Wed, February 21, 2024

Simon Says: Losses, Gains, and the Game of Golf

Many people are susceptible to loss aversion and golfers are no exception. Loss aversion means that individuals feel the pain of loss more than twice, as much as the benefit of the equivalent gain. In golf, this means the golfer psychologically suffers more from a bogey on a hole than the joy of a birdie.

In other walks of life, people hold on to loss-making stocks longer than they should because they fear the emotional consequences of selling at a loss. Soccer teams play for the draw rather than the win, because of the emotional cost of a loss.

In golf, players should concentrate more on playing a par 4 hole than the same hole classified as a par 5 because of the greater concern of a bogey. We should, therefore, expect better scores on the hole when is it classified as a par 4 and this is exactly what Ryan Elmore and Andrew Urbaczewski found in their 2021 study.


They found two U.S. open courses that changed the par labeling of holes from par 5 to par 4 without any substantial changes to the hole layout. At Pebble Beach, the second hole was re-classified to a par 4 in 2000, and at Oakmont, the ninth hole was reclassified in 2007.

Elmore and Urbaczewski find that a professional golfer will score between 0.13 and 0.32 strokes lower when the Pebble Beach second hole is a par 4 relative to when it is a par 5. At Oakmont, the professional golfer will score 0.03 to 0.22 fewer strokes.

At Augusta National, the easiest holes for the Masters tournament are normally the par 5s. For this year’s tournament, the Augusta National Golf Club increased the length of the iconic 13th hole by 35 yards. This will make it harder for golfers to cut the corner by going over the trees. An alternative, according to the research by Elmore and Urbaczewski, would have been to leave the tee box in its previous position and reclassify the hole as a par 4.

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