A Physicist Reviews Madoff Golf Scores : Planet Money A look at numbers that could be too good to be true.
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A Physicist Reviews Madoff Golf Scores

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As we mentioned the other week, Bernard Madoff, the man who allegedly ran what could be a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, was simultaneously recording golf scores that looked too good to be true.

In particular, the scores seemed suspiciously steady, just like the returns he claimed to be earning for investors.

I asked Drew Baden, who chairs the physics department at the University of Maryland, to take a look...

Drew made the histogram above, comparing Madoff's scores to Tiger Woods'. Madoff didn't score as well as Woods (around 15 strokes worse on average) but he was pretty darn consistent -- more consistent than Woods.

There are lots of possible explanations for this. Woods was playing on different, presumably more difficult courses. And it looks like Madoff's numbers were all from the same course.

Drew points out that Madoff's scores make a nice bell curve, which is what you might expect if he was just a steady golfer. "I guess that if Madoff really faked his scores then he did it with Gaussian fluctuations in mind, and that takes more sophistication and effort than most cheaters would be willing to put into cheating," Drew says. "Of course, this is a guy who was pretty good at cheating, apparently, so I guess anything is possible!"