Here’s a little golf economics. After all, economics is just the study of how people make choices at the micro or macro level. This includes the analysis of how professional golfers make the choice to either step on their driver for extra distance or to throttle it back with hope of hitting more fairways.
To quantify the trade-off of driving distance versus accuracy we use the 2011 PGA Tour data of percentage of fairways hit and driving distance. Intuitively, and experience tells us, there’s a trade-off of bombing a 300 yard drive and the probability of hitting the fairway. A good friend always reminds us of this when we pull out driver and gird ourselves to grip it and rip it, “the woods are full of long hitters.”
The data confirms our suspicions and is illustrated in the chart below.
To better understand the distance versus accuracy trade-off, let’s assume a fictional player, Mr. PG A. Tour. Mr. Tour’s stats are equivalent to the average of the all 186 PGA Tour players ranked by driving distance and accuracy last year.
Mr. Tour enters the Masters and now has to decide how often he hits driver or pulls out, say, a 7-iron, which will insure he hits 100% of the fairways with an average driving distance of 171.81 yards.
Crunching the numbers, which is reflected in the red trend line, shows that, on average, for every additional 27 yards of distance off the tee, Mr. Tour will hit 10 percent less fairways! That is, he can choose to hit a 7-iron and average 172 yards off the tee and be in the fairway 100 percent of the time or hit a driver 300 yards and hit only 59 percent of the fairways.
So there you have it, folks, the woods are full of long hitters! J.B. Holmes, the number one in driving distance on the 2011 PGA Tour, for example, hit the fairway only 54 percent of the time. Whereas, Brain Gay, the shortest in driving distance hit 72 percent of the fairways.
Our take away for the Masters? Adam Scott is an outlier and his numbers look good to us, averaging 300 yards off the tee and hitting the fairway 67 percent of the time. Furthermore, his new caddie, Steve Williams, who has won three times with Tiger at Augusta, should give him added confidence this week. At 35:1, he’s our man and pick to don the Green Jacket this Easter Sunday in Augusta!
(click here if chart is not observable)