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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).

16 Comments

16 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.

      • Steve

        Apr 12, 2019 at 2:32 am

        No.. this is wrong. It’s strokes GAINED. You don’t want a negative number.

        Scenario 3 is incorrect because the author wrote it backwards. It should be 1.61 – 1 for the gain of .61 strokes.

  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

When the data says line is more important than speed in putting

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In my recent article, Line vs. speed: What’s really more important in putting?, I pointed out that in my 30-plus years of studying putting performance, I’ve learned that there are two important skills to putting:

  1. Direction (line)
  2. Distance control (speed)

There’s no question that golfers need to possess both these skills, but contrary to popular belief, they are not equally important on all putts. Sometimes, speed should be the primary concern. In other situations, golfers should be focused almost entirely on line. To make this determination, we have to consider the distance range of a putt and a golfer’s putting skill.

In the above referenced article, I showed how important speed is in putting, as well as the distances from which golfers of each handicap level should become more focused on speed. As promised, I’m going to provide some tips on direction (LINE) for golfers of different handicap levels based on the data I’ve gathered over the years through my Strokes Gained analysis software, Shot by Shot.

When PGA Tour players focus on line 

On the PGA Tour, line is more critical than speed from distances inside 20 feet. Obviously, the closer a golfer is to the hole, the more important line becomes and the less need there is to focus on speed. Further, I have found that the six-to-10-foot range is a key distance for Tour players. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Six to 10 feet is one of the most frequently faced putt distances on the PGA Tour. It is the first putt distance on approximately one in every five greens.
  2. Smack in the middle of this range is eight feet, which is the distance from which the average PGA Tour player makes 50 percent of his putts.
  3. In my research, I have consistently found that one-putt success in the six-to-10-foot range separates good putters from the rest on the PGA Tour

What we should do

How does this analysis help the rest of us?  To answer that question, we must first know our one-putt distance.  Just as I showed the two-putt distance by handicap level here, I will now show the 50 percent make distance by handicap level. This is the distance from the hole where players at each handicap level make 50 percent of their putts.

My recommendation is for each of us to recognize exactly what our 50 percent distance is. Maybe you’re a 16 or 17 handicap and putting is one of your strengths. Your 50 percent make distance is six feet. Excellent!  From that distance and closer, you should focus on line and always give the ball a chance to go in the hole.  From distances of seven-plus feet, you should consider the circumstances (up or downhill, amount of break, etc.) and factor in the speed as appropriate. The goal is to make as many of these putts as possible, but more importantly, avoid those heart-breaking and costly three-putts.

For added perspective, I am including the percentage of one putts by distance for the PGA Tour and our average amateur 15-19 handicap. I’m able to offer this data from ShotbyShot.com because it provides golfers with their “relative handicap” in the five critical parts of the game: (1) Driving, (2) Approach Shots, (3) Chip/Pitch Shots, (4) Sand Shots, and (5) Putting.

Line control practice: The star drill 

Looking for a way to practice choosing better lines on the putting green?  Here’s a great exercise known as the “star drill.” Start by selecting a part of your practice green with a slight slope.  Place five tees in the shape of a star on the slope with the top of the star on the top side of the slope.  This will provide an equal share of right to left and left to right breaks.

I recommend starting with a distance of three feet – usually about the length of a standard putter.  See how many you can make out of 10 putts, which is two trips around the star.  Here are a few more helpful tips.

  • Place a ball next to each of the five tees.
  • Use your full pre-shot routine for each attempt.
  • Stay at the three-foot distance until you can make nine of 10. Then, move to four feet, five feet, and six feet as you’re able to make eight from four feet, seven from five feet, and six from six feet.

This drill will give you confidence over these very important short putts. I do not recommend using it for any distance beyond six feet. It’s harder than you think to get there!

 

Exclusive for GolfWRX members: For a free, one-round trial of Shot by Shot, visit www.ShotByShot.com.

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Podcasts

TG2: Snell Golf founder Dean Snell talks golf balls and his life in the golf industry

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Snell Golf’s founder, Dean Snell, talks all about golf balls and his adventure through the industry. Dean fills us in on his transition from hockey player, to engineer, to golfer, and now business owner. He even tells you why he probably isn’t welcome back at a country club ever again.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Could Dollar Driver Club change the way we think about owning equipment?

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There’s something about golfers that draws the attention of, for lack of a better word, snake-oil salesmen. Whether it’s an as-seen-on-TV ad for a driver that promises pure distance and also fixes your power slice, or the subscription boxes that supposedly send hundreds of dollars worth of apparel for a fraction of the price, there always seems to be something out there that looks too good to be true.

Discerning golfers, who I would argue are more cynical than anything, understand that you get what you pay for. To get the newest driver that also works for your game, it may take a $150 club fitting, then a $400 head, and a shaft that can run anywhere from $100 up to $300-$400. After the fitting and buying process, you’ve made close to a thousand dollar investment in one golf club, and unless you’re playing money games with friends who have some deep pockets, it’s tough to say what the return on that investment actually is. When it’s all said and done, you have less than a year before that driver is considered old news by the standard of most manufacturers’ release schedules.

What makes a driver ‘good’ to most amateur golfers who take their game seriously is a cross section of performance, price, and hubris. As for that last metric, I think most people would be lying if they say it doesn’t feel good having the latest and greatest club in the bag. Being the envy of your group is fun, even if it only lasts until you snap hook your first drive out of bounds.

As prices of general release equipment have increased to nearly double what it was retailing at only 10 years ago, the ability to play the newest equipment is starting to become out of the question for many amateur golfers.

Enter Tyler Mycoskie, an avid, single digit handicap golfer (and the brother of Tom’s shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie). Tyler’s experience with purchasing golf equipment and his understanding of uniquely successful business models collided, which led him to start the Dollar Driver Club. With a name and logo that is a tongue in cheek allusion to the company that has shaken up the men’s skincare industry, the company seeks to offer a new way of thinking about purchasing golf equipment without completely reinventing the wheel of the model that has seen success in industries such as car leasing and purchasing razors.

The company does exactly what its name says. They offer the newest, top of the line driver and shaft combinations for lease at a cost of about a dollar per day.

The economics of the model seem too good to be true. When you purchase a driver, you are charged $30 plus $11 for shipping and it’s $30 per month from then on. You can upgrade your driver at no extra cost each year and your driver is eligible for upgrade or swap after 90 days of being a member. After a year, the total cost comes to $371 with shipping, which sounds a lot nicer than the $500 that it would cost to purchase, as an example, a Titleist TS3 with a Project X Evenflow T1100 today.

The major complaint most people would have is that you still don’t own the driver after that year, but as someone with a closet full of old golf clubs that diminish in value every day, which I have no realistic plans to sell, that doesn’t sound like a problem to me or my wife, who asks me almost weekly when I plan on thinning out my collection.

The model sounds like an obvious win for customers to me, and quite frankly, if you’re skeptical, then it’s probably just simply not for you. I contacted the team at the Dollar Driver Club to get some questions answered. Primarily, I want to know, what’s the catch?

I spoke with a Kevin Kirakossian, a Division I golfer who graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2013 and has spent virtually his entire young career working on the business side of golf, most recently with Nike Golf’s marketing team prior to joining Tyler at Dollar Driver Club. Here’s what he had to say about his company.

At risk to the detriment of our conversation, I have to find out first and foremost, what’s the catch?

K: There’s no catch. We’re all golfers and we want to offer a service that benefits all of our members. We got tired of the upfront cost of drivers. We’re trying to grow the game. Prior to us, there was no way to buy new golf clubs without paying full price. We take a lot of pride that players of all skill level, not just tour pros or people with the extra budget to drop that kind of money every year, can have access to the latest equipment.

With that question out of the way, I delved into the specifics of the brand and model, but I maintained a skeptical edge, keeping an ear out for anything that I could find that would seem too good to be true.

How closely do you keep an eye on manufacturers and their pricing? It would seem that your service is more enticing as prices increase in equipment.

K: The manufacturers are free to create their own pricing. We work closely with manufacturers and have a great relationship with them. As prices increase, it helps us, even if they decrease, I still think it’s a no-brainer to use our service, purely for the fact that new equipment comes out every year. You don’t have a high upfront cost. You’re not stuck with the same driver for a year. It gives you flexibility and freedom to play the newest driver. If a manufacturer wants to get into the same business, we have the advantage of offering all brands. We’re a premium subscription brand, so we’re willing to offer services that other retailers aren’t. We’ll do shaft swaps, we’ll send heads only, we have fast shipping and delivery times. We’re really a one-stop shop for all brands.

What measures do you take to offer the most up to date equipment?

K: We will always have the newest products on the actual launch date. We take pride in offering the equipment right away. A lot of times, our members will receive their clubs on release day. We order direct from the manufacturers and keep inventory. There’s no drop shipping. We prefer shipping ourselves and being able to add a personal package.

The service is uniquely personal. Their drivers come with a ball marker stamped with your initials as well as a stylish valuables pouch. They also provide a hand signed welcome letter and some stickers.

Who makes up the team at Dollar Driver Club?

K: We’re a small team. We started accepting members to our service in 2018 and it has grown exponentially. We have four or five guys here and it’s all hands on deck. We handle customer inquiries and sending drivers out. It’s a small business nature that we want to grow a lot bigger.

When discussing the company, you have to concede that the model doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially traditionalists. There are golfers who have absolutely no problem spending whatever retailers are charging for their newest wares. There are also golfers who have no problem playing equipment with grips that haven’t been changed in years, much less worrying about buying new equipment. I wanted to know exactly who they’re targeting.

Who is your target demographic?

K: We want all golfers. We want any golfer with any income, any skill level, to be able to play the newest equipment. We want to reshape the way people think about obtaining golf equipment. We’re starting with drivers, but we’re looking into expanding into putters, wedges, and other woods. We’ve heard manufacturers keep an eye on us. There are going to be people who just want to pay that upfront cost so they can own it, but those people may be looking at it on the surface and they don’t see the other benefits. We’re also a service that offers shaft swaps and easily send in your driver after 3 months if you don’t like it.

At this point, it didn’t seem like my quest to find any drawbacks to the service was going well. However, any good business identifies threats to their model and I was really only able to think of one. They do require a photo ID to start your account, but there’s no credit check required like you may see from other ‘buy now, pay later’ programs. That sounds ripe for schemers that we see all the time on websites like eBay and Craigslist.

When you’re sending out a $500 piece of equipment and only taking $41 up front, you’re assuming some risk. How much do you rely on the integrity of golfers who use your service to keep everything running smoothly?

K: We do rely on the integrity of the golf community. When we send out a driver, we believe it’s going into the hands of a golfer. By collecting the ID, we have measures on our end that we can use in the event that the driver goes missing or an account goes delinquent, but we’re always going to side with our members.

The conversation I had with Kevin really opened my eyes to the fact that Dollar Driver Club is exactly what the company says it is. They want to grow and become a staple means of obtaining golf equipment in the current and future market. Kevin was very transparent that the idea is simple, they’re just the ones actually executing it. He acknowledged the importance of social media and how they will harness the power of applications like Instagram to reach new audiences.

Kevin was also adamant that even if you prefer owning your own driver and don’t mind the upfront cost, the flexibility to customize your driver cheaply with a plethora of high-quality shafts is what really makes it worth trying out their service. If for whatever reason, you don’t like their service, you can cancel the subscription and return the driver after 90 days, which means that you can play the newest driver for three months at a cost of $90.

In my personal opinion, I think there’s a huge growth opportunity for a service like this. The idea of playing the newest equipment and being able to tinker with it pretty much at-will really speaks to me. If you’re willing to spend $15 a month on Netflix to re-watch The Office for the 12th time in a row or $35 a month for a Barkbox subscription for your dog, it may be worth doing something nice for your golf bag.

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