Computer jock Annika Sorenstam uses stats to get an edge
This is an article from the Oct. 26, 1998 issue
When Annika Sorenstam was a freshman at Arizona, she showed her
teammates a system she had used since she was 14 to analyze golf
stats. Her spreadsheets and pie charts, featuring data from
every competitive round she had played in the previous four
years, drew yawns from her peers. "They were totally bored,"
says Sorenstam, who starred for the Wildcats from 1990 to '92
and was the 1991 NCAA champion. "When I asked if anybody was
interested in learning how to use statistics the way I did, they
laughed and said, 'Yeah, right. See you later.'"
Eight years later, the 28-year-old Sorenstam is the world's best
female golfer, a two-time U.S. Open champ and winner of 13 other
LPGA titles. "Statistics can be priceless," she says. That's
technically true, since her future earning power is
incalculable. Golf's premier number cruncher has earned
precisely $3,838,082 in her six years as a pro, and she believes
her sophisticated use of stats has helped make it happen.
Sorenstam inherited a love of numbers from her father, Tom, a
computer buff and former IBM salesman who sent his daughter to a
weeklong computer camp when she was 12. Two years later Annika
joined Sweden's junior golf program, which to her delight
emphasized statistical profiles of all players. "Some girls are
into clothes," says Sorenstam. "I was crazy about computers."
Today she spends at least an hour a day at her laptop. She fires
off daily E-mails to her parents and weekly dispatches to
sponsor and mentor Ely Callaway, as well as writing a column for
Golfweb. In hotel rooms all over the world, she uses her
laptop's CD-ROM to listen to music by Celine Dion and the
Swedish rock band Sommar. She writes thank-you notes to
tournament directors, making copies on her portable printer. She
monitors her investment portfolio by computer, along with her
travel schedule, weather forecasts and, of course, her stats.
During rounds, Sorenstam and her caddie, Colin Cann, record each
of her shots on forms Sorenstam designed for the purpose. After
the round, she turns her forms into spreadsheets, charts and
graphs, and scans these numeric representations of her game for
clues to how she might improve. Is she hitting too many drives
right or left? Leaving six-iron approaches short? Taking an
extra stroke on the greens this week? Such mistakes are
correctable, but only if you know you're making them. In 1990,
for example, Sorenstam knew she was driving poorly but didn't
know why. She began tracking whether her drives went straight,
right or left, regardless of whether they hit the fairway. The
results showed that for every tee shot she hit to the left of
center, she was hitting five to the right. Hours of practice put
her on target, and she soon won her first U.S. Women's Open.
On tour Sorenstam's passion for circuitry is well known. When
official stats from the Australian Ladies Masters disappeared
last March, there was a brief panic at LPGA headquarters in
Daytona Beach. "Some people freaked out," says former LPGA media
official Kerry Fellenz, "but I knew Annika had everything we
needed. She E-mailed the numbers to me right away."
Each winter Sorenstam sets statistical goals for the coming
year. In 1995, after missing 2.6 putts per round inside six feet
the previous year, she set out to bring that average under one.
She failed, but cut the number to 1.52 and became the tour's No.
1 star. Not until last year, when she missed only .95 short
putts per round, did she make good on that three-year-old vow.
A two-time Vare Trophy winner as the LPGA's leader in scoring
average, Sorenstam now has a new goal: to be the first LPGA
player to crack the 70.00 barrier for a full season. She came
close with a 70.04 average last year. With an average of 69.90
going into this week's Samsung World Championship, Sorenstam is
sure to win another Vare Trophy and nearly certain to do it in
historic fashion. "Breaking 70 has been a goal of mine since I
came out on tour. It would mean tons," she says. "It's the
ultimate number." --Rick Lipsey
Spy vs. Spy
A CURIOUS CASE OF CLUBTOMANIA
The Golf Wars have turned into a John Le Carre novel, featuring
larceny, dangerous packages and clubterfuge. At the Senior
tour's Oct. 2-4 Vantage Championship in Clemmons, N.C., Barry
Lyda, a tour representative for Callaway--archenemy of rising
Orlimar--swiped a prototype three-wood from an Orlimar rep's
bag. Lyda FedExed the club to Callaway HQ in Carlsbad, Calif.,
for study, presumably in a locked room full of men in white
coats. Sadly for Lyda, witnesses to the theft had alerted
Orlimar rep Lon Fugate, who called the cops.
After Lyda copped to the deed, he got what Callaway spokesman
Larry Dorman calls "a severe dressing down." The box was
returned, unopened, to Orlimar. But Orlimar president Jesse
Ortiz, outraged that Lyda wasn't fired, wrote PGA Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem to demand that Lyda's tour privileges
be revoked. "If anybody in my company had done that, he'd be
gone," said Ortiz.
Callaway shot back. Dorman showed SI a letter from Larry Jarman,
a former GolfGear International rep, hinting that an Orlimar
operative--none other than Lon Fugate--may have removed a
three-wood from a Senior player's bag and replaced it with an
Orlimar. "Apparently Orlimar thinks it's all right to steal
clubs out of players' bags," says Dorman, "just not tour reps'
Ortiz scoffs at the charge. "Sounds to me like this GolfGear guy
is looking for a job at Callaway," he says.
According to Orlimar's Fugate, Callaway pays bounties for club
prototypes from other companies. Dorman of Callaway says that's
bull but admits double-dealing in the land of double bogeys goes
on all the time. "I'm telling you," he says, "it's a jungle out
on the range." --Rick Reilly
THE SHAG BAG
SITE LINES: The PGA of America announced last week that the
Ryder Cup, which the U.S. hosts every four years, will be held
at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., in
2003. It will be the first Ryder Cup for Oakland Hills, site of
six U.S. Opens. Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, a course the
PGA owns, will host the 2007 Ryder Cup. Medinah, near Chicago,
gets the Cup in 2011. The association has also tabbed sites for
future PGA Championships: Valhalla in 2000 and 2004; Atlanta
Athletic Club in 2001; Hazeltine National, near Minneapolis, in
2002; Oak Hill, in Rochester, N.Y., in 2003; The Country Club in
Brookline, Mass., in 2005; and Medinah in 2006.
SENIOR SETBACK: Chi Chi Rodriguez, an inveterate smoker who used
to tell reporters he followed a "red-meat diet," suffered what
he called a mild heart attack before last week's Raley's Gold
Rush Classic in El Dorado Hills, Calif. "I was too stubborn to
think I could have a heart attack," Rodriguez said after
undergoing angioplasty at Sacramento's Sutter Memorial Hospital
on Oct. 13. Fans signed a giant get-well card for Rodriguez, who
turns 63 this week and vows a quick return to action. Gold Rush
winner Dana Quigley said, "Remember, Chi Chi, the Senior tour
doesn't work without you."
TELL IT TO CHI CHI: Golf nut Bryant Gumbel (left) marked his
50th birthday last month with a two-day hackathon at Metedeconk
National Golf Club in Jackson, N.J. After each round Gumbel and
eight pals including Matt Lauer "retired to a rambling house,"
Gumbel says, "where we solved the world's problems, smoked
cigars and played poker. Yeah, the testosterone was flowing, but
we avoided red meat. We had our cholesterol to think about."
CHAR FOR THE COURSE: A golfer ignited a 25-acre brushfire last
week at Hidden Valley Golf Course in Norco, Calif., by striking
a spark with his titanium driver. Norco fire chief Peter Bryan
says the player won't face charges.
NEW BLOOD: Callaway CEO Donald Dye stepped down last week but
will continue as a consultant to his replacement, 79-year-old
company founder Ely Callaway.
SE RI, PACK: On Oct. 27, Se Ri Pak will be cheered by thousands
as a parade leads her from the Seoul airport to Korea's
presidential palace, where she'll be President Kim Dae Jung's
guest. On the 28th, Pak will be feted in Daejun, her hometown.
On the 29th, at a golf tournament created in her honor, she'll
join pro-am partner Kim Chong-Pil, the Korean prime minister.
NOT TO BE: Among the casualties of the first stage of this
year's PGA Tour Q school was the pride of Littleton, Colo., Greg
1998: A Golf Odyssey
The first edition of Woods' Golf Odyssey appeared in June 1997
after Dan Wood was joined on the Senior tour by his wife, Sandi,
a retired middle school gym teacher. "We send the newsletter to
relatives and friends," says Wood, a former four-sport letterman
at Tufts who took up golf in 1980, at 33. He earned his Senior
tour card in '96 only to lose it last year. As a Monday
qualifier this year, he has earned $199,202 to rank 62nd on the
money list. The Woods' Sept. 27, 1998, newsletter describes
Dan's tie for seventh at the U.S. Senior Open in Pacific
Palisades, Calif., where he and Sandi met Jack and Barbara
Nicklaus. "Jack was happy because he shot a 69 in the last
round," Wood reports. "He asked how I'd done, and I said, 'Two
better.'" To carve your name on the Woods' mailing list, write
to Woods' Golf Odyssey, Winter Springs Golf Club, 900 W. State
Road 434, Winter Springs, Fla., 32708.
Running Second to Lee Trevino on the money list as play began at
the inaugural Walt Disney World Open, in 1971, Jack Nicklaus
knew what he had to do. "If I can't win tomorrow, I don't
deserve to be the leading money winner," said Nicklaus, who was
ahead by one on the eve of the event's final round. The next day
he shot a 68 to top Deane Beman by three and earn his fourth
title of the year. Nicklaus's $30,000 first prize ran his '71
earnings to $244,490.50, less than a single victory is worth
today but a record at the time. He went on to claim Disney
titles--and to repeat as top money winner--in '72 and '73. The
Orlando magic of Nicklaus's early-'70s prime was impressive even
by Jack's standards. Though he won 70 Tour titles, only at
Disney World did he win the same event three times in a row.
"This was no Mickey Mouse tournament for me," the Golden Bear
Should the USGA adopt new rules to regulate high-tech equipment?
--Based on 1,879 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Who should be the PGA Tour's player of the year,
David Duval or Mark O'Meara? To answer, go to www.cnnsi.com/golf.
Last year Colin Montgomerie became the first golfer on any tour
to win five straight money titles. He leads the European tour
again in '98 but is just 45,266[pounds] up on No. 2 Lee
Westwood. Here are the longest reigns by money leaders.
PLAYER, TOUR STREAK YEARS
C. Montgomerie, Europe 5 1993-97
Mickey Wright, LPGA 4 1961-64
Kathy Whitworth, LPGA 4 1965-68
Kathy Whitworth, LPGA 4 1970-73
Tom Watson, PGA 4 1977-80
Whatever happens the rest of the way, 1998 has been good to
these five. They've made the biggest leaps into the top 25 on
the money list.
PLAYER 1997 RANK 1998 RANK
Scott Verplank 159 19
John Huston 141 18
Steve Stricker 130 12
Glen Day 98 14
Billy Mayfair 79 11
Holes won by Vijay Singh in his 11-and-10 loss to Mark O'Meara
in the 36-hole semifinals of last week's World Match Play
What do these players have in common?
They are the only PGA Tour players averaging more than 290 yards
off the tee. Daly is at 299.5, Woods at 296.2 and rookie Frazar