Putting – A Study In Loss Avoidance


Which requires more effort and concentration,  putting for birdie or putting for par? Do you try harder to make a birdie putt or a par putt? There is some fascinating, hard evidence that golfers try harder to make a par putt than a birdie putt. Compelling data supports this statement. Golf data geeks, you’ll love this.

In researching the topic of Loss Aversion, two University of Pennsylvania economists found that the game of golf gave them the perfect reference point for their study.  Their question was this:

Do golfers try harder to

  • putt to avoid a bogey or
  • putt to achieve a birdie

These economists, David Pope and Maurice Schweitzer, analyzed more than 2.5 million putts in exquisite detail. They found that golfers will try harder to make a par putt than to make a birdie putt. They concluded that Loss Aversion (avoiding a bogey) was more desirable than making a birdie putt.

What they found in this data was that whether the putt was easy or hard, and from any distance from the hole, golfers were more successful when putting for par than putting for a birdie. Fascinating.

They went on to conclude that golfers don’t make a conscious decision to slack off on our birdie putts. Our intense aversion to the loss of a stroke apparently spurs us to concentrate more on making par putts. In simple terms: we are more motivated to avoid loss than to achieve gain. Golf gives us a living laboratory to support that. Economists already knew it. Golf proved it.

Source: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

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