ROME, ITALY | If you think that all that matters in golf is to do with hitting the ball and getting the ball into the hole, then you might be surprised just how important statistics are in an event such as the Ryder Cup. These days, statisticians such as Edoardo Molinari for the Europe team and Ken Jee for Team USA are as important as a player’s caddie, physiotherapist and psychologist. Maybe more so, in fact.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Patrick Cantlay, a member of Team USA, here Tuesday at Marco Simone Golf Club.
“As far as what holes we played on, we really trust the stats guys,” Cantlay said, “so I just asked them when we showed up this week, I asked Ken Jee [from Scout Inc., the American statistical firm] and said, ‘You know what holes am I playing this week?’ He told me I was on the odds, so I’m on the odds.”
What Jee is doing for the U.S. team is matched by the remarkable work that Molinari is doing for his home continent as a whole, as well as for individual members of the team.
Why did Europe captain Luke Donald switch the opening session each day from four-balls to foursomes?
“We feel like as a team, statistically we are stronger in foursomes within our team than we would be in four-balls,” Donald said. “Why not get off to a fast start? That’s it.”
Who gave him that information? Edoardo Molinari.
Want to know why European team members practised with teammates’ golf balls recently? Because Molinari had spotted that one player’s unfamiliarity with a make of golf ball preferred by a prospective partner was a factor in determining Europe’s pairings at the last Ryder Cup and wanted to ensure it wasn’t so at this Ryder Cup.
“We sent players the golf balls of other players to get feedback,” Molinari said. “Off the top of my head, of 12 players, only three play with exactly the same ball. Some of the feedback was great, some horrible. We had to change a few things. The ball is the biggest thing in foursomes. Some pairings look great on paper, but the balls are so different that none could switch. It has been a long and taxing process, more than I would ever have imagined, but now we have very good possibilities.”
Want to know who was significant in the improvement of Matthew Fitzpatrick? Edoardo Molinari. Fitzpatrick, a statistics-minded fellow if ever there was one, found a comparable soul in Molinari. Soon, Fitzpatrick employed Molinari and his company, StatisticGolf, to chart every stroke he played. The information Fitzpatrick received helped him to win the 2022 U.S. Open.
“Edoardo is brilliant, so intelligent,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Edoardo comes in there not just as a statistician but as someone that’s played the Ryder Cup and still plays the game at a competitive level. … there’s a big lot of trust that he obviously knows what he’s talking about …” –Rory McIlroy
Viktor Hovland is strong statistically himself, loves playing poker and being challenged by the requirements of that game for memory, patience and skill.
“Edoardo is a genius with stats,” Hovland said.
GGP asked Rory McIlroy about Molinari’s qualities as a statistician.
“You mean, the guru?” McIlroy said with a slight smile. “He’s delved really deep into the stats in terms of pairings for four-balls, for foursomes, course setup, what our team as a whole does well and what their team does well; how can we set ourselves up for success in whatever way possible. He also has formed a very close relationship with some of the players over the last few years because he does some of the stats for certain players.
“So, I think the players trust him. Sometimes you have to take numbers with a grain of salt, and they don’t tell a whole story or the whole picture. I think Edoardo comes in there not just as a statistician but as someone that’s played the Ryder Cup and still plays the game at a competitive level.
“I think all of those things combined, there’s a big lot of trust that he obviously knows what he’s talking about, and what he’s giving us is good information.”
Different European captains have used various statistical firms in the past, but where Molinari has the edge is that he is a highly accomplished player himself, easily able to identify with players. He won the U.S. Amateur and competed in one Ryder Cup himself: Europe’s winning team at Celtic Manor in 2010. He is a three-time winner on the DP World Tour. In other words, the players know about him what they didn’t know about previous statisticians – not only that he knows what he is talking about but what they are thinking.
McIlroy was asked to assess the 42-year-old Molinari, the older brother of 2018 Open champion Francesco Molinari, as a person.
“Fantastic,” McIlroy said. “Maybe a little more animated than his brother, but yeah, he’s a great person. I think he’s the sort of person that would fit easily into any sort of group, whether it be young or old. And again, he’s got a close relationship with a lot of the players on the team, anyway, which is a big Luke plus.”
Donald, who also has a deep statistical bent, has worked with Molinari for years. He has nothing but praise for Molinari.
“I know that statistics can be used to prove almost anything,” Donald said. “But I trust Edoardo and admire the work he does. I won’t necessarily follow his recommendations blindly. I am my own man, and I think that sometimes instinct and guile have to be blended in statistics. That’s what I have done so far in my time as Ryder Cup captain, and that is what I shall be doing throughout the event.”
Top: Edoardo Molinari (Andrew Redington, Getty Images)
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