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.