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How to track some of the most important stats in golf

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I have been studying the game of golf from a statistical standpoint for 27 years. In 1992, I launched a new form of analysis that I called Strokes Lost and Saved, now known as Strokes Gained. My system was built around encouraging golf instructors and players to move away from the traditional, one-dimensional stats (fairways, GIR’s, sand saves and number of putts) to this much more accurate method. Traditional golf stats can be misleading as they give one-dimensional, yes/no answers to describe a complicated, multi-dimensional game.

The inability of these stats to shed light on performance is what motivated me to create ShotByShot.com, which gives golfers real insight and answers about their strengths and weaknesses with comparative data relevant to their handicap level. It’s a simple, powerful tool, but I’m often pressed for an even simpler solution by golf professionals, who ask:

“What is the most important stat in golf? If I were to get my players to keep ONE stat, what should it be?”

My quick, somewhat sharp-edged, answer to that question is: “If there were such an all-important stat, I would be out of business.” I guess I have mellowed, and can suggest a “starter stat” to provide instructors and golfers something simple that adds value: Have your players track their major ERRORS!

I realized years ago that frequency and severity of errors does more to establish every player’s scoring level than all of the good shots hit. Further, the ability to identify and limit these errors is the most efficient way to improve.

Below, I have defined the most frequent and costly errors in the game, and can provide the average frequency of these errors for the typical 80 and 90 shooters. This data comes from ShotByShot.com’s robust database of more than 250,000 rounds entered and analyzed. See how your game matches up over three to five rounds:

1. Driving errors. There are three types:

  • No Shot result: Drive hit out of play requiring an advancement shot to return to normal play.
  • Penalty-1 result: Hazard for unplayable lie.
  • OB/Lost result: Lost or out of bounds.

2. Short Game errors: Chip/pitch and sand shots (separately) from all positions within 50 yards of the hole that MISS the green.

3. Three-Putts: From within 20 feet of the hole or less.

In your next few rounds, track these four errors on four lines of a separate scorecard. For driving errors and 3-putts (within 20 feet), simply mark the holes where these mistakes occur. For chip/pitch and sand shots, mark the hole where each short game shot is successful (on the green) with a check and those that miss the green with an X. This way you will know the total number of shots in each short game category as well as the relative number of errors.

Compare your results from three to five rounds with the chart below and your major weakness should become clear. Work to mitigate that weakness and you will achieve meaningful improvement. Then repeat the process until you have NO major weakness in your game.

The Averages

table

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Jason

    Jun 6, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Peter, I am interested in how this compares to GIR targets for 80s shooter. I am a mid-high 80s shooter struggling to get into low 80s. I have read other statisticians say GIR is the strongest correlation to score, and their analysis shows 8 GIR per round is general target to break 80. My personal stats also show the most correlation of GIR to score and I rarely hit that magic 8 number. This article has no mention of GIR. I tracked my stats versus these errors and the only shortcoming I see is I am about 5% off in the short game category – which is only about 1 shot per round. Is it viable to track the total errors per round – as one day may be driving, another short game, etc…This is really interesting material.

    • Peter

      Jun 6, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      Jason,
      GIR’s is the most valuable of the “Traditional”, one-dimensional stats and there generally is a direct correlation between # GIR’s and scoring. Further, you are barking… in the right direction with your goal of 8 GIR’s to break 80. In our database of 250,000+ rounds, the 79 shooter averages 8.3 GIR’s. That said, the game is a puzzle and there are many important pieces that must all fit together. If GIR’s were the tell all stat, I would not be in business. It is why I created ShotByShot.com and what is now called Strokes Gained to remove the mystery from golf stats.
      I hope this helps.

  2. ParHunter

    Jun 6, 2016 at 9:58 am

    ” that I called Strokes Lost and Saved, now known as Strokes Gained”
    So it was you who invented Strokes Gained not Mark Broadie? Does Mark Broadie know that he didn’t actually invent Stokes Gained ;-)?

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 6, 2016 at 11:29 am

      ParHunter,
      Yes, I have spoken with him about it. Further in his book, he was careful to say that “…he implemented Strokes Gained in 2005…”

  3. Other Paul

    Jun 5, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    My stats for my last round would be useless. I played 9 holes. 6/7 fairways. Gir 7/9. And 1.9 putts per hole. The course didnt maintain a bunker and it had lots of weeds in it and my laser picked up the weeds and not the stick. Laser said 170. I landed right in the middle and made double bogey. A few holes later i landed in a bunker that was full of rocks and wasn’t maintained so i picked up my ball and went backwards away from the hole (i didnt want to scratch my new wedge…) The whole area was bare and i skulled it over for another double bogey. Rest of my round was my best this season with a bogey and a two birdies. Maybe i should play better courses ????

  4. Double Mocha Man

    Jun 5, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    This analysis is sooooo true! The only thing keeping me from consistently shooting in the low 70’s to high 60’s are the 4-5 bad shots I hit per round. But if I play defensively trying not to hit those bad shots I will hit more of them. Seemingly a contradiction. Your thoughts Peter???

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 6, 2016 at 9:21 am

      I understand, one cannot play defensively. My old pro taught me to look at it differently – to evaluate every shot opportunity as a green light (go for it), yellow light (play conservatively), or red light opportunity (play to avoid the error). Each of these situations simply help determine the target. Once the appropriate target is selected, the shot is executed full out without fear. Make sense?

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jun 6, 2016 at 11:17 am

        Yes, it does. Thanks. Wish I could be a teen again when I had no fear.

  5. Robert

    Jun 5, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Peter, I loved shotbyshot free trial and saw the videos that it used to be $59. Any chance you’ll be doing a sale for that price anytime soon?

    • Other Paul

      Jun 5, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      Lol. Smizzle always cracks me up.

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 6, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Thanks Robert, I will have to fix that. When we added the approach shot feature last May to complete the entire Strokes Gained puzzle we raised the price. I have been at this for 27 year and need to cover my substantial costs at some point. Sorry.

      • Robert

        Jun 6, 2016 at 12:23 pm

        Hey Peter,

        No problem, just wondering. Thanks for the response.

  6. ooffa

    Jun 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    The only stat that really matters is if there is more money in your wallet after your match then there was before.

  7. Sparty

    Jun 5, 2016 at 11:11 am

    What is the difference between OB/Lost ball and No Shot Result?

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      No shot is the least costly of the Driving errors. It is a ball hit to a position that requires some sort of advancement shot to return to normal play. Behind a tree, etc.
      OB/Lose is either Out of Bounds or a Lost ball – both stroke and distance penalties.

  8. Eric Granata

    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    How do you change your definition of each error for a player who shoots low 70s. I assuming driving stays the same, but how do you define an error in the short game area / 3 putts?

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      Eric,
      I don’t change the definitions. If you shoot in the 70’s, a. well done and b. you should experience very few of these errors.

  9. Adam

    Jun 4, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    2 questions:
    Why do 3 putts only matter within 20 feet? Is it normal to 3 putt outside of that range for people who shoot 80 and 90?

    Why do you select 50 yards as the short game range rather than looking at a normal GIR?

    Is the point just to show where you’re losing strokes that are easier to save?

    • Jim

      Jun 4, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      The tour average within 20 feet is 2 putts. Over 20 feet and the tour average begins to tic slowly over 2 putts. For example at 30 feet the average is 2.1 or something like that. So the thought is you should be making all putts within 20 feet in 2 putts or less.

      If you miss GIR chances are you are with 50 yards of a hole and you will need to chip and 1 putt to save par. My making a mistake here your shot at par goes away completely. GIR gives you a better chance of making par, but being able to scramble for par is also just as important if not more important. The tour average for GIR is 75%, so that remaining 25% can make or break you.

      • Peter Sanders

        Jun 5, 2016 at 12:31 pm

        Jim,
        Thanks for your supporting comments. I have to call you to task on the Tour stats that you mention:

        1. “Tour average w/i 20 ft. is 2 putts.” – The 2.0 distance on Tour is 34 ft. That means that they average 2 putts from that point and will do better inside that.

        2. “The Tour avg. for GIR is 75%” The winners on Tour average only 70% GIR’s. The Tour average in 2015 for GIR’s was 64.5%.

        • Jim

          Jun 6, 2016 at 7:00 am

          Yup, I don’t have the latest stats. Your stats seem to help more though now. I’m sure the probability of making 2 putts within 20 feet is higher the lower the handicap. My whole thing was the 20 feet is a must for 2 putts. If you can’t 2 putt within 20 feet, your got work to do.

          The 64.5% GIR is a stronger argument for your 50 yard stat. That means 35.5% of shots will be scrambles for par, and missing those will have a huge impact on your score. I’m sure there is also a sliding scale for handicap. The higher the handicap the lower the GIR% is, but even at that, that means the higher the scramble% is. Meaning you have an even greater importance on being able to scramble within 50 yards.

          • Peter Sanders

            Jun 6, 2016 at 9:29 am

            You are correct about the sliding scale for GIR’s. It is the most important of all of the “traditional” stats. There is a direct correlation between GIR’s and score – always. A GIR means two good things:
            1. Your game has been efficient enough to get there in regulation.
            2. It is always a birdie opportunity of some length.

            The 90 shooter averages less than 5 GIR’s.

            • Double Mocha Man

              Jun 6, 2016 at 11:27 am

              I’ve come up with a stat I call BGIR. (Bigger Green in Regulation”) If I’m a few yards off the green with an easy chip or on the fringe where I can easily putt I count these as BGIR’s… they almost always still result in pars, the occasional birdie. It’s when I miss the green by 10 -15 yards that I am in trouble. My BGIR rate is about 72%. It’s that 28% that kills my score.

              • Double Mocha Man

                Jun 6, 2016 at 11:30 am

                Oh, and the occasional smothered duck hook…

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 5, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Adam,
      Q 1: Yes, it is fairly normal for the 80 and 90 shooter to 3-Putt from outside 20 feet. The average 2.00 putt distance for the 90 shooter is inside 20 feet. While 3-Putts outside are not good, I do not consider them to be Errors.

      Q 2: Good Q! I had a lot of help and advice from notable instructors like Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson early on. We all finally agreed that within 50 yards was clearly short game for every handicap level – 75 yard can be a full approach shot for many.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking about slow play

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Ryan has guest Rob Miller, from the Two Guys Talking Golf podcast, to talk about slow play. They debate on how fast is fast, how much time should 18 holes take, and the type of players who can play fast and slow.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

If Jurassic Park had a golf course, this would be it

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I have had the good fortune of playing some unbelievably awesome tracks in my time—places like Cypress Point, Olympic, Sahalee, LACC, Riviera, and a bunch of others.

However, the Bad Little 9 is the most fun golf course I have ever played…period.

Imagine standing on the first tee of a 975-yard track and praying to God almighty you finish with all your golf balls, your confidence, and more importantly, your soul. Imagine, again, for example, standing on a 75-yard par 3 with NOWHERE to hit it beyond an eight-foot circle around the flag, where any miss buries you in a pot bunker or down into a gully of TIGHTLY mown grass.

Sound fun?

I have played the BL9 twice at this point, with the first time being on a Challenge Day in November. It was cold, windy and playing as tough as it can. My playing partners Chris N., Tony C., and I barely made it out alive. I made four pars that day—shot 40—and played well. Do the math, that’s 13 over in five holes on a course where the longest hole is 140 yards.

It’s a golf course that makes zero sense: it’s punishing, it’s unfair, it’s crazy private, and on “Challenge Day,” it’s un-gettable even for the best players in the world. Rumor has it that there is an outstanding bet on Challenge Day for $1,000 cash to the individual that breaks par. That money is still yet to be paid to anyone…keep in mind Scottsdale National has PXG staff playing and practicing there allllll the time. To my knowledge, James Hahn has the lowest score ever at one over. That round apparently had multiple 20-foot par putts.

The Jackson/Kahn team which is responsible for the two big courses at Scottsdale National (Land Mine and The Other Course) were tasked with a challenge by Mr. Parsons: create a 9-hole course with ZERO rules. Take all conventional wisdom out of it and create an experience for the members that they will NEVER forget.

In this video, you will get a little context as to how it came together straight from the horse’s mouth, so I won’t get into that here.

I will end with this before you get into the video.

The Bad Little 9 sits in a very exclusive club in North Scottsdale, most will never see it. HOWEVER, what the idea of it represents is a potential way into bringing more people into the game, making it more accessible, saving real estate, playing in less time and having an experience. Hell, YouTube made short-form content a necessity in our culture. Perhaps the idea behind the Bad Little 9 will inspire short form golf?

I’m in.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

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Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

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