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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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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

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

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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