.
  • The 75% attributed to approach shots and putting really gets my attention. The stats irrefutably confirm that the short game really matters. That’s where the biggest bang should come from for my invested time.

The article pointed out that there is a lot more data becoming available that will help people appreciate the game and choices. Given my limited time to progress in the game, I value this direction from the data. More than valuing it, I will follow it.

The same old thing

With all of this data exposed, won’t everyone have the same reaction and follow the data in their practice and play? The sad reality is no, the impact will be less than direct and perfect. Most people will read the information and find it interesting. Then they will go to the golf course and the range and do what they have always done. They will practice driving because they enjoy it. They’ll do some shots with their irons and then go off and play. Their scores will stay in their normal range.

This is the curious thing about human nature. People are smart and perceptive. They can read and understand. They process and assimilate information generally well. But when it comes to integrating changes into their daily routines, the results are mixed. There is no straight line between cold, hard data and changed behavior.

Discouraging reality

Golf is a game, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. But the behavioral implications are real. As an example, in the face of real data about smoking and how it negatively impacts health and longevity, who would ignore it? As it turns out, millions. This is a discouraging reality that speaks poorly about being able to effect real change that contradicts firmly held views.

For me, though, I love the data and will align my behavior with the data. Seeking 80…

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.