Davis also recognized that ShotLink has its limits: "You still need to play the game of golf." While it's nice to hit the green, "Sometimes you need to play away from the flag, or leave it short." Davis gave another example: "If I know that if I go over the green I'm dead, I might not mind if it lands 10 feet short of the green and I can just putt it up there."
Part of playing a golf course like a pro is knowing where to miss. There are good and bad places to find your ball, a fact that is lost on ShotLink. The intricacies of shot placement are not lost, however, by the most innovative golf stats. That's because the new stats are based on distance and location. The MIT putting study, for example, can identify the places on the green that are the most treacherous.
So, let's speculate about what it would mean if players genuinely knew where they stood in terms of driving, putting, and all the other facets of the game. The first and probably greatest benefit would come from using "moneygolf" to practice efficiently. The tour is filled with guys who show up, shoot 72-72, miss the cut, and go home. If the stats help you gain a few strokes on the other players, you'll stick around to play four days, finish in the money, and survive on the PGA Tour another year.
The big caveat to the use-stats-to-hone-your-practices theory is that moneygolf demonstrates the importance of the long game, and it's unclear whether you can really teach power. Some golfers have an innate ability to generate tremendous clubhead speed. A golfer can certainly work on his strength and flexibility and tailor his equipment, but short hitters don't transform themselves into long hitters. Plus, you are fighting age.
A second significant benefit for stat-savvy players would come from what Brian Davis is already doing: using moneygolf to strategize. A shot-value analysis of a player's last few tournaments would give a snapshot of what's working and what isn't. While moneygolf won't fix a broken swing, it could help a golfer think about how to play a given hole based on the current state of his game. It could also provide a psychological boost: If your chipping has been solid, you can be more aggressive on the approach, knowing that you've been recovering well from misses.
But here I've already crossed the bridge from statistics into a player's mind. Those of us "outside the ropes" can use moneygolf to better understand the game we love, but the players don't have that luxury. They succeed or fail stroke by stroke, hole by hole—each shot is taken in a pressure situation, one that commands a player to focus and, in the parlance of our time, "execute."
As I've written this series, I've been haunted by the conversation that I had with former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. I cornered Furyk as he walked off the driving range, starting in with my usual ShotLink spiel. He started, like many players had, by talking about how greens in regulation is a bogus stat. Then he stopped and looked at me.
"I don't look at that stuff," he said. Then he paused and said, "I know."
I'm kind of slow on the uptake: "Uh, what do you know?"
Furyk was gracious: "I know in my heart what I did on the course that day. If I don't have confidence when standing over a shot, I know that I need to go out and work on it."
He then stepped into a golf cart and drove away.
To hear Michael Agger, Josh Levin, Mike Pesca, and Hanna Rosin discuss Agger's "Moneygolf" series, click the arrow on the audio player below and fast-forward to the 16:35 mark:
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