If a golf organization in the mold of the Society for American Baseball Research ( SABR) is ever formed, we'll probably have Sal Johnson to thank for it. Like Bill James's Baseball Abstracts in the 1980s, Johnson's statistical rants are aimed at the numbers lovers of his sport. Only you don't have to wait for an annual publication. Johnson's stuff is available every day at golfonline.com, a three-year-old website from Golf Magazine. Click on the " Sal Johnson..." links on the home page or on the Golf stats link to get the data and pronouncements of Johnson, 44, a longtime TV golf highlights and replay producer and columnist for various publications. "Golf stats will never get as crazy as baseball's," he says, "but they could stand to be a lot more popular."
In 1993, frustrated by the lack of records in his favorite sport, Johnson started spending hours in the Library of Congress, researching and photocopying until he had produced the first complete statistical history of the U.S. Open. The Official U.S. Open Almanac, published in 1995, inspired a database that now holds the most extensive numbers from the PGA, LPGA, Senior and European tours. In November '99 the database came online.
Johnson is providing the stats-starved among golf fans with continually updated reams of data. In his recap of last month's Mercedes Championships, Johnson hailed victor Jim Furyk as the King of Resort Golf for winning all six of his PGA Tour victories and 37% of his career earnings on resort courses. As Johnson noted in a chart after Mark Calcavecchia's triumph in the recent Phoenix Open, Calcavecchia was only the fourth player since World War II to win a tournament on the same course in three decades (1989, '92 and 2001). For golf fantasy fans, the site includes detailed box scores for every player in every tournament since 1997, complete with rankings in major statistical categories like fairways hit, driving distance, greens in regulation and putts. How has Tom Lehman fared at the Bay Hill Invitational? You can call up his results dating back to his first appearance, in '92. (The answer: Lehman has three top 10s, including a playoff loss to Tim Herron two years ago.) "Players tell me they check the site to see where they should play," says Johnson. "We must be doing something right."