Characters: Justin Ray – The Answer Man

As Adam Hadwin picked apart Colonial Country Club—hitting its first 13 fairways in regulation during the second round of the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas—Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee wondered when was the last time anyone had hit every fairway and every green on the course known as “Hogan’s Alley.”
Justin Ray
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinRayGolf

But Chamblee didn’t search out the answer himself. Instead, he turned to researcher Justin Ray, who delivered the answer within five minutes. He would’ve reported back sooner if he hadn’t been determining simultaneously that the only two players who had accomplished this feat in the last 30 years were Fulton Allem in 1992 and Tim Clark in 2007.

“He’ll find stuff nobody can find and he’ll think of things nobody will think of,” Chamblee says.

Thanks, in part, to social media, Ray, 35, has carved out a niche as golf’s go-to stats guy. Working first at ESPN, then Golf Channel, and now for 15th Club, a data-analytics company that helped Team Europe regain the Ryder Cup in 2018, Ray has become one of golf’s must-follows on social media.

To hear Ray tell it, he’s simply doing what he’s always done. “I was the kid who kept his Little League stats in Microsoft Excel,” he says.

His family background also may have steered him down this path. Ray’s father Mike was the longtime executive director of the Southern Texas PGA section and more recently an executive with the PGA of America. His uncle also worked in the golf business and his brother played college golf.

When Ray headed off to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, however, he had slightly different ambitions.

“I wanted to be Dan Patrick,” he says.

An internship at ESPN in 2007 led to a seven- year stint at the worldwide leader in sports, as he moved up the food chain to become researcher forThe Scott Van Pelt Show and also sat just off camera during the network’s coverage of the Masters and U.S. and British Opens. In those days, he’d describe his occupation as “professional sports nerd.”

Ray has built a database of every major champion in men’s golf history dating from 1860 to the present. He also has a database of every round in Masters history. How much better was Tiger Woods than everyone else in the majors from 1997 to 2008? Ray can tell you at the click of a button. (For those scoring at home, Woods was 126 under par during that stretch, or 189 shots better than anybody who played at least 40 rounds.)

Asked to name his favorite Tiger stat, Ray says. “Tiger has won 41 times on the European Tour, third all time, and he’s never played on the European Tour. Things like that kind of hit me as staggering and get a lot of traction on social media.”

Ray claims golf is just scratching the surface when it comes to numbers tracking, especially as sports gambling becomes legal in most states. At a time when stats guys are becoming just as important to tour pros as swing instructors and fitness trainers, Ray joined 15th Club (which, among other things, helps parse the new-fangled stats for multiple major winners) as head of content in 2019.

“I didn’t build the plane, but I joined the flight while it was still on the runway and we’re now taking off,” he says.

It’s also meant weaning himself from his old- school Excel spreadsheets and using 15th Club’s more advanced and detailed computer language to mine information.

“It’s basically like me reading Mandarin,” Ray says. “It’s a completely different world.”

A world where it helps to have a beautiful mind.