Ranking the Skills of Golfers on the PGA TOUR using Gradient Boosting Machines and Network Analysis

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Until recently, ranking the skills of golfers on the PGA TOUR was best accomplished by using imprecise summary statistics such as Driving Accuracy and Average Putts Per Round. Since 2003, The PGA TOUR, through their ShotLink Intelligence™ program, has collected detailed shot-level data, which provides coordinates of the locations of shots along with other information. Through the analysis of this data, more fine-grained and precise estimates of the skills of golfers on tour are now possible. The problem of estimating the skill of golfers in different aspects of the game given data from competitions is not simple. This work recognizes a wide array of statistical challenges associated with this problem, which a number of previous approaches to the problem have failed to adequately acknowledge. A brand new approach to the problem is presented which invokes comparisons of the quality of shots taken on the same hole during the same round. The comparisons are utilized in a Network Analysis technique, which is generalized to suit the needs of the problem. This approach is supported with empirical evidence of stronger correlations with the future success of the golfers than the system currently used by the PGA TOUR.

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