Golf Course Owner Guy came across a great paper this winter written by Ryan Elmore and Andrew Urbaczewski titled “Loss Aversion in Professional Golf“. Both gentleman are with the Daniels School of Business at the University Of Denver. Their thesis was pretty simple. When a tour event changes a hole from a Par 5 to Par 4, but keeps the yardage the same, do Tour Pros score differently?
They used a couple controls, but the best example is Pebble Beach #2. It’s played as a Par 5 during the February AT&T, and of course the US Open played it as a Par 4. Yardage identical. Now I don’t to be a spoiler, as I know many of you will click right over and read this paper, but here are some tidbits…
Oh shit… there is no way you are going to read this paper. I will just tell you what happened. Pros played the Par 4 version in .25 of a stroke less than when it was a par 5. Extrapolate that over 4 rounds, that’s a full stroke of savings. These guys set out to prove that the “par” on a hole messes with your mind, and it’s apparently true.
Is Loss Aversion Historical?
If you read golf tournament history, have you ever noticed how Tommy Armour shot 279, Harry Vardon 145, etc? They never referred to par back then. Why is there par now? It was for television. When you click on the TV, you want to know how many under they are? Way under, the course is easy, over par the course is hard. Par is a great way to compare players on the leaderboard. If you turned it on and Tiger was at 258 and Rory was at 271, and one was on hole 5 and the other on hole 16, you wouldn’t know what the hell was happening.
There is a small push in golf to eliminate par again. Take two minutes and ponder something (you have two minutes, I didn’t make you read the paper). Does your mind trick your behavior when you know what Par is? If I made our 14th hole a par 4, if I made our 15th hole a par 4, would you do something differently. If I made our entire course a par 69, but you played the same exact white tees, would you think this was a lesser place. After all Championship courses are NEVER par 69. It’s a great debate, and I will have more to come….