Golf Editorial

Tournament Field Strength

Introductory Comments

Field strength is a topic that has engaged me, as both amateur price-assessor and golf gambler, for quite some time.

Even though field strength might seem a relatively unimportant betting factor compared to, say, form, I believe it increasingly merits greater attention – from gamblers, and their bookmakers.

The Bookmaker Perspective

Every bookmaker betting on a golf tournament must first decide the maximum he’s prepared to let his clients on to win on any golf bet.

While there is no greater frequency of upsets in low quality tournaments than in top-level ones, it’s a fact that the lower the strength of a field the less disclosed is the ‘form’ or ability its players.

So, naturally, the bookmaker who is prepared to bet you to win $100,000 on the Shell Houston Open is unlikely to bet you to win anything approaching the same amount on the Asian Tour’s Cambodian Open!

If the bookmaker is smart he will have risk limits that are tiered to reflect not only his range of different bet types but also his level of confidence in how much to risk on bets on different tournaments. His confidence level, or lack thereof, derives from a combination of field strength and the ‘anonymity-factor’ of each tournament field.

If the bookie has very low confidence in a tournament he won’t offer betting on it at all, and that’s his perogative; no problem. If he has more confidence than ability, and his risk limits are consequently higher, we’ll like him and bet with him!

Another reason a bookmaker won’t bet is either a low care factor or a lack of professional pride, and these part-time bludgers on the golf betting industry should all be exposed and boycotted! But that’s a rant for another day!

The Gambler Perspective

Firstly, as hinted above we’re looking for bookmakers who do not act in accordance with the bookmaker logic outlined above. If a bookmaker is careless about longer shot player prices, or loose with his limits, rules and constraints, we can exploit his weaknesses and take money off him.

Secondly, just like the bookmaker, we gamblers need to quantify the value of form and I cannot emphasise how important this is! To illustrate my contention, I’d like to expand on my criticality contention:

Example #1, how do we evaluate a guy coming into a PGA or European Tour event following consecutive WebDotCom or Challenge Tour victories? (eg a Luke Guthrie & Kristoffer Broberg in 2012) Should they be 50/1? 100/1? One way might be to take account of relative strengths of the fields in which he’s played versus the strength of the top-level field in which he’s about to play.

Example #2, what type of predictor is a consistent set of Top10’s, on the Sunshine or Japan Tours, of a player’s chances in his first PGA or European Tour start?

Example #3, does a guy with a run of solid form on the ADT (Asian Development Tour), such as Piya Swangarunporn, rate 150/1, 500/1 or 1000/1 in an Asian Tour start in the Thailand Golf Championship? (The bookies probably got it right, making him 250/1; he finished 39th)

Example #4, did a consistent set of high placings on the 2012 European Challenge Tour indicate that Eduardo Da La Riva should have been permitted by bookmakers to start on the Sunshine Tour at a price as generous as 125/1 at year’s end?

Example #5, did a 3rd in the tough European QSchool final (rated 9.06) suggest that Andy Sullivan could place 3rd, at a spectacular 300/1, behind Charl Schwartzel in the Alfred Dunhill (rated 25.16) a few weeks later?

The tournament ratings I’ve mentioned (9.06 & 25.16) are explained below; read on!

In any event, as the game of golf globalises and players become ever more mobile, and often with more than one set of tour playing privileges, it’s only going to become more important in the future to have a way of comparing form from different tours as well as from fields of radically varying strengths!

Should OWGR’s be Used to Calculate Tournament Strength?

I believe the only logical approach is to claculate field strength based on the average OWGR’s (official world golf rankings) of the players in any golf tournament.

I know these somewhat controversial official world rankings are beset with flaws, weaknesses and assumptions, etc. And their website (www.officialworldgolfranking.com) is assuredly a user-unfriendly and utterly contemptible piece of 1990’s shit!

However, these ranking points are global, take account of field strength, canvass all relevant tours, include amateurs as well as professionals, are derived from form over a rolling two years and are updated weekly. Not bad!

In my opinion, they’re the best tool available for this calculation task.

Incidentally, the Ladies Rolex Rankings site (www.rolexrankings.com) is, by contrast with the men’s site, a joy to use and includes a smooth and quick csv download facility to enable all Ladies ranking points to be downloaded in seconds. The mens site, by contrast, has its players listed in 30 separate pages @ 50 players per page!*? wtf?

The ladies site includes 750 ranked players whereas the mens OWGR’s typically contains 1,500 players, with total points ranging from 0-900; the current range is as follows:

Rory McIlroy, 1st place with 621pts

Koumei Oda, 100th place with 80pts

Kevin Kisner, 500th place with 17pts

Shintaro Kai, 1,000th place with 2.81pts

Zero points at the 1,500th-player mark.

How to Calculate Tournament Strength Using OWGR’s

Firstly, I had to make some executive decisions. They were:

  •         Omit Majors & WGC’s; both skew the week-in-week-out strength of Tour fields;
  •         Omit small fields, below 50 players, also to reduce skewing;
  •         Allocate co-sanctioned tournaments to the ‘home Tour’ (where the event is played);
  •         Set a maximum value for any tournament; I chose 120 pts – close to the number for Majors & WGC’s anyway and;
  •         Set a minimum value for any tournament; I chose 2 pts.

Secondly, I scoped all tournaments from the top 13 Mens professional Tours in 2012 and, using the above criteria, then simply averaged the then OWGR’s of all the players.

The averages for each tour’s tournaments were then summed and averaged to determine the rankings below.

Which Tours are the Strongest?

Bearing in mind the above assumptions, here are those 13 Mens’ tours listed in order of their average field strength and listing their: average, lowest and highest tournament strengths of 2012:

Rank Tour OWGR Avge Weakest Strongest
1 PGA 66.14 20.21 120.00
2 European 47.94 11.62 120.00
3 Japan 21.37 13.39 40.95
4 WebDotCom 10.61 6.69 14.43
5 Asian 8.86 4.04 29.19
6 Sunshine 8.10 2.26 25.16
7 Challenge 7.86 2.03 17.98
8 OneAsia 7.54 5.05 9.35
9 Korea 6.85 3.91 13.50
10 Australasia 4.19 2.00 13.46
11 Latinoamerica 2.79 2.00 4.25
12 Asean 2.07 2.00 2.29
13 Canadian 2.02 2.00 2.19

What Conclusions Can be Drawn?

The first thing to catch my eye was the big gap between the weakest and strongest fields on the PGA & European Tours. It’s truly massive!

For gamblers, this means that the loser you may have liked and backed in a strong field (100.00) may have a FIVE TIMES better chance in a weaker field (20.00) next week. More importantly, perhaps the bookies won’t reduce his price by 80% next week!

Secondly, it’s clearly a bit too easy to earn OWGR points in Japan, which operates in a virtual competitive vacuum, so players earning their OWGR’s in Japan need to be downscaled (it’s the same for the Japanese Ladies, by the way). I estimate Japan Tour points need to be reduced by 30% or so, although it’s still clearly the 3rd strongest tour.

Nonetheless, don’t make the mistake of overly discounting the Jap form!

Dong-Hwan Lee, who won the recent PGA QSchool, could only finish 34th on the 2012 Japan money list with a single win in 18 starts.

Sang-Moon Bae went straight from the Japan Tour to a 2011 QSchool Final 11th placing  and on to a quarter final loss to McIlroy in the World Matchplay and a quality 2nd in the Transitions Championship.

Seung-Yul Noh shared the same path as SM Bae, with a 2011 QSchool 3rd and an even better first season on the PGA Tour that lasted deep into the Fedex Cup playoffs!

Thirdly, the: WebDotCom, Asian, Sunshine, Challenge, OneAsia & Korean Tours are all at roughly the same average tournament strength level. Believe me, that’s very handy to know!

To pick up a theme from an earlier article, it’s thus evident that all the bookmakers that bet on any of these tours should bet on most of them. They don’t; they’re pathetic!

To support this ‘tournament strength’ thesis, I’ll add a ‘field strength’ figure at the top of the OWGR column of my future published tournament sheets, so you can see at a glance how ‘strong’ the event is. I’m confident that over time you’ll derive some value from that knowledge.

Cheers and best of luck with your betting in 2013, Mike

© Copyright Mike J Miller: 27 December 2012