Numbers Don’t Lie

Now Numbers Don’t Lie For LPGA Golfers

Contributor: Beth Ann Nichols

During the television broadcast of the 2021 ShopRite LPGA Classic, Stacy Lewis learned from a graphic on the screen that she led the tour in proximity to the hole from 125-150 yards (23 feet, 3 inches). By season’s end, Lewis led the 100-125 category as well.

The information came as a surprise to the former number one, yet it was exactly the kind of detail she’d hoped for when pitching the importance of stats and analytics to KPMG COO Laura Newinski while staying at her house in Orlando, Florida, during the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona.

Lewis’ relationship with KPMG has been key in the accounting firm’s partnership with the LPGA. The company’s desire to elevate the tour began with the revamping of a major championship and now extends to the smallest nuances of the game with the new KPMG Performance Insights technology platform, launched over the summer.

While the PGA Tour can statistically break down every facet of a player’s game to the most minute detail, the LPGA’s stats were shockingly basic: greens and fairways hit, total putts.

“How can you appreciate something that isn’t really defined?” asked Amy Olson.

Six months into the LPGA’s new programme, the stats remained behind closed doors to fans outside of what’s released through the media. Players currently receive a clunky Excel document each week that will be streamlined and better sorted as the process continues.

While it isn’t ShotLink, it is a massive step in the right direction.

Caddies record shots, club selections, distances and the lie of every shot on a stat card that’s turned in after every round. KPMG pays caddies a stipend for their efforts. The process began at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in June.

“I do think it’s going to help players get better,” said Lewis, “but more than anything, it kind of justifies just how good our players are.”

The new programme was announced in June at the KMPG Women’s PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, where PGA of America President Jim Richerson had the chance to play a pro-am round with new pro Gabriela Ruffels. The Aussie’s swing coach Grant Waite, a PGA Tour winner, walked alongside the group during the early round and chatted about some of the nuances of the women’s game that are often overlooked. Richerson, for example, was especially impressed with the variety of shots players can hit with the same club.

“They can take a 7-iron and hit 40-yard gaps between different types of shots where they need to run it up, they need to hold it into the wind, they need to play it around a hazard or a bunker, and that’s unique,” he said.

Of course, most don’t get the chance to enjoy such a close-up view of the tour’s talent. That’s where numbers can help fill in the gaps.

Richerson continued: “People who play this game for a living know how challenging it is at that level, and to see this type of talent these women have, it is the best in the game. I think the statistics, the analytics will bear that out … I don’t think only that they’re closing the gap, I don’t think there is a gap. These statistics, I think, will prove that out.”

Heading into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, the intense battle for LPGA Rolex Player of the Year between Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda could be analysed deeper than ever before with new strokes gained data.

While the eye test shows that Korda is a strong driver of the golf ball, stats leading into the CME backed up the fact that she led the tour in strokes gained off the tee at 1.32 among the 159 players who had 10 or more measured rounds.

Korda also led in strokes gained long game, which combines the tee and approach shots, at 2.83.

South Korea’s Ko, meanwhile, led the LPGA in average proximity from the fairway at 20 feet, 11 inches. Korda ranked fifth on tour at 23 feet, 1 inch.

During the final round of the year, much was made on the television broadcast about the 63 consecutive greens Ko hit throughout the course of the tournament. She was 23 under par during that stretch.

This very basic GIR stat sent the golf world abuzz. Justin Ray, of Twenty First Group, tweeted that while the LPGA doesn’t have historical GIR data, Tiger Woods’ longest streak of consecutive greens in 2000 was 29. The last PGA Tour player with a streak of 50-plus was Mike Heinen in 1995.

Imagine then what more complex data will reveal in time about the LPGA’s best. “There are so many applications for it, and this is just the start,” said Olson, noting the possibilities in the arenas of gambling, media and even junior golf. The next generation will soon be able to compare their skills, on paper at least, to the best in the world.

Olson said she’ll need to see a full year to 18 months’ worth of data before she’d consider making a strategic move off the new information. The sample size right now simply isn’t enough.


Olson points to the incredible Inbee Park putting stat that made the rounds in September. Through three months of data, Park’s make percentage from 10-15 feet was 64 per cent. The LPGA average from that distance in the same timeframe was 28 per cent. Leaders on the PGA Tour in the past three seasons from that distance were 40 to 41 percent. In fact, Park’s make percentage from 10-15 feet in that time was higher than the men’s average from 5-10 feet.

By season’s end, Park’s make percentage had dropped to 52 per cent, still well above the LPGA average of 29 per cent.

While Park’s putting talent is indisputable, Olson maintains that more data needs to be collected before any “huge revelations” are made.

Dana Finkelstein first started keeping strokes gained data while competing in college at UNLV and used to compare her stats to those of PGA Tour players because there was nothing else.

When she turned professional and joined the Symetra Tour, Finkelstein used strokes gained guru Mark Broadie’s Golfmetrics app to compare her data to about 10 other stats- minded Symetra players.

“It was the only way to help us get better,” she explained.

Finkelstein has been filling out a stats card that’s similar to what the LPGA created for the bulk of her golfing life. She’s excited to see what a more comprehensive set of data can reveal. So far, the stat that stands out the most to her is her make percentage from 10-15 feet. At 20 per cent, she’s about nine per cent lower than tour average.

One of the shortest hitters on tour with an average of 236 yards off the tee, Finkelstein hopes the data helps to showcase other areas of the game in which women excel beyond brute strength.

“I think it’s a way for us to show that yeah, we don’t hit it as far as the men,” she said, “but we’re just as good in these kind of strokes gained stats. Basically level the playing field.”

Cheyenne Knight liked to look at the new stats each week to see the areas in which the winner excelled. She determined that putts made inside 15 feet is where winners picked up most of their shots.

The KPMG Performance Insights breaks down average proximity on approach shots in 25-yard increments. Knight said the 150-175 range is particularly important because “that’s literally where all of our par threes are.” Knight hit 218 shots from that distance in the second half of the season and had an average distance remaining of 38 feet. The tour average from that range is 44.4 feet.

Angela Stanford hopes the data that’s collected helps tour officials maximise their efforts in course set-up week to week.

“They can see that, ‘Oh wow, we hit a lot of hybrids into par fours,’ ” said Stanford, “or that most of our tour can’t reach par fives.”

If a green is designed to receive a wedge or a nine-iron, for example, officials can now look to see how many players actually had wedge or nine-iron in hand for the approach.

Stanford isn’t one to dive deep into her own personal stats. She finds the process to be too emotional. She’d rather instead have her instructor dissect and analyse and come up with where she needs to focus.

Ultimately, though, she wants the general public to come away with a better appreciation of the talent that’s on the LPGA.

“Emotionally, what fans think is one thing,” said Stanford, “but numbers don’t lie.”

Beth Ann Nichols is a senior writer at Golfweek/USA Today and new pushcart enthusiast


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