Explaining Strokes Gained
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Explaining Strokes Gained

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Explaining Strokes Gained

Strokes Gained sits on the shelf of golf terms labeled often-used, rarely defined. You hear it on TV broadcasts, in golf media and increasingly in manufacturers’ marketing literature.

But what does it mean? It’s a question we get fairly often at MyGolfSpy so let’s flesh it out a bit. Considering the two words absent any context, “strokes” and “gained” seem innocuous enough.

It’s not like we’re talking about axiomatic systems or oblate spheroids. But ask your regular foursome to define “Strokes Gained” and I’ll wager a steak dinner you’re more likely to get blank stares rather than a correct answer.

WELL, WE’RE WAITING …

Strokes Gained is the brainchild of Columbia business professor Mark Broadie. It’s the definitive performance statistic in the field, a welcome replacement for silo statistics such as putts-per-round and percentage of fairways hit.

Chiefly, Strokes Gained is a statistic that communicates the performance of a golf shot relative to a benchmark. Put another way, Strokes Gained doesn’t tell you how good (or bad) a shot is. It quantifies how good (or bad) each shot is based on a defined context.

If this sounds familiar, we’ve touched on the subject before.

For example, a tee shot that travels 250 yards down the fairway on a 450-yard par-4 doesn’t have the same value for every golfer. If you’re a PGA TOUR pro, this shot might have a negative Strokes Gained value because, on average, PGA TOUR players hit the ball further. This leaves a shorter approach shot which, on balance, generates a lower average score.

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However, for the average 18-handicap player, such a tee shot would produce a positive Strokes Gained measurement because the average driving distance for higher-handicap players is a fair bit less than 250 yards.

Here’s another one. Let’s say you’re comparing your putting to the PGA TOUR average, where 7’10” represents the distance at which a golfer has a 50/50 chance of making a putt. Let’s also assume that it takes an average of 1.5 strokes for a PGA TOUR pro to hole out from this distance. Therefore, if you have the same distance putt and make it, you gain 0.5 strokes. The formula is simple. It’s the average number of strokes—the actual number of strokes. In this case, that’s 1.5-1 = 0.5. If you don’t make the first putt but make the second one, the Strokes Gained on that shot would be -0.5 (1.5-2).

Also, because Strokes Gained produces a value for every shot, golfers can look at the aggregate values for various parts of the game, such as: Driving, approach, tee-to-green, putting, etc.

APPLICATION

Strokes Gained is a pretty straightforward concept once you get the idea that a golf shot can’t be defined as “good” or “bad” without some sort of context. It’s like asking whether $400 is a lot of money. For a dozen golf balls? Absolutely. For a round of golf at Augusta National? Probably not.

The PGA TOUR produces Strokes Gained values for every shot for every player in every tournament. As expected, the context for all this information is other PGA TOUR players. Bryson DeChambeau leads the Tour in both average driving distance (323.5 yards) and Strokes Gained driving (1.142 strokes/round). However, Rory McIllory, who is second in driving distance (318.7 yards) is eighth in Strokes Gained driving (0.636 strokes/round).

But for the rest of us, performance management platforms such as Shot Scope and Arccos now offer Strokes Gained analysis for their users. Earlier this year, Shot Scope announced it would add Strokes Gained data to its platform in three phases, a process that now is complete. From a competitive standpoint, it’s an important achievement for Shot Scope, given that Arccos launched its Caddie Strokes Gained Analytics in August 2020.

The primary benefit of individual performance tracking systems is the ability to benchmark against improvement goals. For example, let’s say you’re a 15-handicap golfer and you want to know what it would take to get down to a single-digit handicap. Strokes Gained will tell you how each segment of your game measures up. That way, you can see how close (or far) you are relative to that goal.

If you want to dig deeper, Shot Scope produces Strokes Gained analysis based on a variety of criteria such as distance and hole designation (par-3, par-4, par-5). For example, the data might show you struggle more with tee shots on par-4s that are more than 425 yards. Or that you gain strokes on par-3s compared to other golfers of the same handicap.

Whatever the case, the point is that if you’re looking to improve, it’s vital to start with the right information. Strokes Gained helps achieve that.

Because every golfer has different strengths and weaknesses, objective data can help you understand where the greatest opportunity for improvement exists.

ADVANCED COURSE WORK

Part of the excitement (for some of us, anyway) around the Strokes Gained framework is all the potential quantitative rabbit holes. It’s a free-flowing, brainstorming session that produces musings such as …

Given enough data, could we assess shot performance based on the time of year? Grass type? Course conditions? Time of play? Tournament venue? Rough versus fairway? And so on.

And given a large enough sample size, who knows? Maybe Strokes Gained will help you select your next Member-Guest partner.

If you’re into this type of stuff, check out Shot Scope’s FREE Strokes Gained E-book.

For You

For You

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Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris is a self-diagnosed equipment and golf junkie with a penchant for top-shelf ice cream. When he's not coaching the local high school team, he's probably on the range or trying to keep up with his wife and seven beautiful daughters. Chris is based out of Fort Collins, CO and his neighbors believe long brown boxes are simply part of his porch decor. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different."

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel





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      Joel

      3 years ago

      Great article, Chris. I bought Mark Broadie’s book in May to get a better understanding of the foundation of strokes gained (Insightful read, but very dry). As an Arccos user, the strokes gained component has helped me dial in my short game, taking the data to my instructor and working through scenarios where I find myself losing strokes.

      Reply

      Tom Gregory

      3 years ago

      A very in-depth look into “Strokes Gained”, which you did Chris, so very well…In a good write-up, you used few words to describe a  complicated division of “Statistical Analysis” (my minor in college), Actuarial Science/Economics at Northwest Mo. State…I was always amazed at what a small correct ie. true sample can predict and therefore produce a very accurate formula for getting the best results in insurance, golf, and almost anything you apply it to… Great Formula, but at 74 years of age, I try to stay away from Statists, since my swing speed is down to 89 mph, but I still hold a single-digit Handicap.  Kudos to your writing skill!   

      Reply

      jacques

      3 years ago

      Very well done, Mr. Chris. We got more than a nickel’s worth, to tell the truth
      Incidentally, you get grammar strokes gained if:
      The quick and dirty tip is to use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for metaphorical, or figurative, distance. It’s easy to remember because “farther” has the word “far” in it, and “far” obviously relates to physical distance..

      Reply

      WYBob

      3 years ago

      Chris: excellent article and explanation of Strokes Gained. Your explanation squares with my understanding of the concept for players on tour or in competition. I even get how Arccos can provide SG information to the average golfer based on the large population they collect data from. Where I struggle with the Strokes Gained concept is how MGS has adjusted the methodology for your Most Wanted testing (i.e. the recent Most Wanted Players Iron). It seems that the tester sample size is small in those tests, and there are variables like turf interaction that don’t seem to be a consideration. Like the previous poster Sydney, I’d appreciate a follow-up on how MGS has adjusted the Stokes Gained concept for grading and rating equipment. Thanks in advance.

      Reply

      Bakari

      3 years ago

      I’m a data guy so my opinion might be skewed but I think anyone at any level can benefit from SG and the other magnitude of data that these systems provide. I often find that we have a good idea of where we failed after a round or what we need to work on but these systems give a definitive answer to that question and even more so track your improvements. It’s honestly a no brainer.

      Reply

      Mike

      3 years ago

      Who am I comparing myself to? And why? For me, if I keep a few basic stats I can understand my round and chart my performance over time without worrying about statistical mumbo jumbo. Hey, makes a great line on TV, so-and-so picked up 0.25 strokes versus the field. But who’s my “field”?

      Reply

      Michael Schmitz

      3 years ago

      It almost reads like strokes gained is looking to be the next handicapping system. The benchmark I care about is called Par.
      The club manufacturers can send me fitted clubs and I can test them and buy the ones that maximize my calculated strokes gained.

      Reply

      David Ambrose

      3 years ago

      I’m really enjoying the shots gained metric in Arccos. It allows you to see your game in a different light. It not only points out your weaknesses, but also can find hidden strengths you may not have considered. For example, I thought my putts would be really low since I always seem to be around the cup and rarely in. The stats showed I picked up the most strokes in that area and especially from lag distances. On the flip side, I thought my short approaches were pretty decent…yeah, not the case at all. :)

      Reply

      RSeg

      3 years ago

      I bought the shotscope and am finding new information to be able to make me a better golfer. The only questions is if I can see in the app or in the desktop page the strokes gained of a single shot? I have looked for it over and over and haven´t found it.

      Reply

      john Smith

      3 years ago

      I am not sure how I feel about this. In a broad sense applying metrics to a particular segment of the game like putting, may be a strategy I could embrace. Turning the game of golf into another use for my cell phone tracking data like a CPA might not be a strategy I can embrace. I would rather sign the card and head to the range to work on the days failures, then have a beer as opposed to printing out my spreadsheet and “analyzing” data against subjective personal “benchmarks”, It is easy to define a benchmark for a zero or plus handicap, much more subjective for high single digit and impossible for high handicappers. Just my opinion. Looks like a Bryson “want to be” flash in the pan scientific approach. Jury is still out on Bryson, I will take a wait and see on this one.

      Reply

      Dave Henderson

      3 years ago

      I agree that deep analysis after each round may have limited benefit but since I have started using Arccos I have learned a lot about my weaknesses. I am currently a 13 handicap benchmarking myself to a 9 because that is where I want to get to. As I look back over my last 10 rounds of data I see that tee shots and putting are killing me. I know where I need to spend the majority of my range time.

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      3 years ago

      I think the primary issue that golfers are generally poor at self-assessment. And given enough data, you can benchmark against any performance level – So if you’re a 20 HCP and want to see how your game stacks up against the typical 15 HCP, you can do that. So, it’s not really a matter of opinion as much as it’s just the power of big data.

      Reply

      Tim

      3 years ago

      $400 to play ANY course is a lot of money……just saying

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      3 years ago

      I think you’d get some strong dissention on this one. Assessing value, particularly at the extremes is rife with complications. That said, if you can snag me a time at Pine Valley, Cypress or Augusta for $400, I’m in!

      Reply

      Eric

      3 years ago

      You claimed that Strokes Gained is available for every tournament. If that’s true, I’d like to see the data from any of the last 20 Masters tournaments.

      Reply

      Michael Schmitz

      3 years ago

      The PGA Tour does not run or have control over The Masters. The tournament is run and owned by the Augusta National Golf Club, which is located in August, Georgia.
      SO it seems ANGC is keeping their data like their membership…private

      Reply

      Golfinnut

      3 years ago

      Cool thanks for this. I’ll give it a shot.

      Reply

      James

      3 years ago

      Thank you for this article! This is so helpful. One thing I am still missing though is what your performance is based off of. It is mentioned that it would vary between PGA players and a schlub like me, obviously, but how and who assigns the number in which your strokes are compared to? With the PGA it is pretty straight forward, but for a muni monster such as myself, how do I quantify my strokes gained on a particular round or rounds?

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      3 years ago

      James – Good question. For platforms like Shot Scope, your benchmarks are other players that also use that system. And because it’s a feature of those systems, (unless you’re a PGA TOUR pro) you need to use one of those platforms to gain access to this info. If you have other questions, please reach out!

      Reply

      James

      3 years ago

      Okay I see now. That is interesting. I mean, I know that if I can putt better and fix my banana drives, along with tightening up my long irons and short game, that I will see some improvement, but maybe seeing how many strokes lost in each of my four weaknesses will help me hone in on areas of improvement. I do agree with John Smith that defining benchmarks for double digit handicaps would be highly subjective.

      Sydney

      3 years ago

      Hi Chris, great article. May I ask how does MGS calculate strokes gained for the Most Wanted iron tests?

      Reply

      Sydney

      3 years ago

      Great article Chris. May I ask how does MGS calculate strokes gained for the Most Wanted iron tests?

      Reply

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    Tyrrell Hatton Tyrrell Hatton
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