You might ask: How would I know the differences between a scratch golfer and a PGA Tour player? Well, it is my full-time job to know these type of things about golf. I have been studying the game from a statistical standpoint for 27 years. I created the Strokes Gained analysis website, ShotByShot.com, and work with PGA Tour members to extract clear answers from the Tour’s overwhelming 653 ShotLink stats.
My experience tells me that there is no such thing as an average game, no matter the handicap level. We’re all snowflakes and find our own unique way to shoot our number. With that said, ShotByShot.com’s 260,000+ round database enables us to create a composite sketch of the average golfer at each level. One of the beauties of our averages is that they are smooth across all five major facets so that every individual golfer’s strengths and weaknesses — and we all have them — stand out clearly by comparison.
The Data Used for this Study
- Mr. Scratch: I averaged the 8,360 rounds in our database that match the zero handicap criteria. In other words, the rounds when Mr. Scratch actually played to his 0 handicap.
- PGA Tour: The average of the 14,557 ShotLink rounds recorded in the 2015 season.
The USGA’s Course and Slope rating system does a sophisticated job of evaluating the relative difficulty of our golf courses. I joined my local course rating committee shortly after the new “Slope” system was added. My specific goal was to gain an understanding of how the system works so that I could effectively apply it in my analysis program.
For the purposes of this article, the Course Rating reflects the relative course par for the scratch golfer. The chart below tells us that the PGA Tour scoring average is 2.25 strokes better than Mr. Scratch. Further, Tour players are playing courses that are 3.2 strokes more difficult. The net result is a 5.45-shot difference between Tour players and Mr. Scratch, but let’s just call it 5.5.
The chart above shows us that the biggest piece of the 5.5-shot pie falls into the Driving category, or Distance, which makes sense to me. To play the game for a living, one must be able to hit it straight and far. Even Zach Johnson, with whom I have had the great pleasure of working with for five years, is often considered a short hitter. I contend that he is simply more intelligent and recognizes the true value of accuracy. Zach is averaging 281 yards this year, only seven off of the Tour average. Short? Not by my standards.
The chart below indicates that the driving distance gap between the Tour and Mr. Scratch is 33 yards. The average approach shot distance on the PGA Tour is 175 yards. Adding the 33 yards to all 14 driving holes puts Mr. Scratch’s average approach distance at just over 205 yards. The Strokes Gained value of this added distance is 2.52 strokes (0.18 per attempt x 14 driving holes = 2.52).
Accuracy and Errors Per Round
Mr. Scratch appears slightly better than the Tour in accuracy and errors per round. With added distance inevitably comes some reduced accuracy and more errors. I believe this slight edge would more than disappear if Mr. Scratch were using the Tour’s big-boy tees.
As you can see by the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less accurate from the distances that account for 80 percent of the Tour approach attempts. I estimate that Mr. Scratch’s reduced accuracy would account for at least two fewer GIR’s per round, at a cost of 1.5 strokes. It is interesting to note that Mr. Scratch incurs an approach penalty with the same frequency as the Tour average (1 in every 5 rounds).
Mr. Scratch leaves his successful short game shots 1 foot farther from the hole. This difference in the range of 7-10 feet is worth 0.08 Strokes Gained. When multiplied by seven short game shots per round it’s 0.56 strokes, but we’ll call it half a stroke.
I am ignoring the minor difference in errors (shots that miss the green). My theory is that Mr. Scratch attains his excellent scoring level through meticulous short game consistency. The Tour players are so good that they try to get even highest-risk shots close to the hole, confident that if they miss the green they will save the next — which they do 75 percent of the time. In 2015, only 25 percent of the short game shots that missed the green took more than three strokes to finally hole out.
As you can see from the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less proficient in the ranges that account for the vast majority of 1-Putt opportunities on Tour. Mr. Scratch also 3-Putts 38 percent more frequently than the Tour average. The Strokes Gained impact of these differences over 18 holes would be 0.9 strokes — let’s call it 1 stroke.
Bottom line, there is a measurable 5.5 stroke difference between Mr. Scratch and PGA Tour players. I have obviously not factored in the immeasurable effect of the added pressure and stress of teeing it up in a Tour event. Anyone who has participated in a PGA Tour Pro-Am will attest to the electric atmosphere and amplified pressure that comes with the experience.
If you want to try to get on the PGA Tour, your handicap needs to be a solid +3. If you want to support a family playing on tour, your handicap should be +5. Much easier said than done, however.
The 19th Hole Episode 159: Howard University coach Sam Puryear
Host Michael Williams talks with Howard U. coach about the trials and triumphs in the fledgling golf program. Also features Adam Martin of Haig Point (SC) and Eduardo Mestres of Los Siete Misterios Mezcal.
The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
Club Junkie: Reviewing Titleist TSi3 drivers and fairways! (Finally!)
The moment you all have been waiting for: I finally have a TSi3 driver and 3-wood in my hands! Talking about how they performed and maybe some shaft changes for each in the future.
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