With Paula Creamer validating her place in the LPGA's Big 3 and Suzann Pettersen winning again in Europe, now is the time to continue my series on quantifying dominance. Last month, I looked at wins and other finishes; today, I propose to look at winnings. There are some very simple numbers that can help us compare and contrast players between tours, generations, even eras--and answer the usual objections against using money as a measure of dominance. I'll use the examples of Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, and Seon Hwa Lee, who together have won 14 of the 19 LPGA events in 2008, to demonstrate the usefulness of these figures for a single season.
Winnings Percentages (actual money won divided by total purses in events started and by total purses in all events): Career money lists are interesting to track, but their totals are relevant only for players in the same rookie class or perhaps three-year generation (at best), what with inflation, irregular growth of purses, and the rise and demise of various events. But these measures allow you to track how much of the pot a player has raked their way over the course of a career relative to actual purses and so compare players across generations and across tours. Comparing the two percentages golfer by golfer can help us determine, for instance, whether the modern limited-schedule approach leads to more or less dominance than in the previous generations.
On the LPGA, the 19 events played thus far this season have a total purse of $34.3M. Using the LPGA money list, it's easy to calculate overall winnings percentages for the LPGA's Big 4:
Lorena Ochoa .059
Annika Sorenstam .043
Paula Creamer .037
Seon Hwa Lee .029
Even the winningest players on tour have won less than 17% of the total purse thus far this season.
But what about in the events they've started? Here the percentages are quite a bit higher for Ochoa and Sorenstam, who have played several fewer events than Creamer and Lee:
So the LPGA's Big 4 still have won less than 22% of the purses in the events they've entered. This shouldn't be all that surprising, given that the typical LPGA first-place finisher takes home 15% of the total purse for that event (Inbee Park won almost 19% of the U.S. Women's Open purse). Which leads me to my next stat.
Winnings Rates (actual money won divided by winners' prizes in events started and by winners' prizes in all events): These may be the gold standard when it comes to money rankings, because you can't win more of the purse than what's set aside for the top finisher and you can't win what you don't play for.
As the most anyone could have won this season is $5,265,000, here are the Big 4's overall winnings rates:
The next winnings rate measures how efficient they've been at maximizing their returns on their investments in the events they've entered:
So how does Lorena Ochoa compare to Tiger Woods in these measures of dominance this season (total winnings percentage, winnings percentage in events entered, total winnings rate, winnings rate in events entered)?
Ochoa .059, .085, .386, .599
Woods .033, .141, .180, .783
Because there are so many more PGA than LPGA events and PGA purses are typically 2 to 4 times larger than the LPGA's, and because Tiger's played in half the number of events that Lorena has, it stands to reason that he's taken home a smaller percentage of the pot and is further from the perfect season of winning every event played (the 1st and 3rd figures). But as his worst finish this season is a T5, it makes sense that he's much more efficient than Ochoa at maximizing his winnings in events he's entered (the last figure) and hence has taken a larger portion of the pot from them (the 2nd).
Feel free to compare Annika Sorenstam and Kenny Perry, Paula Creamer and Phil Mickelson, Inbee Park and Stewart Cink, and Seon Hwa Lee and Anthony Kim (the rest of the LPGA's and PGA's top 5 money winners this season) using these figures. Heck, bring in the top 5 on every major tour, from the JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour for the women to the various men's tours around the world. Compare season-by-season results and compile career records. Using such results, you can see clearly just how close the #2 is to the #1 golfer on each tour and hence get more precise when figuring out who the most dominant players in the world are and have been.