How to win the SAS Championship

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What can data tell us about the easiest hole at your favorite golf course? Or which hole contributes the most to mastering the course? A golf instructor once told me golf is not my sport, and that my swing is hopeless, but that didn’t stop me from analyzing golf data. We all have our strengths.

This week, 78 PGA Tour Champion golfers will compete in the SAS Championship Golf Tournament at the Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, NC. In anticipation of the event, I’ve analyzed data from the last 18 years of the tournament using SAS Visual Analytics.

Tournament analysis

Historically, the 17th hole has been the easiest hole in the SAS Championship. It was also the easiest hole in last year’s championship. At 503 yards, this year it is once again the shortest Par 5 on the course, so expect to see some subpar golf.

The Par 4, 13th hole has been the most difficult hole in SAS Championship history. However, it was the second hardest in 2018. The first hole was the most difficult in 2018.

Where the winning happens

SAS Championship winners have historically outplayed the field in the back nine. They especially tend to separate themselves in the final four holes. A full 30% of the score difference between the winners and the rest can be found in the final four holes (equaling just 22% of the holes). The 15th hole in particular has the biggest average stroke difference between the winners and the rest of the field. Performing well on that hole is vital for your favorite player to take home the trophy.

Top player analysis

Did you know Arnold Palmer once played in the SAS Championship? He played in 2003 at the age of 74. He finished last in that tournament, but he is literally nicknamed “The King,” so he’s actually always a winner.

The King of the SAS Championship is arguably Doug Garwood. Of the players who have played in the SAS Championship at least three times, Doug has the lowest average score. He won the tournament in 2016.

A very strong case could also be made for Bernhard Langer as the King of the SAS Championship. He has the second lowest average score (68.88) for someone who has played in the tournament at least three times, and he’s won the tournament twice.

Tom Kite shot the lowest round ever in the SAS Championship in 2003. He shot a 61. Last year, three different players shot a 62 in the first round: Tom Lehman, Bernhard Langer, and Gene Sauers.

Who will win this year?

This year’s SAS Championship should be even more exciting. Defending champion Bernhard Langer has already won two tournaments this year and is ranked fifth in earnings as of the date of this writing. But this year, golf Hall of Famer Davis Love III is participating in the SAS Championship for the first time in his hometown state.

I’m looking forward to watching the action and analyzing this year’s data after the event. My swing may still be hopeless but my data visualization skills are intact.

Learn more about the SAS Championship and the impact it has on the community.

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About Author

Frank Silva

Systems Engineer

Frank Silva is the technical lead for the SAS for Sports Analytics team. He specializes in the visualization and analytical modeling suite of SAS solutions. Silva has worked with numerous MLS, NFL, NBA, and NHL teams during his time at SAS.

2 Comments

  1. A couple of years ago, the SAS Championship used a partially different course (100% Highlands, rather than the hybrid Highlands/Meadows used every other year) because of green replacements. Aside from everyone hating it (mainly because the far-away holes were too far away), it would complicate your data, since some holes would be differently numbered that year, and others would just be completely different.

    Even the consistently played holes have changed some over time. For instance, #2 (where I work at the tournament) used to have a bunker on the left side of the green, and now it doesn't. No, I don't remember when that happened: 2012 give or take a year or two, I think. That would probably have a small (for these guys) affect on scores on that hole.

    • Frank Silva

      This is great info, Gordon! This type of information isn't readily available online - so definitely something to keep in minding when reading this analysis.

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