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September 30, 2016updated 25 Oct 2016 1:34pm

Ryder Cup 2016: Europe and America pin their hopes on data analytics

Europe and the US will battle it out for the Ryder Cup from the 30th September to the 2nd of October, but who has the edge on data analytics?

By James Nunns

On the 30th September Europe and the United States began to battle it out for the right to be called Ryder Cup champions of 2016.

Europe, under the captaincy of Darren Clarke, will be seeking their fourth consecutive victory, a feat which has never been achieved before, while the US will be hoping to put recent defeats behind them and re-live some of their past glories.

So how will either team go about achieving this? Data analytics could be the key differentiator.

When the players roll out at the Hazeltine National in Minnesota they will have all been fully prepared with data on how they should go about winning.

Both teams have been utilising data expertise in the build up to the Cup with Clarke bringing a team of six data specialists from UK data analysis company 15th Club. This company is an offshoot of 21st Club, a data consultancy that works with football clubs.

Davis Love III, the captain for America, is also using data analytics experts, this time in the shape of Scouts Consulting Group.

But this isn’t the first time Love has used data analysis though, the US team used it in 2014 – and lost. This time around they are going to be using much more sophisticated analysis, according to Love, so perhaps this time it will work.

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One front that the US team is already losing on is social media. In 2014 CBR reported that the European Twitter feed had 61.5K followers, while the US team had 51.3K followers.

ryder-cup-europe

Europe is already winning when it comes to Twitter.

The good news is that Europe is still winning. Europe has 151K followers while the US is lagging behind with 129K.

There are warnings about over reliance on data. The statistics could say that on the 16th hole the most successful clubs to use are  driver, followed by a 5 iron and a putter, but there are so many different factors involved such as position on the green, the time of day, wind strength, driver distance of the player, fatigue, pressure, nerves.

Statistics and data analytics can only play a small part in the game when there are so many variables that current technology cannot really calculate.

Europe will be hoping to make it a record breaking fourth consecutive Ryder Cup win.

Europe will be hoping to make it a record breaking fourth consecutive Ryder Cup win.

 

That’s not to write the whole thing off as a fad, more to dampen expectations that the use of data analytics is going to be the most important factor.

What the use of data analytics plays to is the philosophy of ‘marginal gains’ which Sir David Brailsford championed to great success with the British Olympic cycling team. Essentially, it is not one single factor that will win the race but if everything is broken down and improved by 1% then combined it creates a significant difference.

For golf then the idea is to increase the chances of hitting the ball in the right place, of choosing the right club and so on.

One of the key areas that could be impacted by analytics is that of the pairing. In essence the idea is to pick the best two players to go out together. This takes a combination of science and art because it is necessary to look at success rate on holes, how steady they are, in addition to the characters of the players.
Questions need to be asked as to how well the players get along, do their games suit each other and so forth. Sometimes there are just intangibles.

In a briefing attended by CBR former South Africa head coach Nick Mallet warned about just looking at the numbers.

rydercup-1

The European team look up for the fight.

Mallet, said: “I dropped our captain, we’d won 17 consecutive games, we equalled the world record with South Africa and a year later he was injured a lot, he was really battling with his form and there was a young up and coming number eight who was outstanding and in every one of these match stats.

“Bobby Skinstad was miles better than Gary Tiechmann and I picked it purely on stats, which was a hell of a bad mistake because this guy was an outstanding leader and in South Africa you cannot replace a good leader easily.”

Another example is that of Ireland’s former rugby union captain Paul O’Connell. Stats from Accenture showed that he was by no means the best player on the pitch but his impact on the team as a leader was massive as the team would lose ground, possession, and points much more without him present.

Such is the value of a leader like O’Connell that he addressed the European Ryder Cup team on Tuesday evening.

Tee Times for the opening shots

Tee Times for the opening shots

ryder-cup-usa

USA team is falling behind on Twitter .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, with Europe fielding a team with six rookies against an experienced US team data analytics may just be the perfect thing to use to give the players enough knowledge and insight to at least level the playing field.

Mark Twain said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This comes to mind because throwing statistics at a problem doesn’t necessarily provide a single truth.

Mark Twain also said golf is a good walk spoilt – so what does he know about golf.

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