Riccio of Columbia U. wins first ShotLink Intelligence prize

February 22, 2013

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The PGA TOUR and Official Technology Partner CDW announced that Dr. Lucius Riccio, a Senior Lecturer in Discipline at Columbia Business School, has won the inaugural ShotLink Intelligence Prize for his paper on determining the TOUR’s best long approach shot ball strikers, based on ShotLink data. By authoring the winning paper, Riccio has earned a $25,000 technology gift for Columbia from CDW.

“Powering the ShotLink Intelligence program and supporting the ShotLink Intelligence Prize was an innovative way for CDW to continue our work with institutions of higher education while showcasing our capabilities to provide IT solutions, including big data technologies to expand insights,” said Matt Troka, senior vice president, Product and Partner Management at CDW. “We congratulate Dr. Riccio on his research and its potential to enrich the understanding of PGA TOUR golf.”

Riccio’s entry was selected by a panel of judges over other submissions that were based on research conducted on the ShotLink dataset. ShotLink is the PGA TOUR’s proprietary scoring system that captures multiple data points on every shot struck during competition, which in turn has translated into hundreds of new statistics and provided far greater insight into player performance. ShotLink Intelligence Powered by CDW is a program that offers academic institutions the ability to use golf and the PGA TOUR as a research tool, fostering the development of new insights into the sport. 

“I am thrilled to have won and to have made even this small contribution to the outstanding statistical program the PGA TOUR has developed and made available to academics like myself,” Riccio said. “Anything that increases interest in the exciting world of PGA TOUR golf is great for the fans and the game. I am excited that I have helped the TOUR and perhaps encouraged others to make even more analytical contributions.”  Riccio said the $25,000 gift will go to a new center for the study of sports analytics.

Riccio set out to produce a single, comprehensive measure of long approach shot ball striking by ranking all players and identifying those who are best in long approach shot accuracy. For the analysis, he used par 4 fairway approaches between 150 to 225 yards, the yardages for which most pros are playing full iron shots. 

“We are all aware that PGA TOUR players are more precise the closer they get to the hole,” he said. “This analysis quantifies that level of precision and found that as players get closer to the green, their iron shots become more accurate at a nearly straight-line function. A typical player hits the green 81% of the time from a par 4 fairway 150 yards out and 42% of the time from 225 yards.  This also confirms that shorter hitters must be more accurate with long irons and quantifies how much more precise they need to be.  Players like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson hit the ball further off the tee and are not required to be as precise with long irons as players who are shorter hitters. Looking at greens in regulation but adjusting for distance using this analysis offers an insight into which players are truly the best at hitting the green.”  

Combining rankings of percentage of greens hit and closeness to the hole shows Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Robert Garrigus and Tiger Woods as the top four ball strikers on the PGA TOUR.

“The ShotLink Intelligence program offers a unique way to interact with the academic community,” said Steve Evans, PGA TOUR Senior Vice President of Information Systems. “It is rewarding to see new insights derived from the program. Dr. Riccio's paper focuses on ball striking from key distances, which provides new insight into this aspect of the game. When ShotLink was developed, we had a goal to differentiate our players and to try to explain why PGA TOUR players make this difficult game look relatively easy. Dr. Riccio has done a great job of helping us continue to meet that goal.”

Riccio teaches business analytics, optimization, simulation and operations management at Columbia University. He has been on the faculty of Columbia University since 1995. He also is Executive Vice President and partner of Gedeon GRC Consulting, a full service engineering consulting firm, and a partner in CleanTrans, an environmental transportation company. Notably, Riccio also writes a monthly column for Golf Digest that is instruction-related and highlights lessons learned from statistics than can improve an individual's golf game.

Riccio also has been active in the administration and improvement of the game of golf. He has studied golf-related issues using his statistical and analytical skills learned while earning an engineering Ph.D. from Lehigh University.  His early work included two research proposals and data analysis projects which in part lead to the development of the USGA Slope System. As an original member of the USGA’s Handicap Research Team and as a member of its Handicap Procedure Committee, he has served that organization for over 25 years and is the recipient of the USGA’s prestigious Isaac Grainger Award. He was the first to develop and market personal computer based software (the Golf Analyzer) to analyze an individual golfer’s game and has used it to study the play of hundreds of golfers including major championship winners Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Sherri Steinhauer, as well as amateurs of all levels of play. 

The PGA TOUR and CDW announced early last year the introduction of the ShotLink Intelligence Prize, expanding the program that provides ShotLink data for research by professors and graduate students at institutions of higher education. The PGA TOUR initially began sharing ShotLink data with academic institutions in 2005, establishing a formal process for academics to gain not-for-profit access to the wealth of statistical data collected by ShotLink at PGA TOUR tournaments for academic purposes. The program has grown substantially since then, and now has the potential to offer far greater insights into the PGA TOUR.

Tune in to SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio (Sirius 208, XM 93) on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 11:45 a.m ET when Dr. Riccio will be interviewed by John Swantek during "Talk of TOUR."