Best year ever?

mulligan, 27 April 2005, Comments Off on Best year ever?
Categories: Uncategorized

I have been thinking about the money title, and exactly what it means. If you recall, there was a much discussion about where Singh’s 2004 season ranks amongst the greatest in Golf, with his 9 wins and nearly 11 million in earnings. This discussion is complicated, however, because of the increases in overall purse during the Tiger era (1998-present), therefore interpreting the moneylist and the money title becomes difficult. So I did what every nerd would: adjust the numbers, and look at the results.

I argue that the money title at the end of the year is meaningless, for two obvious reasons: first, the more events you play, the more money you stand to make. Clearly, all things equal, if Singh plays 29 events (as he did in 2004), he is much more likely to win the money title than Tiger or Phil or Ernie, who play around 20 per year, or less (Els at 15 or 16 events per year, not including European or other tour events). Second, as purses increase, it is impossible to compare across years, since each tournament result takes a percentage of the total purse: increase the purse, and you win more, even if you place the same as you did the year before.

Clearly, the best way to look at this data is by adjusting for the purse increase every year, and calculating a new statistic: earnings per start, adjusted by purse increase.

Thus, I looked at the earnings of the “big four”, Mickelson, Singh, Woods, and Els starting in 1999. After a bit of research, I found that purses have increase 11 percent on average since 1999 (1999 was the year of the new television contract that most directly led to the increase in purses on the PGA tour). I then divided total earnings by the number of events played, and adjusted that number by the increase in purse during the past years.

The findings are very interesting. For example, Singh’s breakout 2004 earned him $376,040 per start. However, Els earned $361,702 per start, only about $15,000 less than Singh. Singh’s 2004 year was best by a large margin for him, with his next best year at $311,372 (2003), and a pretty large drop-off in per-start earnings after that.

It gets more interesting as we move back in time. After adjusting for purse increases, Tiger Woods jumps to the top of the pile, recording four of the top ten “earnings per start” scores with a stunning $697,426 in 2000, $530,920 per start in 1999, $473,168 in 2002, $411,527 in 2003 when rebuilding his swing, and about $410,000 during his “down” years of 2003 and 2001.

As you can see, Tiger has fully dominated the Tour for the past 5 years, but even moreso than we initially thought. Singh’s 2004 year ranks fifth overall, followed up by Els and Mickelson, who, with the exception of Phil’s 2000 season when he made $313,280 per start, is at the bottom of the distribution.

These results tell us that while Singh had a strong year in 2004, it was primarily due to the long schedule and wins against lesser fields. If we are comparing “greatest years ever”, we would have to put every year of Tiger’s above Singh’s 2004 season, as well as make a compelling arguement for Els 2004 season where he played only in the top events with the strongest fields, yet made only $15,000 less per start than Singh. Mickelson’s 2000 season, played in the shadow of Tiger’s career-defining season, should be discussed as well, as Phil made $313,280 per start at a time when it was nearly impossible to win when Tiger was in the field.


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