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Do you actually understand “Strokes Gained” stats? Here’s a breakdown

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In 2011, the PGA Tour introduced ShotLink, which is a real-time scoring system that captures data points on all shots taken during PGA Tour events. ShotLink measures the distance from the hole, as well as categorizing shot types like tee, fairway, rough, sand, and green.

Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia Business School, took the data from ShotLink and helped develop a new way to analyze putting performance. This new statistic was called “strokes gained: putting,” and it measures the number of putts a golfer takes relative to the PGA Tour average from that same distance. Strokes gained putting recognizes that sinking a 20-foot putt represents a better performance than sinking a three-foot putt, even though they both count as a single putt and a single stroke on the scorecard.

This was revolutionary because golfers no longer had to rely on the number of putts per round to understand their putting performance. Strokes gained also provided a unified way to measure an individual golfer against his opponents on the PGA Tour.

In 2016, the same concept used for strokes gained: putting was applied to other areas of the game. The PGA Tour developed new statistics including “strokes gained: off-the-tee,” “strokes gained: approach-the-green,” and “strokes gained: around-the-green.” This expansion allowed a PGA Tour golfer to precisely see where he excels and where he needs to improve.

What is strokes gained

In the most simple terms, “strokes gained” is a way to measure a player’s performance compared to the rest of the field. It also allows you to isolate different parts of a player’s game. In order to understand the statistic, you have to know that the PGA Tour has historical data from ShotLink that has calculated the average number of strokes needed to hole out from every distance and location on a course. Below I have included four scenarios to better illustrate the idea of strokes gained.

The scenarios below show how strokes gained could work on a single hole. Remember most strokes gained statistics are the aggregate of all the holes for a players round.

Scenario No. 1: Driving

You are playing a 450-yard par 4. The PGA Tour scoring average for a par 4 of that length is 4.1 strokes.

You hit a drive that ends up in the fairway, 115 yards from the hole. The PGA Tour scoring average from in the fairway, 115 yards out is 2.825 strokes. In order to calculate strokes gained: off-the-tee you use the formula below

(PGA Tour average for the hole) – (PGA Tour average left after your drive) – 1 = strokes gained: off-the-tee

Next, plug the numbers from the scenario above into this formula to calculate the strokes gained: off-the-tee

4.100 – 2.825 = 1.275 – 1 = 0.275 strokes gained: off-the-tee

Since you hit your drive in the fairway 115 yards from the hole you gained .275 strokes off the tee from the average PGA Tour player.

Scenario No. 2: Approach Shot

Let’s take the same drive from the first scenario. You hit a drive on a par 4 that ends up in the fairway, 115 yards from the hole. The PGA Tour scoring average from in the fairway 115 yards out is 2.825. You hit your approach shot on the green 10 feet from the hole. The PGA Tour scoring average from on the green 10 feet from the hole is 1.61 strokes.

(PGA Tour average from your approach) – (PGA Tour average for your putt) – 1 = strokes gained: approach-the-green

2.825 – 1.61 = 1.215 – 1 = .215 strokes gained: approach-the-green

Since you hit your approach shot to 10 feet you gained .213 strokes from the average PGA Tour player.

Scenario No. 3: Putting

Continuing the scenario from example scenario No. 2. You have a 10-foot putt left for birdie which you make.

(Your # of Putts) – (PGA Tour average from that distance) = strokes gained putting

1 putt – 1.61 = .61 strokes gained putting

Since you made that 10-foot putt you gained .61 strokes from the average PGA Tour player.

Scenario No. 4: Total for the hole:

To calculate strokes gained total use the formula below:

Strokes gained off-the-tee + Strokes gained approach-the-green + strokes gained around-the-green + strokes gained putting= strokes gained total

0.275+.215+0+.61=1.1 Total Strokes Gained on that hole

This makes sense because the PGA Tour average for the hole was 4.1 and you made a 3.

Definitions of Strokes Gained Statistics

  • Strokes gained: off-the-tee: Measures player performance off the tee on all par 4s and par 5s. This statistic looks at how much better or worse a player’s drive is then the average PGA Tour player.
  • Strokes gained: approach-the-green: Measures player performance on approach shots and other shots that are NOT included in strokes gained: around-the-green and strokes gained: putting. It does include tee shots on par 3s.
  • Strokes gained: around-the-green: Measures player performance on any shot within 30 yards of the edge of the green without measuring putting.
  • Strokes gained: putting: Measures how many strokes a player gains (or loses) on the greens compared to PGA Tour average.
  • Strokes gained: tee-to-green:  Strokes gained: off-the-tee + strokes gained: approach-the-green + strokes gained: around-the-green
  • Strokes gained: total: Strokes gained: off-the-tee + strokes gained: approach-the-green + strokes gained: around-the-green + strokes gained: putting
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Trey is a recent University of Michigan graduate where he studied Information Analysis. He is a Sports and Culture Writer who specializes in Golf. If you have any inquiries or questions you can reach him at (treypezzetti@gmail.com).

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Dtrain

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    All approach shots 10 feet from the hole aren’t created equal.

  2. Justin Dohnson

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    The comment section, a quick reminder of people’s inability to comprehend what they read.

  3. Tom

    Sep 3, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    All you need to understand is the lowest score in golf wins….the rest of stats is unnecessary.

    • Ron

      Sep 4, 2018 at 12:14 pm

      If you understand the concept of Strokes Gained (which based on all the prior comments it seems most do not) it can be very valuable teaching you which areas are costing you strokes in relation to your peers.

  4. Greg B.

    Sep 3, 2018 at 9:33 am

    I have read similar explanations before this one and none of them register with me. It seems to me that it still all comes down to putting. The driver example given is meaningless if you cannot capitalize on it. Same with approach/around the green. I think Broadie should have stopped with the putting stat and left it at that.

    • Kevin

      Sep 3, 2018 at 11:38 am

      Read Mark book, “Every Shot Counts”. It shows that putting isn’t as important for the good players as you think. Wants really more important is being able to drive it far and straighish and being to hit iron shots close to the hole. Look at player like Dustin Johnson who in the past his putting stroke has held him back (this year he is putting really good for him), yet he still won 4 times on tour last year. Why, well he is one the longest on tour and he hit his irons and wedge really tight, his birdie putts are going to be alot easier to make than say a Kevin Kisner. Kisner is one of the better putters on tour, though he is outside the top 150 in both driving and iron play; perfect examples for why he struggling this year; sure he is making alot putts, though those putts are for par, unlike DJ who putts are for birdie. Look Brandt Snedcker, he too has been struggling with his iron play all year, though still being able to putt. The stat that stood out the most when he cruise to a win 3 weeks ago was his ball striking. Sure you cant Putt awful and still win (Vijay did use to do it and Hideki does it know), but it is becoming very difficult to win on tour when you are not hitting iron shots close to the hole. Look at Jason Day, he had 9 wins between 15-16 despite being one the worst iron players on tour, he though was one the best putters from outside 25 feet. Though eventually you can’t keep making those putts, the pressure is going to weigh you down eventually. That is why he has only won since those two great season.

      • Greg B.

        Sep 4, 2018 at 1:28 pm

        Back in the ’80s/early ’90s there was a PGA Tour player named Tim Simpson who was a legendary ball-striker. Comparisons to the all-time greats were happening. But his putting skills were absolutely woeful, to the point where jokes were made about it.

        When lowest score wins, it all comes down to putting/short game. The rest is an exercise that may be useful to help PGA Tour players work on their weak spots but that is about all it is good for. Strokes gained is getting undue attention as a useful yardstick.

  5. DMG

    Sep 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Your Scenario #3 Putting equation doesn’t work for me. If I took 3 putts to finish from 10 feet strokes gained would = 2.61. What am I missing?

    • Bob

      Sep 3, 2018 at 9:15 pm

      The number should read -.61. With your scenario the number should be +1.39. So you were +1.39 from that distance. You want a negative number.

  6. Frankie

    Sep 2, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    This is such an unrealistic example for the average golfer, they are never going to play a 450 yard par 4 and hit it 335 yards in the fairway and hit it to 10 feet from 115 yards afterwards, get out of here.

    • PG

      Sep 3, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      There aren’t stroked gained stats for average golfers; when is the last time you’ve seen shotlink out on the muni?

  7. dj

    Sep 2, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Game Golf will calculate this for you.

  8. Andy G

    Sep 2, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Trey,
    I believe the Strokes Gained Putting stat must help certain ball strikers more than others due to their approach shot skills. As an example, Rose, Day, Stenson will hit the right part of the green with his precise irons and their respective 20 foot putt is in a better (possibly easier) position than another player’s 20 foot putt. I think equating all 20 foot putts is where this stat is somewhat flawed or susceptible to its problems. It should factor in the speed and break to really determine what the average pro putter would do. I look at many of the past top 20 SGP players and see many players that you would not want putting for the win. I know this is subjective, but Rose, Day, and Stenson are great ball strikers that I feel their respective SGP stat being higher has ball striking influences due to them leaving the ball in the right place vs the less precise ball strikers. If you subjectively look at the list each year, you can see some really good examples of this. Please don’t take my comments overboard, I think the SGP stat is good, just not 100 % effective at evaluating putting skill (imo).

    • Johnny Penso

      Sep 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      I think what you’re missing is that it’s not meant to be an accurate statistic from shot to shot but in the aggregate. On a particular hole or putt, yes there will be all kinds of differences in lies, stances, ball position, green undulations etc. but over time, with enough data points, that will all even out as the variation is generally random in nature.

  9. PG

    Sep 2, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Is there a place to find average strokes for approach and putt distance for scratch golfers? I loaned my copy of the book out…

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Opinion & Analysis

Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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In this new course review series, Marko and Mike from Golfholics provide their takes on the golf courses they’ve played around the world. The first episode starts with the famed, yet often overlooked Spyglass Hill. Enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to check out more videos from Golfholics on their YouTube page!

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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Mondays Off: Bermuda vs. Bent grass, How to chip when into the grain

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How do you chip into the grain off of Bermuda grass without chunking the ball? Club pro Steve Westphal explains how to best handle the situation. Also, Westphal and Editor Andrew Tursky give advice on how to play in qualifiers or PAT (players assessment test) events, and they tell a few stories of their own.

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

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