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The truth behind greens in regulation and scoring

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Have you heard teaching professionals say that the best way to cut five strokes from your average score is to practice your short game? On the surface, this sounds logical, but believe it or not, this is virtually impossible for those who can play bogey golf or better.

Analytics are in vogue in all sports, and golf is no exception. Statistical studies have shown that your average score is so closely tied to your average number of greens in regulation that this statistic alone will almost always predict what someone’s average score is in the long run, as the following chart indicates (par-72 course):

Greens in Regulation Table

Note that these are long-run averages, 20 or more rounds. Of course, there will be days when someone might hit 15 greens and shoot 80, or five greens and shoot under par, but over the course of 20 or more rounds, this chart will be accurate for virtually every golfer.

JimFuryk

Jim Furyk hits 72.92 percent of GIR, which leads the PGA Tour in 2015.

 

But…let’s go back to the oft-stated premise that someone can cut five strokes from his average score through a better short game. Let’s use the example of the typical 85-shooter who averages five GIR. Assuming he averages par on all five holes where he hits the green in regulation, that makes him 13 over on the 13 holes where he misses the green. Now, that doesn’t mean this golfer will bogey all 13 holes. More likely, he will get up-and-down three times and go 6-over on three holes. To cut five strokes through the short game alone, he would have to get up and down eight times out of 13. That’s 61.5 percent.

Sounds doable, right? However, that 61.5 percent would have placed this golfer 26th in scrambling on the 2013-14 PGA Tour. Granted, it’s surely more difficult to get up-and-down on Tour greens, but still, can you expect a 13-handicapper to have this kind of percentage? No. The fact is, golf skill is relatively similar throughout the bag. In other words, a 13-handicapper will have about a 13-handicap short game, give or take a couple of strokes. He will not have a scratch-level short game on a daily basis.

To cut five strokes off of someone’s average score, he will almost certainly have to average two more GIR per round. While it is possible to cut four strokes through short game alone (according to the chart), this assumes the golfer is among the worst at the short game for his ballstriking ability and then becomes among the best.

In conclusion, if you average at the high end of the chart for scoring average and want to cut a couple of strokes, you can indeed do it through the short game. But if you are already scoring as well as you can for your GIR numbers, the only way to lower your average score is to hit more greens. If that’s you, you either need to get some lessons or, in the words of Ben Hogan to Gary Player regarding practice, “Double it!”

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Mark Harman is the national course director for the United States Golf Teachers Federation, the nation's second-largest organization of golf professionals. He has won 14 professional events overall and is a member of the World Golf Teachers Federation's Top 100 Teachers worldwide.

46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. Aventurine Bracelet

    Jun 16, 2018 at 2:27 am

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  2. Jim

    Apr 11, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Great article, spot on, I will definately be using this article and the score formulas posted to ID what I should be practicing. Avg GIR is just an approximation of avg proximity, the more samples the more closely GIR will match proximity. Keep in mind that as average GIR goes up, so will the average proximity of all of your other approach shots that missed the green, so your average scramble % will go up as well…further improving your score, I’m pretty sure over all length goes up as well with GIR. Having played with a lot of folks over the years who I would call “short game experts”, I noticed that they tend to gravitate towards golf courses that don’t have a lot of bunkers, nor elevated greens, etc. courses that reward their skills more frequently. Not playing a wide distribution of course types could contribute to the GIR formulas not working for some short game experts.

  3. david

    Mar 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Here’s the question I have regarding the GIR stats and scores: what are the yardages played from? 6000 or 6600? Big difference. I play to under 3 index, averaged 79 this year after 75 rounds with average GIR at 10. I also averaged 1 double bogey per round. My average tee deck was 6600. When I play at 6200 yards I usually score 74 no problem. Then of course there are course slopes, which I never hear placed as a factor of GIR’s and score. I would like to see these factors accounted for.

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  5. Jeff

    Mar 28, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    I applied Riccio’s revised formula to all of my rounds the past two years and it was accurate almost 90% of the time. Unfortunately, when it wasn’t it was normally because I was worse due to penalty shots, than better because of some fortunate play.

  6. ron

    Mar 26, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    This is gold! Site moderators… we need a way to “bookmark” articles as a signed in user. If there is already such a feature I havent found it yet.

  7. Matto

    Mar 25, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Christ, this just actually makes me feel like crap! BUT….its made me take notice of my GIR & average putts etc. And it’s blatantly obvious what my problem is…. Here’s an example of my form and my most recent round a couple of days ago -I drive quite well, I hit a great 315m (347y) drive midway through the round. I have a pretty sound game from under 100, so– FIR; 9/14 (all missed fairways were perfectly playable)
    GIR; 10. Score 84. Putts; 40!!!!!!
    If I could putt, maybe even just get it down to 33-35, not too much too ask (?!) I could consistently break 80 (I’ve done it once in 30 years)
    I’m off to the practise green!

  8. myron miller

    Mar 23, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I have the same problem with this statistic as the one on Fairways hit. Its been shown that that one is not really correct. If i’m 2 inches off the green on the fringe, that’s considered a green missed. Yet I could only be 5 feet from the pin. And if i hit the green and am 80 feet away with an impossible putt that’s considered a hit green. Yet it certainly is easier to get up and down from 5 feet than 80 feet.

    In addition, if I’m 3-10 yards short of the green in the fairway run-up to the green, Its really not that much harder to get up and down from there than just barely on the green. And especially those cases where the ball is touching the fringe. Any ball on the green and just touching the fringe is proven to be harder to putt than being off the green 4 feet further.

    I fully concur with M. Smizzles distance from flag is about as important as gir in scoring.

    Being a senior and having lost my WRX driving distance, I’ve had to develop a good short game. I do keep track of GIR, but I also keep track of up’s and downs from inside 10-20 yards as well. And I’ve found that generally my GIR doesn’t track well with my scores, but as my up/down percentage goes up, so my scores drop drastically. And even when I play shorter tees, my GIRs average doesn’t improve that much. But the shorter tees do help my up/down percentage as I’m playing more shots within 5-10 yards of the green and quite often directly in front in the fairway fringe in the front of the green (my second shots may not be able to reach the green but I can put them within 10 yards in the front and that’s a pretty easy chip or putt to get up and down usually. Getting Bunkers up and down is of course much tougher, but if many of your misses are on the fringe or just barely in the rough, then your GIR will be low, but you can still score pretty well if you’ve spent time working on those shots.

    Short story, Years ago, I lived in the mountains of Idaho (mile high). Being young and stupid, I was able to hit the ball the typical WRXers mile (lots of times well over 300 and sometimes 350. Elevation does help a lot. I used to play with 3 guys that were between 68 and 73 every week. I’d average over 300 yards driving distance. They hit it 175-200 down the fairway. They’d be slightly short on most holes, but got up and down remarkably well and generally shot high 60s and low 70s. I shot upper 70s and mid 80s because I had no real good short game (lousy if I missed green). That taught me that Chipping and pitching were way more important than people thought.

    My GIR % is not significantly better today but I shoot lower scores because my recovery % is much much higher.

    Remember Tiger in his heyday didn’t necessarily hit the most greens but was all-universe in getting up and down (not today but that’s something else).

    • Jeremy

      Mar 23, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      It’s just about averages. For every time you’re on the green with an 80-foot putt, you’re 5 yards from the pin in deep rough against the grain chipping downhill. In the long run those little outliers should average out. You may still be an anomaly, judging from the numbers in your earlier post. Maybe you play on links courses where being near the green is practically the same as being on it?

  9. Jonny B

    Mar 23, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Works for me. I can say having tracked GIR over the past two seasons and focusing the majority of my practice on iron play that I agree with the sentiments of this article. My average GIR has gone from 5.2 to 6.7 in one season, and my average score has gone from 86 to 82. Now I just need to make more putts! Average 32.4 right now.

  10. Jeremy

    Mar 22, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Good article Mark. Question for you and the group: if, over the last 20 rounds, I’m at 7.2 GIR but at the higher end of the score (83.1) what am I doing wrong? According to the charts and formulas I could/should be more around the 79-80 area. You say I can’t shave 5 strokes off, but a 4-stroke gap in the average score isn’t insignificant, and I’d rather be at the lower end of it.

    I’m thinking that, since my scores are at the low end for someone who only hits 5 greens in a round, perhaps I’m wasting those extra 2 GIR with bad putting (is 32.4 bad?). Or maybe it’s penalties from inconsistent tee shots.

    • Mark Harman

      Mar 23, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Hi Jeremy,

      For 7.2 GIR, your high end scoring average would be 82.6, so you’re not too far off that. Since you’re at the high end of the scoring average, it seems your short game and/or putting could be improved for your skill level. It most definitely is possible for you to improve 2 or 3, and maybe even 4 shots per round purely through short game/putting. The point of the article is that for most people, improving 5 shots through short game alone is very difficult, if not downright impossible.

      • Jeremy

        Mar 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm

        Thanks for the reply Mark. I went back over my stats and I think it’s actually the long game that gets me in trouble. Threw out a couple of high outlier scores and just looked at my 10 best (the ones used for HCP). Average putts are 31.6, which is good. GIR goes up to almost 8/round, and the avg score is 80.2. Then I saw that I’m averaging a little over 2 penalty strokes per round, so my What If score is 77.7 — right there in the wheelhouse of what your charts say.

        Short game feels pretty good. Just gotta stop blasting it OB I guess, and start hitting more greens.

  11. zoots

    Mar 22, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    What’s more doable for the average golfer: (a) Hitting irons like Henrik Stenson or (b) putting and chipping like Luke Donald?

    Answer: Practice your short game.

  12. bobbyd

    Mar 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I think you are picking an extreme. Typically it’s pretty hard to be on a green 26.6 yards away from the hole. what about the times you are short sided ten or so paces with 5 feet of green running away from you? bogey becomes a good number. The math this article provides is accurate. Tour average G.I.R. is around 66% or 12 g.i.r.s per round. Once you get to the point where you can hit around 10 greens a round you’ve probably developed a pretty ok short game as well. (or so i’d hope)

  13. 4pillars

    Mar 21, 2015 at 10:05 am

    This is easily the worst article I have read in Golfwrx, even Barney Adams is nit as bad

    Statistical studies have shown

    Whose statistics?

    Measuring whom?

    Over what period?

    Looks like the United States Golf Teachers Federation is even worst than the PGA

    • Anon

      Mar 22, 2015 at 5:11 am

      I agree with you.

    • patricknorm

      Mar 22, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Re read the article and don’t confuse causation with correlation. Think minimum 20 rounds not just one round. In fact, think 50 rounds and the article will make sense. If you are say a 5 handicap or lower I should not have to explain this concept. If you are a 18 handicap and play 10 rounds a season then, I understand your lack of understanding. We are talking anaylytics not anecdotes here.

    • Mark Harman

      Mar 23, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Hi 4pillars,

      The information comes from two studies: one that was conducted by a researcher in the 1980s (his name escapes me, but I used the information for years and had the chart written down and also memorized), and also through I study I personally conducted through the statistics collected by the Gulf Coast Scratch Tour (now the Miller Lite Scratch Tour) in the Florida Panhandle about 10 years ago. For the Scratch Tour study, I used only golfers who had played 12 rounds or more. Out of the 56 golfers who had played at least 12 rounds, 54 had their scoring average fall within the parameters listed in the chart. So the information is well-researched and valid. If you also apply the statistics to the PGA Tour, you will find EVERY PLAYER also falls into these parameters, too. So I hope that answers your criticisms, and if you keep statistics for your own game, I’m sure you will find it to be accurate, as well.

  14. Andrew Cooper

    Mar 21, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Improving a short game is often the easiest way to reduce scores however. A lot of regular golfers simply are not physically capable (without a new gym regime or reversing the ageing process) of producing enough power to hit 400 yard+ 4s or 200y+ 3s in regulation. A decent short game doesn’t require the same basic strength. If a recreational golfer develops a reliable chip shot, a pitch, and bunker shot (and that means nothing more fancy than eliminating the chunks and skulls) then their scores will improve fast.

  15. JSmith

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    This lends credence to Earl’s wisdom to Tiger that if you hit 12 GIR, you should shoot even par or better.

  16. duffer888

    Mar 20, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Great article and what I’ve believed and charted for my game all along. Assuming I’m not 3-jacking every hole, more GIR means lower scores

  17. juststeve

    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    This piece makes th4e false assumption that for a poor scrambling 85 shooter the worst penalty for missing a green is to take three shots to get up and down. Not so as this discounts sand shots left in the bunker, chips and pitches bladed over the green and sundry other shots not too uncommon among high handicappers.

    Steve

    • Art

      Apr 27, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      juststeve, the false assumption seems to be yours. See with averages, many scenarios are captured over time. So along with your pessimistic blow-ups, you also capture chip-ins, and actually getting up-and-down from time to time. Do you really need the article and author to examine every possible stroke permutation to reach an 85 average? Because in the end, it’s still an 85 on the scorecard.

  18. myron miller

    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Consider that its not considered a green in regulation if I’m 2″ off the green and only 5 feet from the pin. But is considered one if I’m 80 feet away. This is in the same category as Fairways hit in my opinion.

    Last twenty scores average 84.6 – avg greens in reg. 2 – no correlation
    Prior twenty scores – complete twenty prior – 80.2, avg greens 3 – again no relation to above table.

    I don’t count the number of times I’m just off the green barely into the fringe or just short of the green in front. But maybe I’m atypical as I very extensively practice these types of shots all the time. I expect to get up and down from these. From 25 feet or more, or in bunker or other bad situation, not really don’t expect that percentage, but even though it counts as a green missed, I see no reason that I can’t get it up and down if I’m on the front fringe say 5 – 10 feet from the edge of the green as if I were 1 inches onto the green. Yet one is a “good” statistical item and the other is “bad”

    And I thoroughly do agree with M. Sizzles point. 2 putting from 80-100 or more feet from the pin is not a given for your average 13-20 handicap especially if there is some slope and/or contour to the green whereas if you’re shortsided and on the fringe, it’s much more likely you can two putt from there.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 21, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      I utilize BGIR’s. Bigger Greens in Regulation. I give myself an extra 10 feet out from the edge of the green. Generally, unless I have short-sided myself, I can get up and down from 10 feet off the green. So, while I average about 10-11 greens in regulation I average about 14-15 BGIR’s. And I actually think in terms of BGIR’s when I hit my approach shot… and where it should miss.

  19. MasterGeezer

    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Yup. For 99% of players, BS-free golf is just transportation shots and lawn bowling with a stick. Even one of the most intense major champions, Ben Hogan, exhorted us to remember it’s a game of leisure.

  20. Steven

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Lucius Riccio at Columbia University did the original research on this and has stated it this way.
    Riccio’s Rule: Score = 95 – 2 * GIR
    Riccio’s Revised Rule: Score = 58 – 4/3 * GIR + Putts
    The revised rule is more accurate than the original rule. Riccio claims that it is accurate to within 1 stroke for 80% of rounds on the PGA Tour. Here is his presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: http://www.scribd.com/doc/209869783/Lucius-Riccio-presentation-2014-MIT-Sloan-Sports-Analytics-Conference#scribd

    • Joey5Picks

      Mar 20, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      By that formula, hitting 8 greens and having 32 putts means I shoot 15. Something is off:

      58-(4/3*8)+32 = 15

      • Tom

        Mar 20, 2015 at 4:04 pm

        I think he meant 58-((4/3)*8)+32= 79 or 58-((4/3)*GIR)+Putts

      • Travis T

        Mar 20, 2015 at 4:18 pm

        58-(4/3*)+32=79
        4/3=1.33
        1.33*8=10.67
        58-10.67+32=79.33
        Gotta use FOIL.

      • Steven

        Mar 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm

        The formula works as written if you follow the standard mathematical order of operations. It could also be written as Score = 58 – (4/3 * GIR) + Putts, but it gives the same answer.

    • Mark Harman

      Mar 23, 2015 at 11:25 am

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for the update on the researcher. I remember reading the information back in the 1980s and wrote it down and used it for years. I also confirmed it when I did my own statistical study of the Gulf Coast Scratch Tour in the Florida Panhandle about 10 years ago. Out of 56 players who played at least 12 rounds, 54 fell within the scoring parameters. My study also showed driving distance actually was the least important factor for low scores compared to GIR, driving accuracy, scrambling and total putts, but that’s another issue entirely.

  21. Philip

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Uncanny how my scores last season tie very close to this article. I guess I wasn’t wrong in focusing on GIRs.

  22. Joe Peel

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:44 am

    An outstanding article. I sent it to the guys I play with and am sure that they will track GIR for the next 20 rounds.

  23. Tom Duckworth

    Mar 19, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    He hit the nail on the head. I would rather be on the putting surface in regulation than sitting in the grass. A two putt is in play most of the time and three putting once in a while is not going to kill your round. I think more people would end up three putting after messing up a tough flop shot. I would rather have long putts than trying to scramble on every hole.

  24. Frank D

    Mar 19, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Where do these stats come from? it seems a little neat and tidy, it’s exactly: score = 95 – 2 * GIR, which i’ve heard elsewhere but never saw the numbers for…

    • a2

      Mar 20, 2015 at 1:34 am

      You don’t read, huh? It says, AVERAGE OVER 20 ROUNDS. Duh.

  25. spazo

    Mar 19, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    i’d argue that the more important metric is proximity to the hole. if you’re close but off the green, it’s likely as easier or perhaps easier to make par as it is to be far and away from the pin but on the green. there are obvious problems (e.g., bunkers often close to the pin but off the green, as are water hazards), but i would much rather have a 15-foot chip than a 50-foot putt.

    • a2

      Mar 20, 2015 at 1:36 am

      “15-foot chip than a 50-foot putt.”

      that would only make sense if you could have a flat chip from perfect lies every time. What if in your next round all you had were downhill chips from deadly tight lies over a hump or bunker? I know you would prefer to be on the green, then

      • Alex

        Mar 20, 2015 at 11:31 am

        Proximity to the hole is likely the better metric. Sure, sometimes the 15ft chip will be harder than the 50ft putt, but you will also have more birdie chances and less three putts.

        The holy grail of stats right now, Strokes gained, is closely tied with proximity to the hole. For amateur’s GIR is far easier to track and likely is closely correlated with proximity to the hole, so it’s a good proxy.

      • chris franklin

        Mar 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm

        Most greens are like a man’s torso
        The greens aren’t flat either

  26. Jhick

    Mar 19, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    I would say that being on the green 80ft away is much better than short sided in rough. Putting long distance is much easier/more reliable than trying to get a chip up high and stop fast.

    • The dude

      Mar 19, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      At what distance would you not take that bet?

      • Art

        Apr 27, 2015 at 6:33 pm

        M, you golf with some interesting golfers–chances are they can’t get the ball inside 20ft on a 50ft putt, but can get up and down with regularity from 50ft off the green? Out of rough?? That’s rather extraordinary.

  27. Large chris

    Mar 19, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Intuitively I’ve always thought GIR was a very good indicator of scoring average, but to state the obvious GIR isn’t just the approach shot but also requires a decent drive, certainly a drive that doesn’t find a hazard or goes OB. So GIR is a fairly comprehensive test of the long game.

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