The week of the Italian Ryder Cup has finally arrived, and all is set in Rome to welcome players and spectators alike. Excitement for the showdown between Europe and the United States is reaching a fever pitch.
Ryder Cup, data
The winning team of Sunday's Match Play will hoist the Ryder Cup trophy after playing with passion and unwavering commitment, match after match.
However, a more covert challenge is taking place, one that is equally significant for the outcome of this intercontinental event.
It's the battle of data analysis, and a key player in this arena is an Italian- Edoardo Molinari.
Statistical analysis has been a cornerstone of Edoardo and Captain Luke Donald's careers, but during the Ryder Cup, data analysis becomes even more valuable.
Captains must carefully select players for the match pairs, optimizing strengths and weaknesses of each player and the course itself. Nothing is left to chance, and mathematical models used by teams to generate player pairings are as sophisticated as those seen in Formula 1 or used by the most prominent international football teams.
Moreover, in this Ryder Cup held at the Marco Simone's course, home-field advantage will play a significant role in the determination of the outcome.
Donald will have every opportunity to leverage data to his team's advantage, particularly in the preparation of the course.
Traditionally, host teams choose and prepare the course to benefit their players, and the Marco Simone course takes this approach to the extreme, optimizing data even from its design phase.
Historically, the European Team's greens are slower than the average PGA Tour courses, and the roughs are higher, an effort to minimize American's drives' distance and accuracy.
In 2018, this tactic paid off in Paris, as the American players frequently hit longer and frequently off-target shots.
Captain Thomas Bjorn had all fairways narrowed to the US team's average distance, keeping the audience away from the field to prevent a trampled grass advantage for shots way off course.
This year, the Marco Simone course appears to be prepared similarly.
The rough is brutal and often makes it challenging to get the ball back in play, and all fairways are funnel-shaped at predetermined distances.
However, the reason for this setup is different. For the first time, the average length of the European team is longer than the American's, and their precision is almost the same, with the US team averaging 60.3% fairways hit versus 59.7% for Team Europe.
Thus, the US team's advantage in Drive length no longer exists, but they do enjoy a statistically superior edge in approaches from 70-110 meters.
The funnel-shaped fairways of Marco Simone have been narrowed at these distances, attempting to leverage the European players' advantage with their longer-range iron shots.
Aside from these overt course setup tactics, much of the data analysis initiatives remain secret for good reason.
One thing that is evident, however, is the crucial off-field role of Vice-Captain Edoardo Molinari.
In recent years, Edoardo has become the go-to person for statistical analysis in the golf world. Many of the best players worldwide have relied on his company, StatisticGolf, for strategic insights.
One can only hope that Edoardo's off-field strategic contributions will be as significant as his on-field role when he helped guide Team Europe to victory in 2010.