## Crunching The Numbers

My golf game is starting to show signs of coming back around, and I got curious about what part of my game contributes the most to my good (or bad) scores. When I pulled down some old records I kept of score, greens in regulation (GIR), and putts per round I couldn’t see any clear pattern. Then I had one of those “You moron! Use that education you suffered through!” moments. I entered the data into a spreadsheet and calculated the correlations between the variables, just like I used to do with my psychological data.

For the statistically minded among you, I calculated the Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficient between total score and GIR (-.58), total score and putts (.73), and GIR and putts (-.04). (Correlation coefficients range from -1 to +1, with 0 meaning no relationship exists.)

So, there are strong relationships between my score and both GIR and putting. In fact, correlations of that magnitude are pretty impressive in most real world research. Not surprisingly, my score is lower when I hit more greens (the negative correlation means when one variable goes up, the other goes down), and my score is also lower when I have fewer putts. Putting is a better predictor of my score than is GIR, as you might imagine.

Hogan, by Curt Sampson

None of this is too surprising, although I was impressed by the magnitude of the correlations. What is really interesting to me is the lack of any significant correlation between GIR and putting. It’s like putting and hitting greens are from two totally different sports. I seem to remember that Ben Hogan argued that putting wasn’t really golf. This suggests he had a point, if you consider learning to hit the ball long and accurately to be “real” golf.

I’d hope that when I’m playing well I’m playing well overall, and that does happen sometimes. But the lack of any correlation means that doing well (or poorly) on the greens has nothing to do with how I’m doing in the fairways. I guess that sense I have that there’s almost always some part of my game that is struggling is accurate.

When GIR and putting are in sync, it’s obvious in my score. My best score (a one over 73) had the best GIR (12) and one of the lowest number of putts (29). My highest score (87) had the worst GIR (5) and the highest number of putts (35). But the two are in sync at a rate no better than random chance. This is good news when one part of my game saves the other, or bad news when one part cancels out the good shots in the other. Take your pick.

So what’s the earth-shaking take away from this? Not much I haven’t heard before, although it validates what I’ve heard. Putting is most important to my score. Practicing putting may be the most boring type of practice, but I should do it more. And working on one part of my game doesn’t do much for the other parts. I can’t count on a magic osmosis effect to spread skill throughout my game.

And have you heard that there’s no tooth fairy and your parents were really Santa Claus? I’m still trying to deal with that news.