Study: Tiger Woods'
superstar status hobbled the competition
December 7, 2011
Tiger Woods's phenomenal talent won him a ton of golf tournaments. But
an article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Political
Economy shows he has something else going for him: his superstar status
hobbles the competition.
According to research by Northwestern University economist Jennifer
Brown, when Woods played in a tournament during his heyday, the other
golfers' scores were substantially worse compared to tournaments where
Woods did not play. Instead of raising their game to play the superstar,
golfers facing Woods tended to wilt.
Brown's research is designed to investigate the dynamics of
tournament-style competition within companies. For example, a company
may reward its top monthly salesperson with some extra money or a prize
-- the idea being that competition increases everybody's effort. But
what if one salesperson seems to win every month? The others might slack
off, knowing they have little chance to take the prize.
Brown's analysis of Woods supports the idea that superstars can be a
disincentive to the competition.
She looked at PGA scores from 1999 to 2010 -- years that included
Tiger's prime. She found that when Woods played in a tournament, other
players shot nearly a full stroke higher -- which in golf means worse.
The effect was strongest among the top-ranked players, who would be in
direct competition with Woods for the highest payouts.
The poorer play was not due to players attempting longer, riskier shots
to try to keep up with Tiger, Brown found. If that were the case, we'd
expect to see players hit more eagles (two strokes better than par) and
more double bogeys (two strokes worse than par) when playing against
Woods, reflecting a high-risk, high-reward strategy. But that's not the
case, Brown's research shows. There were significantly fewer eagles and
double bogeys when Woods played.
how much has Woods benefited from the superstar effect?
"My calculations suggest that Woods's PGA Tour earnings would have
fallen from $54.5 million to $48.4 million between 1999 and 2006 had his
competitors' performance not suffered the superstar effect,' Brown
writes. "By my estimates, Woods pocketed nearly $6 million in additional
earnings because of the reduced effort of other golfers -- prize money
that would otherwise have been distributed to other players in the
The results have implications for businesses that use internal
competition to drive incentives, Brown says.
"For example, sales managers and law firms should be aware of the impact
of introducing a superstar associate on the cohort's overall
performance," she writes.