Since 2003 a new statistic has appeared regularly on the PGA Tour coverage – strokes gained. This number is frequently discussed but rarely understood. So why is it so often relied upon?

Traditionally, golf stats have not been too in depth. Measures of fairways and greens hit or missed were just turned into a percentage. The issue with this approach is that it doesn’t tell you a great deal about how that shot has affected a player’s overall score. A count of fairways doesn’t distinguish between a big miss (a lost ball or out of bounds) and a small miss (in the rough). A count of putts doesn’t distinguish between a two-putt from 60 feet (superb!!)  and a two-putt from two feet (a terrible performance). Better measures of golf performance required better data.

Strokes gained  was created by Mark Broadie using the PGA’s Shotlink data, which tracks every player’s shots hit during the season to an accuracy of less than one inch. This is done by 350 volunteers at each event!! With this data we can calculate the average number of shots taken by a tour player to finish a hole from any given distance.

For example the average number of shots for a PGA Tour player to finish a hole from 16 feet is 1.8. For a one-foot putt the average is 1 shot, and for a 40-yard pitch from the fairway the average is 2.6. This database of numbers forms the basis of any strokes gained statistic on tour.

The next step in strokes gained is to take the player’s actual score away from the PGA Tour average for that same distance. So as a 16 foot putt is expected to be completed in 1.8 shots If a player holes a 16-foot putt, he/she would gain 0.8 shots on the field.

The final step on the strokes gained stats journey is where it can get confusing… But stay with us on this.

What if they miss the 16-foot putt? How would we calculate the value of that putt? Back to our example above, imagine the player hits their 16-foot putt to one foot. We know the PGA Tour average to complete the hole from the start point is 1.8, and from the end point it is 1. The improvement in this number is 0.8 but they have taken 1 shot to get there. Therefore, their strokes gained would be -0.2, suggesting they have lost 0.2 shots against the field.

Although that example is from putting, Strokes gained measures all elements of a players performance with the following tracked.

Stokes Gained against the competing field..

  • Off The tee (Any tee shot hit on Par 4’s & 5’s)
  • Approach To The Green (any yardage going for the green, Par 3’s, wedges)
  • Approach Around the Green (Pitching, Chipping)
  • Putting (All shots hit with Putter)
  • Strokes Gained Total (Accumulation of all the above)

An example of Strokes Gained from the Tee, Rory Mcilroy one of the best drivers of the golf ball ever, gains a stroke per round on the field off the tee as he hits the ball longer than average on tour whilst keeping his accuracy. This has been measured over 57 rounds. Although that sounds small over a 4 day tournament he is 4 shots better than the field just because he hits driver so well.

If you are interested in keeping your stats and looking at what your ‘strokes gained’ are there are formulas on the internet where you can put in your numbers to show your strengths and weakness’.

Now when you see the numbers pop up on the Television I hope you have more of an understanding of what they mean and why the players focus so much on this to highlight where they need to improve to compete. If you would like further Information on this the PGA Tour website publish all these statistics from every event on their website.