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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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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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