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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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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve recaps his match with the 2nd assistant and Knudson’s golf weekend

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Steve recaps his match against the 2nd assistant and if he won or lost. Knudson gets asked about a guys golf weekend and if his back will hold up. Knudson tosses his brother under the bus.

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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5 men who need to win this week’s Open Championship for their season to be viewed as a success

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The year’s final major championship is upon us, with 156 players ready to battle it out at Royal Portrush for the Claret Jug. The oldest tournament in the sport presents the last opportunity for players to achieve major glory for nine months, and while some players will look back at this year’s majors and view them as a success, others will see them as a missed opportunity.

Here are five players who will tee it up at The Open, needing a win to transform their season, and in doing so, their career.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott has looked revived in 2019 with four top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the PGA Championship. The Australian hasn’t won since 2016, and at 39-years-old, Scott knows better than anyone that the final narrative over his career comes down to whether or not he can add to his lone major championship victory he achieved at the 2013 Masters.

Speaking following his final round at Pebble Beach last month, Scott stated

“I’m angry; I want to win one of these so badly. I play so much consistent golf. But that’s kind of annoying; I’d almost rather miss every cut and win one tournament for the year if that win was a major.” 

A gut-wrenching finish cost Scott the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes seven years ago, and the 39-year-old has held at least a share of the back-nine lead on Sunday on three occasions at the event since 2012. The Australian’s statement following the U.S. Open says it all; a successful 2019 depends on whether or not he can finally put his Open Championship demons to bed.

Dustin Johnson

With a win in Mexico earlier this year, Dustin Johnson has now made it 11 straight seasons with at least one victory on the PGA Tour. However, Johnson continues to be judged, rightly or wrongly, on his struggles to capture major championships. The 35-year-old remains on one major victory for his career, which is a hugely disappointing total for a player of his talent.

Should the American remain stuck on one major for another nine months following this week’s event, it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old feeling satisfied. Johnson came to Pebble Beach last month as the prohibitive favorite and failed to fire, but it’s what occurred at the PGA Championship which will leave a sour taste. With Brooks Koepka feeling the heat, Johnson had the opportunity to step up and reverse his major championship fortune, but two bogeys in his final three holes just added to his ‘nearly man’ tag at the most significant events.

A win in Northern Ireland removes both the ‘nearly man’ and ‘one major wonder’ tags, and turns his least successful season, victory wise, into one of his best.

Rory McIlroy

Whatever happens this week at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy’s season has been impressive, but it’s missing something big. That something is a win at a major championship, and it’s been missing since 2014. To avoid a five-year drought at the majors, McIlroy must win the 148th Open Championship at home, and with it, claim the greatest victory of his career.

Speaking prior to this week’s tournament, McIlroy stated

“I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”

The home-town hero is currently in the midst of one of the greatest ball-striking seasons of all time. But without a win at a major to show for it, there’s undoubtedly going to be frustration and regret in the aftermath. On the flip side, should the Ulsterman triumph this week then it would likely eclipse his double major season success of 2014, and according to the man himself, it would also eclipse anything that he could ever go on to achieve in the game thereafter.

Rickie Fowler

Without getting his hands on a major, the narrative behind Rickie Fowler is not going to change. ‘The best player without a major’ tag has been there for a while now with Fowler – who hasn’t been close to shaking it off in 2019. Victory at the Phoenix Open back in February snapped a 24-month streak without a win on the PGA Tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone considering the 30-year-old’s season a success without him finally getting the monkey off his back and entering the winner’s circle at a major.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose turns 39-years-old this year, and each season from now to the house, he will be judged on his success at the majors. With  wins at the U.S. Open and Olympics already achieved in his career, a successful season for the Englishman now depends on whether he can become a multiple major champion.

Talking ahead of his bid to win his first Open Championship, Rose said

“People don’t come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you won the FedEx!’. It’s the US Open, the Olympic gold, the Ryder Cup. I’m 40 next year and yes, the clock is ticking.

I’ve had three top threes in the majors in the last three seasons, with two seconds, so I know I’m right there doing the right things. It’s just a case of making it happen again, because the chances won’t keep coming forever.”

Rose’s sense of urgency may stem from tough losses at the 2017 Masters, 2018 Open Championship and more recently at the 2019 U.S. Open. In Rose’s favor is that the average age of winners of The Open since 2011 is almost five years higher than the average age of those who won the Masters, and over eight years older than those who won the U.S. Open. To elevate his 2019 to elite levels, Rose is relying on victory at Royal Portrush.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 2: Pitching

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As I wrote two weeks ago, I consider there to be five basic elements to “scoring range performance”, and I dove into the full swing shorts irons and wedges last week. This week I’m going to address “pitching,” which I define as those shots with your wedges that require much less than a full swing. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of golf to master, but the good news is that it is within reach of every golfer, as physical strength is pretty much neutralized in this aspect of the game.

Before I get into this, however, please understand that I am writing a weekly article here, and do not for a minute think that I can deliver to you the same level of insight and depth that you can get from any of the great books on the short game that are available. There are some genuine “gurus” out there who have made a living out of writing books and sharing their expertise—Dave Pelz, Stan Utley, et al. One of my favorites from a long time ago is Tom Watson’s “Getting Up and Down.” The point is, if you are committed to improving this part of your game, it will take much more than a few hundred words from a post of mine to get you there.

I will also suggest that there are no short cuts to an effective short game. I know of no other way to become a deadly chipper and pitcher of the ball than to invest the time to learn a sound technique and develop the touch skills that allow you to hits an endless variety of shots of different trajectories, distances and spin rates. As the old saying goes: “If it were easy everyone would do it.” In my opinion, it is mostly short game skills that separate good players from average, and great ones from good. Those greenside magicians we see on TV every week didn’t get there by spending minimal time learning and practicing these shots.

So, with that “disclaimer” set forth, I will share my thoughts on the basic elements of good pitching technique, as I see it.

As with any golf shot, a sound and proper set up is crucial to hitting great pitch shots
consistently. I believe great pitch shots are initiated by a slightly open stance, which allows you
to clear your body through impact and sets up the proper swing path, as I’ll explain later.

Your weight distribution should be favored to your lead foot, the ball should be positioned for the shot you want to hit (low, medium or high) and maybe most importantly, your hands must be positioned so that they are hanging naturally from your shoulders. I firmly believe that great pitch shots cannot be hit if the hands are too close or too far from your body.

The easy way to check this is to release your left hand from the grip, and let it hang naturally, then move the club so that the left hand can take its hold. The clubhead will then determine how far from the ball you should be. To me, that is the ideal position from which to make a good pitch shot.

Second is the club/swing path. I believe the proper path for good pitch shots has the hands moving straight back along a path that is nearly parallel to the target line, and the through swing moving left after impact. This path is set up by the more open stance at address. The gurus write extensively about swing path, and they all seem to pretty much agree on this as a fundamental. Taking the club back too far inside the line is probably more damaging than too far outside, as the latter is really pretty hard to do actually. My observations of recreational golfers indicate that the inside backswing path is “set up” by the ball being too close or too far from their feet at address, as I explained earlier.

I also believe (from observation and experience) that many recreational golfers do not engage their torso enough in routine pitch shots. This is NOT an arm swing; a rotation of the shoulders is tantamount to good pitch shots, and the shoulders must keep rotating through impact. Stopping the rotation at impact is, in my observation, the main cause of chunks and bladed shots, as that causes the clubhead to move past the hands and get out of plane.

Finally, I’ll address swing speed. Again, in my observation, most recreational golfers get too quick with this part of the game. The swing is shorter for these shots, but that should not make it quicker. One of my favorite analogies is to compare golf to a house painter. In the wide-open areas, he uses a sprayer or big roller for power, and works pretty darn quickly. As he begins to cut in for the windows and doors, he chooses a smaller brush and works much more slowly and carefully. Finally, he chooses very specialized trim brushes to paint the window and door trim, baseboards, etc. I like to compare our wedges to the painter’s trim brushes. Slow and careful wins.

I think learning distance control is the hardest part of becoming a good pitcher of the ball. And there are many approaches to this part of the equation. My opinion is that your expectations and therefore your approach to this aspect of it should be commensurate with your willingness to spend the time on the range or course. And I just do not know of a short cut, I’m sorry to say. But I will share something that I’ve learned works pretty well and is reasonably easy to learn.

First, find a “half swing” length that feels comfortable to you, and by that I mean repeatable. For most, it seems to be where the lead arm is about parallel to the ground. From that position, I like to think of three different downswing speeds – country road (i.e. 50 mph), neighborhood driving (30 mph) and school zone (15 mph). We’ll leave freeway speed for the driver, and regular highway speed for our fairways, hybrids and irons.

If you can internalize what these three speeds feel like for you, it only takes a little time to figure out how far each wedge goes at these three speeds, and then you can further dissect this by gripping down on each wedge to cut those gaps even tighter.

Again, I’m limited by space in this blog, but these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about meaningful practice and implementation. And in no way, are these few words intended to cover the subject as thoroughly as Pelz, Utley and others have done in series of books and videos. The more you learn and practice, the better you will get. That’s just the facts.

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