Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Golf vs. Minigolf: Intro to philosophy

Every week or so I hope to take some time to educate on the similarities and differences between the philosophy of golf versus minigolf.
I often hear that, "golf is a game of inches."  I tend to counter this with, "Minigolf is a game of millimeters."  This is not a flip response, in reality the way that a minigolfer prepares for a tournament grooves shots on each hole down to hitting a mark a couple feet away within a millimeter.  But this is not the only reason for the comment...

Golf, above all, teaches its players to avoid making mistakes.  A par on a tournament course is a good score.  As much as the pros would like to aim every shot at the flagstick and blitz every birdie putt at the hole, the risk of a bogey is perceived to carry more weight than the benefit of a birdie.  This shouldn't matter on the putting green, but this 2009 New York Times article indicates that PGA golfers are more risk averse on birdie putts of the same distance as par putts.

Why?  In theory it shouldn't matter...
Per the authors of the referenced article, Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer, this risk aversion existed regardless of player skill, round/hole number, length, position with lead or cut, and other variables.  The authors, within their article, indicate that the evidence shows that, [this] finding implies that the accuracy gap derives from a psychological rather than a mechanical process."

I'll get back to that, but for now it should be noted that the difference between par-putt and birdie-putt percentage made peaked around the 6-to-12 foot distance.

On Putt Putt minigolf courses, it is interesting to note that the average putt length is around 12-to-15 feet in length, just a little longer than this peak "risk-aversion zone."

From The Golfing Blog (11/4/2010 post), statistics gathered from Eyline Golf indicate that, in 2010, PGA Tour pros averaged 1-in-3 putts made for putts between 10 and 15 feet.  Billy Caudle has posted the 2011 National event statistics for the Putt Putt Association (PPA) Pros and, on average, the PPA pro average is 51%, with the top-scorers averaging around 70%.

There are potentially several reasons for this difference, which I hope to explore as time goes on. 

I will agree with Pope and Schweitzer for now and hypothesize that the differences are psychological in nature.  The PGA Tour golfer is ingrained with minimizing risk from the tee to the green; Hank Haney has referred to this as "the big miss" that can derail a perfectly good tournament. 

If a player is psychologically driven to be risk-averse from the tee to the green, is it unreasonable to see that they exhibit these same risk-averse traits in their putting style?


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