The worst forecasting practices of golf commentators


History is easy to explain. We can always come up with some story for why this or that occurred. And, if the story sounds plausible enough, the explanation will be accepted as true. But can we ever know that the explanation is correct?  How would we ever test it?

If we try to think like a scientist, as opposed to a politician, a theologian, or a used car salesman, we consider our explanation of observed behavior to be a theory. We then test the theory by drawing predictions from it. If the predictions (about as yet unobserved behavior) hold true, we may have some corroboration for our theory. (Of course, no number of correct predictions can prove that the theory is true.) But, it only takes one false prediction to disprove the theory.

Such is the asymmetric nature of our knowledge.

In forecasting, I like to complain about the worst practice of using "fit to history" as the sole consideration in forecast model selection. Any fool can fit a model to history, or even create a model with a perfect fit. But what is the predictive value of such a model? Can it forecast worth a darn?

The nice thing about forecasting is that we can test our models. We use them to generate forecasts of the future (e.g., sales of item X), and then observe how accurate those forecasts turn out to be. If they turn out to be fairly accurate, then maybe our "theory" is right, maybe we do have some understanding of the mechanisms underlying customer behavior. But if the forecasts turn out terribly wrong -- as they so often do -- just maybe we don't know WTF we're talking about.

The New Snake Oil: Golf Swing Analysis

So what about the "swing analysis" provided by professional golf commentators? I'm no fan of golf, and after watching a bit of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on television this weekend, I'm less a fan of golf commentators. They are not very scientific.

Every once in awhile the commentators delivered a slow-motion swing analysis to explain why a particular shot went good or bad. As in the video link, the explanation (=theory) of the shot all sounds quite brilliant: The toe fanned open, the flatness of the wrist, the down-and-through alignment of the clubface, and the "fully released finish" (which is properly referred to as the "happy ending" when using your putter).

Of course, it is quite easy to provide an explanation for why the shot did what it did AFTER you've seen what the shot did. If these commentators wanted to impress me, they'd provide the swing analysis WITHOUT having seen where the ball ended up, and then predict where it would land. Then we could actually test whether their analysis was any good or, as I suspect, just plain silliness.


About Author

Mike Gilliland

Product Marketing Manager

Michael Gilliland is a longtime business forecasting practitioner and formerly a Product Marketing Manager for SAS Forecasting. He is on the Board of Directors of the International Institute of Forecasters, and is Associate Editor of their practitioner journal Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting. Mike is author of The Business Forecasting Deal (Wiley, 2010) and former editor of the free e-book Forecasting with SAS: Special Collection (SAS Press, 2020). He is principal editor of Business Forecasting: Practical Problems and Solutions (Wiley, 2015) and Business Forecasting: The Emerging Role of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (Wiley, 2021). In 2017 Mike received the Institute of Business Forecasting's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2021 his paper "FVA: A Reality Check on Forecasting Practices" was inducted into the Foresight Hall of Fame. Mike initiated The Business Forecasting Deal blog in 2009 to help expose the seamy underbelly of forecasting practice, and to provide practical solutions to its most vexing problems.


  1. Mike,

    You underestimate the challenge of filling 4-5 hours of airtime when nothing much is happening. I suspect you would also grasp at straws and make things up along the way.

    • Mike Gilliland
      Mike Gilliland on

      Point well taken Sean. I guess this is like citing statistics in baseball, or rioting in the stands in soccer. When the sport is insufferable to watch, you've got to come up with something to keep everyone entertained.

  2. Chris Hemedinger
    Chris Hemedinger on

    Ever watch an Aussie-rules Football match? No time for stats in there, nor much analysis. To fill gaps you can always pan to the crazy fans.

    And forecasting? In the immortal words of Mr. T, the most accurate prediction: "Pain!"

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