Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Review of "The Hole Truth"

In order to avoid a rut, I wanted to find a book on a sport that isn't one of the four major North American games.  Fortunately, the latest catalog for review copies from the University of Nebraska Press included two on golf that arrived earlier this month.  Needing to diversify my reading for this month, I chose one of them and enjoyed it very much.  Here is my review of "The Hole Truth"

“The Hole Truth: Determining the Greatest Players in Golf Using Sabermetrics” by Bill Felber

Golf, history, statistics

Publish date:
January 1, 2019

328 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

No matter the sport, fans often will argue about who is the GOAT, or greatest of all time. When it comes to golf, that has been difficult to measure – after all, how would Tiger Woods fare with the mashers and other clubs used in the days of Harry Vardon?  How would Patty Berg do against Anika Sorenstam?  Author Bill Felber has attempted to answer this question using a common mathematical function and a little extra work with advanced statistics in this very interesting book.

While the title touts the use of “sabermetrics”, the tool used to measure golfing greats across the entire history of professional golf is the standard deviation.  Felber does explain this and other statistical terms in the book and how it is similar to a popular new statistic in baseball, wins above replacement or WAR. Even if a reader is not a mathematician, he or she will enjoy reading about many of the sport’s legends and how that golfer stacks up against others using the measure of standard deviation.

Fortunately, the rankings are fairly simple and straightforward, as Felber explains in the beginning of the book.  Like the number of strokes, the lower a golfer’s standard deviation from the average of the field, the better the ranking.  There is a formula for number of strokes derived from the standard deviation if the reader wants to compare strokes since that is how the score is kept.  That is not necessary to enjoy this and understand the accompanying charts for each golfer portrayed.

Felber covers all eras of golf, both men and women and because the standard deviation is measured for each golfer against his or her peers, a fair comparison can be made between Kathy Whitworth and Bobby Jones, for just one example. There is a measure for each golfer for their career and their peak, which is defined as the best five year stretch.  No spoilers here to reveal who ranked at the top of those two categories, but like with any other list, statistical or otherwise, it does produce some expected results, some surprises and a huge source of information that can be used to settle debates.

Because the book is formatted to give the reader a short description of each golfer’s career success or failure in the major tournaments (noted at the beginning that the statistics are limited to majors) it is easy to read and has plenty of accompanying charts and statistics. It can easy be digested at one sitting or used as a reference for quick information on a golfer.  Golf fans will certainly want to add this one to their bookshelves.  

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchanged for an honest review.

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