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How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Radim Pavlicek

    Jul 19, 2018 at 7:32 am

    One thing which has not been said is that if you are a 90+ golfer and scratch golfer would play all your inside 50 meters shots, they won’t score those 50 plus %! That is not all about the skill. If they miss it, they miss it in a spot where easy up&down is possible.

  2. TONEY P

    Jul 19, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Nice data but I think it should be 25 yards not 50. As skill level increases so does a players range of execution.

  3. Dan Jones

    Jul 18, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    I believe there is a third reason that the PGA Tour players might be slightly worse than the scratch players in your data. Typically they play on much more difficult courses than your average muni or even some resort courses and private clubs, some of which are designed with higher handicap players in mind. That said, if some of the scratch players had to play on more difficult courses, they wouldn’t be scratch!

    Good article with interesting data. Of course there are many variables unaccounted for which would be interesting to see, such as how different age groups perform these tasks. For instance, I worked at a country club with an elderly population and some of them could only hit the ball 190 yards, so some of the par 4’s were 3 shot holes for them, yet several (men and women both) were excellent at chipping and putting. The ladies even had a pot during ladies day for chip-ins, and it rarely went unclaimed and often had to be split.

  4. Pete McGill

    Jul 18, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    The numbers pretty much reflect my game: breaking 80 is considered a good day out. Playing at a club known for its small greens, I figure I might hit 4-6 and then get up and down another 6 or so. Minimising the other holes to bogey will be the difference between a disappointing 83 or a 78.

    • Don

      Jul 19, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Good way to look at it. I’m the ‘other’ type of typical: I make 0 – 5 major tee mistakes per round, hoping they happen at red stakes v white, and my short putting varies from amazing(ly bad) to very good. On the days I’m a combination of lucky and good, a 78 is possible. On days I get the opposite combination, a 98 is possible. Have shot 93-77 on the same day and 104-79 the same week. Frustrating game this golf, and am hoping this latest run at lessons provides the elusive consistency I’ve been seeking for decades.

  5. Bob Castelline

    Jul 18, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    This is interesting. I’m in that single-digit handicap range, trying to push it as close to scratch as I can. I’ve always thought that if I could hit 12 greens and get up and down 3 of the other 6, I’d be doing pretty well. This pretty well confirms it. At 58 years old, I don’t anticipate any great revelation in my swing that’s going to get me 25 more yards off the tee, but I can keep working on the short game and maybe reduce a few of those errors. Good stuff!

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