What does Strokes Gained Mean? This Golf Term Explained…

Golf, like many other sports, has its own terminology or “jargon” and understanding this “golf speak” will go a long way to assist non-golfers or newbies to the game to understand what is being said. Understanding the jargon forms part of the game.

The PGA Tour refers to various statistics throughout a tournament, and throughout a season. Driving stats, up and down stats from off the green, strokes saved from bunkers, and putting stats are just a few of these.

Strokes Gained (old version)

One of the most used on the Tour is Strokes Gained. In the past, it was a simple calculation and definition, but times change and a Columbian Business Professor Mark Broadie came up with a new way to analyze each shot during a round. Previously it was defined as a player’s score on the day, compared to the average score of all participants.

An example: A player shoots 65 in the first round of the tournament, and the average score for the entire field is 69. The player gains 4 strokes on the field. It means nothing in terms of the tournament outcome, which will be decided on the best gross score after 72 holes. It is merely a statistic, which golfers and administrators like to record.

Strokes Gained (new version)

Rather than comparing the total shots per round against the rest of the field, the new approach breaks it all down to each shot. It is a revolutionary approach to game analysis, based on every shot played during the round. It is a statistic that measures the performance of each shot set against a benchmark. The objective is not to judge how good or bad a shot is, but rather to judge how good or bad it is against the benchmark.

Should strokes gained be positive or negative?

It must be understood that strokes gained has a positive or negative value. A positive value is recorded when the shot beats or betters the benchmark. Conversely, if the shot is worse than the benchmark, negative strokes gained are achieved.

Do different Shots have different values for players?

The handicap system allows all golfers, irrespective of their skill level to compete against one another. But…A high handicap golfer will be pleased with a straight tee shot of over 210 meters and would be a positive for strokes gained. The same scenario, however, would be negative strokes gained for a scratch golfer who normally launches the ball 230 meters plus.

How to Apply Strokes Gained?

Strokes gained can be applied to every facet of golf from putting, approach shots, sand saves, and of course, driving. It requires setting a benchmark for each part of the game. The professionals have one another to gauge their strokes gained against and each tournament will produce newly updated data.

For the rank amateur, it need not be against other players, but rather against individual targets. Keeping a record of these will ultimately guide the player to improve his all-around game.

What are the Benefits?

Breaking down the 18-hole round to every individual shot will allow the golfer to determine areas of strength and weakness. The results give the golfer actual statistics of where he needs to improve and spend time on the range or on the putting green.

The short game is the easiest way to lower scores and the handicap, but putting supersedes this.

Does the PGA Tour rate the system?

The PGA Tour website is in favor of the strokes gained system as it believes it to be a sounder method of performance measurement. It not only produces comparisons to the tournament field but highlights personal aspects of the game.

How to define areas of strokes gained?

Every department of the game can be applied to strokes gained. Tee to green, approach shots from 50 meters, sand saves, and most importantly, putting. A simple example for putting: start with allowing 2 x putts per hole for 18-holes. With every 1 putt green, you record positive strokes gained of  +1, and with every 3 putt, you record negative strokes gained of -1. As you improve reduce the target total number of putts allowed to 30. Use a similar formula for the other areas.

Another Example: Strokes gained off the tee refers to the exact meaning. It measures a player’s performance relative to the field on the day and includes short holes. For us amateurs, recording strokes gained or lost on short hole tee shots relative to hitting the green, will in most cases highlight an area requiring attention. ie improve mid-iron accuracy.

Are there Performance Tracking Devices and Apps available?

These platforms are readily available from various suppliers as downloads to smartphones and can be used to keep track of every round’s performance. Shotscope watches and Arccos are just two such suppliers.

Final Thoughts

Professor Mark Broadie developed the strokes gained formula and it is well accepted and used within the professional ranks on the PGA Tour. The “old” version referred to in the article is still used on the Tour. As stated earlier in this article, managing your own personal statistics can be fun and rewarding at the same time.  Create your own targets and measure each facet of your game. If reviewed and used correctly, your weaknesses and strengths will be highlighted. Work on these on the practice tee, and the results will be amazing.

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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