Hitting the sweet spot

Arielle Bodine, an applied math and economics double major, recently researched why professional golfers receive endorsements through the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience at Missouri S&T. She’s shown here at the S&T Golf Course. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

Arielle Bodine, an applied math and economics double major, recently researched why professional golfers receive endorsements through the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience at Missouri S&T. She’s shown here at the S&T Golf Course. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

While some undergraduate students peer through microscopes or write computer programs for their research projects, senior Arielle Bodine made the world of professional golf her laboratory. The applied math and economics double major recently took an eagle-eyed look at the factors that led Phil Mickelson and 46 other top professional golfers to pick up valuable endorsements. Her research was part of the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience at Missouri S&T.

“Professional golfers make a significant portion of their yearly earnings from sources that are not tournament purses,” says Bodine. “In fact, many golfers make more money from endorsements and off-course appearances than they do from golfing in tournaments.”

Bodine, of St. Charles, Missouri, credits Dr. Michael Davis, associate professor of economics and an expert in sports economics, with opening the door for her to tackle a research project.

“I was taking his Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory class and he asked me if I had ever done an OURE project,” she says. “I thought it would be cool but had never pursued it. Now I’m absolutely glad I did.”

Previously published studies had used statistics to link specific skills on the course with the amount of money that a golfer makes in tournament earnings. Bodine decided she wanted to discover if there was a connection between the skills displayed during a tournament and the player’s ability to earn money off the course.

“My study took five aggregate statistics (scoring, putting, accuracy, short game and power) and attempted to link them with a specific dollar amount that they produce for a professional golfer off the course,” says Bodine.

For the past 12 years, Golf Digest, a monthly magazine that covers recreational and professional golf, has published its annual list of the top 50 earners in the sport. Bodine used the financial information from those issues and combined it with skill data from ShotLink for analysis using statistical software. ­

Bodine says she ran into several roadblocks throughout the project. One set back involved figuring out what would be the best statistical model to use to analyze the information. At one point in the research, she suggested using a statistical test but her advisor expressed concerns with that approach.

“We came full circle and decided it was the correct test to use after all. And then it became more of me leading the project,” she says. “It was really cool.

“It took a lot of personal motivation to complete my project but I learned perseverance and to have pride in the work that I’ve done. I also learned to ask for help – a skill that isn’t often taught in the classroom.”

In the end, Bodine found that golfers with higher accuracy and power were able to earn more off the course when scoring was not considered. She says that scoring was originally the only statistically significant skill, but removed it during a second run of the statistical model because scoring could be thought of as the result of good skill in the other areas.

“It’s groundbreaking in the sense that no one has previously studied that connection,” she says. “When I ran the final analysis, I was sitting there and was almost in tears. It felt like it was a long and arduous process to get to that point, but it also was really awesome.”

Knowing more about the player’s skill sets also changed the way Bodine looks at the sport, which she previously enjoyed watching.

“I haven’t really watched a game since finishing the project,” she says. “It kind of took away the magic for me.”

Active on campus, Bodine serves as the new member chair for Delta Omicron Lambda service sorority and treasurer for Kappa Mu Epsilon math honor society. She is also a member of Miner Challenge Alternative Spring Break and is a 2015 Sue Shear fellow.

“I’ve learned that balancing academics with other experiences is a key ingredient to be a well-balanced and focused person,” Bodine says. “I’ve learned balance and that’s a hard skill to learn. I don’t think I could have learned it anywhere else.”

By Mindy Limback

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