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Statistics, I'd argue, are for nappers

A headline on the cover of the current issue of Golf World Magazine heralds “The Tour’s Great New Stat.”

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I have to insist that there is no such thing as a great statistic in golf except the score.

There are great players, great shots, great courses, great victories but the only statistic in golf that really matters is the score and not many of those are great. (I’m leaving out great cheeseburgers here because they are only distantly related to golf and we tend to exaggerate just how good they are, especially with a great beer.)

I’ve heard many a coach say, “Statistics are for losers.” In almost every case they had just lost a game, but there was some merit in what they said.

In golf, you can study the numbers, see who hit the most fairways, who hit the most greens, who used the fewest putts, who had the most sand saves, who ate the most energy bars, who scratched the most, etc., put it all in a blender and out comes the ultimate stat – the score. The rest of it you can toss.

Sure, some of the stuff is interesting. You’ll always look to see who’s the longest hitter on tour and how far he hits it. Sand saves intrigue us. But do we really care how far a player missed a fairway, whether he missed it by four feet or 14?

Baseball, a sport that wallows pleasantly in its past, must have the most extensive list of stats of any sport, things like most stolen bases by a third baseman in a rain delayed doubleheader while wearing borrowed shoes. A stat for every occasion.

Golf’s close, though, submerged in recent years by a tsunami of information and getting closer all the time, as we see with “The Tour’s Great New Stat.”

Turns out some of us not paying attention have been misunderstanding putting statistics, just counting the number of putts per green and not taking into account the fact that a player who misses a lot of greens and chips on is likely to use fewer putts than someone who hits more greens.

And anyone who hits approach shots closer to the hole will need fewer putts. Duh. Who woulda thought?

So far I’m OK, but here’s where I may doze off. The magazine says the new stat “compares a player’s performance on every green to the tour average for the distance he putted from. Let’s say he is 15 feet from the hole. The tour average from that distance is 1.79 putts. If a player makes the putt, he has gained .79 of a stroke against the field; if he two-putts, he has lost .21 of a stroke. If he three-putts from that distance, he has lost 1.21 strokes. Add the numbers for each hole and it tells you how many strokes the player gained or lost every round.”

Sorry, I went out for a donut and missed that last part. Who’s winning?