A Columbia professor's eerily close prediction of a 58 on the PGA Tour comes to fruition
In the January 2012 issue of Golf Digest, Columbia professor of analytics Lucius Riccio predicted there would be a 58 shot on the PGA Tour that year. Riccio's reasoning stemmed from a flurry of low scores, including 59s by both Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby -- just the fourth and fifth such scores ever at the time -- within a month during the summer of 2010.
"To shoot 58, a player will probably hit 17 or 18 greens, have an average first putt of about 15 feet, and make 10 to 12 of those first putts," the Golf Digest professional advisor wrote. "The reason nobody has shot 58 is that those things are very hard to do. But I think someone will do it this year."
Although it took four more years than Riccio thought, Jim Furyk became that someone on Sunday when he fired a final-round 58 at the 2016 Travelers Championship. Furyk broke the previous mark of 59 shared by himself, Goydos, Appleby, David Duval, Chip Beck and Al Geiberger.
In Riccio's story, he closely examined the rounds of Goydos and Appleby (Furyk's 59 would come at the 2013 BMW Championship) to come up with what he called "Riccio's Rules." Perhaps the most important thing to shooting a super low score, he discovered, was not only hitting a lot of greens and making a lot of putts, but the proximity of approach shots.
Riccio, who is also well known for his work involving pothole analytics, noted Goydos hit 16 greens in regulation and Appleby hit 15. Goydos averaged having 24 feet, 1 inch for his first putts and 11 feet for his average made putt during that round. For Appleby, the numbers were even lower at 17 feet, five inches and seven feet, seven inches in those two categories. So how did Furyk's round stack up?
Furyk hit all 18 greens, becoming the first player to pull off that feat during a sub-70 round. And not only did Furyk hit all 18 greens at TPC River Highlands, but he gave himself very makable birdie putts on nearly every hole. In fact, Furyk faced just 14 feet, 10 inches as his average first putt during a round in which he needed just 24 putts. And the average length of his putts made? A scant six feet, seven inches.
Back to Riccio: "To shoot 58, a player will probably hit 17 or 18 greens, have an average first putt of about 15 feet, and make 10 to 12 of those first putts." Hmm. Furyk shot 58 by hitting 18 greens, averaging a first putt of 14 feet, 10 inches, and made 10 birdie putts (to go along with a holed wedge for eagle on No. 3).
Sure, he was off by a few years, but that's a pretty eerie prediction. Kudos, Dr. Riccio.