100 – the points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single NBA game. 9.58 – Usain Bolt’s 100m time. 55 – the passing touchdowns Peyton Manning threw in 2013. 15 – the major championships won by Tiger Woods.
These numbers are seared into the heads of every young sports fan. Why? We watch athletes perform physical feats we never thought possible. But the stats take on lives of their own. 755 home runs. 2,000 rushing yards. There’s nothing inherently special about the numbers. But over generations of competition, history ascribes meaning to them.
But what happens when a sport lacks the ability to track performance, to properly account for its past? Women’s sports in general face a staggering data gap compared to their male counterparts. David Berri wrote on the topic (primarily with a WNBA lens), arguing that without data “you can’t tell the story.”
The LPGA is no different.
Golf in its simplest form is easy to track. Traditional statistics like greens in regulation and fairways hit require minimal effort to record. But amid a sports data revolution, advanced analytics and computing capacity have made it easier to capture a host of new figures that golfers use to train and measure performance.
But professional female golfers lack access to the data that their male counterparts have.
First, look at the number of statistics the professional golf leagues share publicly. The PGA Tour’s website lists nearly 500 different figures that it tracks.
This includes traditional statistics broken down in every possible way—by hole, distance, round, and on and on. It also includes new statistics like strokes gained, similarly cut and tailored for every scenario you’d ever concoct. The LPGA Tour website, however, only lists about 30.
Next, turn to ESPN. The PGA statistics tracked provide a thorough breakdown of every tournament week-to-week. The LPGA statistics, on the other hand, merely display the scores for each round. Not exactly on par.
This is not to say that LPGA professionals don’t have access to much of this data. The best golfers surely do. Yet data collection is expensive, which might put average golfers at a severe knowledge disadvantage.
But the stats gap isn’t just problematic from a player improvement perspective. The greater issue is highlighted in Berri’s article. If reporters relaying these events to the public are working from disparate sets of data for men and women, the stories written about the PGA and LPGA will be inherently different.
That’s a problem. Statistics are how sports speak from one generation to the next. They’re about children following Nelly Korda or Minjee Lee, tracking their play and judging them against the likes of Annika Sorenstam. Statistics are how we tell the history of a sport and connect it to the past.
The LPGA needs better data, plain and simple. We talk about sports equity in terms of pay and news coverage. The first step toward achieving this goal, however, might be ensuring that stories told about the sports can be equally told.