The Hot Hand Phenomenon in Golf

Is there a “hot hand phenomenon in golf? That is, are there longer runs of successes (or failures) than if a completely random process governed performance. The trick is to analyze oodles of data, and then, controlling for skill differences, see whether statistically unusually runs happen.

The answer in golf, according to a recent paper, is that there is a hot hand. Interestingly, it is a) only seen in junior golf, and b) doesn’t last. That younger competitive golfers (between the ages of 12 and 17) exhibit such behavior, while their professional peers don’t, is intriguing, and is at least partially explained by professionalism itself. Because as all we non-pro hackers can testify, golf has a way of really, really pissing you off.

Our analysis uses data on the performance of junior golfers between 12 and 17 years of age in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments. We show that, in such a setting, the hot hand does exist and that its presence decreases as golfers gain tournament experience. There is a strong occurrence of the hot hand among golfers in their first year of AJGA tournament competition. However, by the third year of tournament competition, the prevalence of the hot hand among these same players is statistically indistinguishable from zero. The relationship between experience and the hot hand explains why analyses of professional athletes find little evidence in support of the hot hand.