Taylor & Francis: Statistics Crown Colin Montgomerie as Ryder Cup King

Tom Kite and Ian Poulter next in line

OXON, England--()--The Ryder Cup has been the Holy Grail for elite golfers since 1927, originally held biennially between the United States, and first Great Britain, now Europe, it inspires patriotism and sporting excellence in equal measure. In this study published in Journal of Applied Statistics (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02664763.2015.1043869), Baker & McHale implement a model to assess strengths and rankings of Ryder Cup competitors over recent years to answer the vital question – who is the best Ryder Cup golfer?

Such a ranking exercise is difficult. There are many models available but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not sufficient here due to asymmetrical data and complexities such as estimated strengths, different numbers of appearances, and different levels of volatility in results. The Ryder Cup comprises singles match play, four balls and foursomes. To allow for these characteristics, the authors use a modified version of the Bradley-Terry model, allotting strength parameters to each player’s probability of winning a hole. Adjustments were made in the rankings to counteract the inflation of players who win by large margins. Data was collected for all matches, results and players over the last 40 years, comprising 924 matches and 327 players. Interestingly there is little cross-over between top Ryder Cup players (based on points) and top players on point-win percentage (in at least 10 matches). The Bradley-Terry model is a key benefit here as opponent strength is considered in addition to statistics.

Overall results indicate Colin Montgomerie, Tom Kite and Ian Poulter as the 3 strongest Ryder Cup golfers of all time, standard errors indicating minimal difference in strengths of players at the top. As a gauge of overall golfer strength, Baker & McHale assessed their results over the 4 major golfing competitions; US Masters, US Open, British Open and USPGA. The authors found that overall strength of a Foursomes pair reflected that of the strongest player, a useful finding for team captains, pundits and fans alike. The authors conclude “Further work might look for a large sample approximation to the methodology presented here so that numerical integration was not necessary. Of course, for those interested in sport, applying this type of model to obtain rankings elsewhere will be a potential source of debate and discussion. We hope the results presented here will achieve such a thing for golf fans.”

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Taylor & Francis Group press office
+44 (0) 20 7017 6000