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Strokes Gained Stats and the PGA Tour: What’s Taking So Long?

For those of us who understand the superiority of strokes gained stats over traditional golf statistics, it is very painful to watch the PGA Tour slog along in developing and adopting them.  If you have ever dared to venture onto the PGA Tour’s website to see their stats section, then you know it is a vast and confusing world, so filled with worthless numbers that finding the few valuable stats hiding in the wasteland is like finding a needle in a haystack. It is not hard to understand why most golfers’ eyes glaze over when you start to talk about golf statistics: golfers have learned to mistrust stats and numbers as reliable measurement tools.  I can hardly blame them: essentially every traditional stat does a very poor job of measuring player performance, quantifying player skill, and predicting future results.  People’s instincts are right: the traditional stats just don’t tell us very much.

There is plenty of published material out there that describes in crystal clear fashion why traditional golf statistics fail, and why strokes gained statistics are revolutionary in every way.  There are great articles in major publications, and now we have Mark Broadie’s book “Every Shot Counts”, which is packed with great information and offers plenty of convincing arguments about the value of strokes gained stats.  Finally, we have a way to measure golfers and golf performance very accurately and present those measurements in simple, elegant fashion.  If you understand how strokes gained stats work, then you understand that we no longer need most other golf stats: there is a whole world of valuable strokes gained stats that easily overwhelm the old methods and make them obsolete.  But old habits die hard, and to understand that you need look no further than the PGA Tour itself.

The PGA Tour has every tool and piece of data at their disposal.  They have access to the brightest minds in the development of strokes gained methodology, including Mark Broadie, who not only was the main guy responsible for advancing the methods, but is also on the forefront of the effort to push the stats even further.  The Tour has access to an unbelievable and vast array of data going back to 2004 thanks to Shotlink, which they developed!  So it is certainly fair to ask the question: what is taking so long?

To answer that question, we should first observe where PGA Tour strokes gained statistics stand right now, and then address what we are missing.

Currently, the PGA tour has 2 main strokes gained statistics: strokes gained putting and strokes gained tee to green.  I guess they also have total strokes gained, but that is not a particularly useful stat at that level since it closely mirrors scoring average.  Strokes gained putting is an extremely valuable stat, and there are plenty of people raving about it’s accuracy in measuring putting skill.  Tour players clearly see it’s accuracy and value, and they see that it backs up their instincts: the top putters on tour perpetually live at the top of the strokes gained standings, the worst putters sit at the bottom, and individual players certainly see that their own skill is properly measured, whether it be by the season or by the round.  I need not elaborate on the value of strokes gained putting: it gains more believers every day and is on its way to making stats like “total putts” completely irrelevant.

Strokes gained tee to green is a little less inspiring.  This stat is calculated by taking total strokes gained and subtracting out strokes gained putting.  It is a perfectly accurate measure of off-green skill.  The trouble with strokes gained tee to green is it doesn’t tell us very much about any particular golfing skill.  Lumping all non-putting golf skills into one stat just isn’t very informative for players or fans.  Strokes gained tee to green is by no means wrong or inaccurate, it is just a bit too general to be useful.

The generality of strokes gained tee to green can be better understood if we examine the things that strokes gained methodology could be telling us.  Strokes gained can be used to measure every shot on the PGA Tour, by every player, and to accurately value that shot in relation to the field, all the while presenting the value in terms of strokes, which is no doubt the simplest and best way to measure the game of golf.  Knowing how many strokes every shot gains you or loses you to the field, down to the hundredth of a stroke, is exceptionally useful.

There is plenty of value for everyone in knowing the precise value of every shot, but there is perhaps even greater value to be found when the shots are grouped together, over any defined period of time.  How the shots are grouped, and what we are able to measure over time, is literally limited only by the imagination.

For example, if we are interested in knowing how a player is performing off the tees on par 4 and par 5 holes, then we simply measure each of those 14 shots during a round.  This is the concept behind “strokes gained driving”.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much this stat blows all other driving stats out of the water.  I also can’t begin to tell you how simple this stat would be for the Tour to calculate and present RIGHT NOW.  It is beyond me why the Tour is not already calculating strokes gained driving.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.  ANY DISTANCE RANGE can easily be measured.  That would include, for example, 0-100 yards, putts inside 10 feet, 250 yards+, 0-10 yards, 100-200 yards.  Pick your range.  It can all be done.  Furthermore, any distance range can be combined with any lie type.  So we can know how a golfer plays from the rough from 100-200 yards.  From bunkers under 30 yards.  From the fairway 0-50 yards.  You get the idea.  To repeat, we can have ultra accurate strokes gained stats for any distance and lie type imaginable.

In addition, all of these stats can be tracked over time, so progression and regression can be followed with extreme accuracy.

Not only can shots be measured, but courses and course zones can be measured.  We can know that the rough at a given tournament is playing 2.435 strokes harder than average, or that the rough on the 17th hole is particularly brutal.  We can measure the difficulty of individual bunkers or all the bunkers as a whole.  Furthermore, we can know how difficult a particular shot is.

For television broadcasts, the potential is limitless.  Before every shot, we can know where a player would need to leave the ball to gain strokes on the field.  We can compare the value of similar shots by players to the thousandth of a stroke.  We could establish strokes gained target zones for each shot.  We can know exactly where the winner of a tournament is gaining strokes over the field or the player in second place.  We can judge each shot immediately for its quality in relation to the field.

Beyond all of these possibilities, television viewers could directly compare their own games with those of the pros.  For example, before a shot the screen could show where a scratch golfer would be expected to hit the ball, where a ten handicapper would end up, etc.  This ability to compare pros to amateurs is one of the hidden gems found within the world of strokes gained: golf is one of the few games where the viewing public consistently plays the same game as the pros.  Strokes gained can be used to tie the two groups together, showing just how good pros are and also giving viewers inspiration.  There is no doubt that such information would expand interest in the game of golf, which is what the entire industry is hoping for.

Strokes gained can easily be used to measure other factors as well: pressure, temperature, wind, elevation, time of day, club used: you name it.  Literally anything in the world of golf can be measured.

The Tour had all the tools available to them to make this all happen three years ago.  Right now, we are only as far as one good stat (strokes gained putting), and one so-so stat (strokes gained tee to green).  I’m not sure why they are so slow.  We can only hope that they pick up the pace in the future.

At Strokes Gained Golf, we are super excited about the possibilities strokes gained offers.  We are doing our best to do our part, quickly developing the ability for amateurs to utilize all the power of strokes gained stats for their own games.  We love it for our own games, and we know there are a lot of golfers out there who are going to love having it to measure their own games as well.

We could easily see a point in the near future when amateurs actually have better stats available for their own games than PGA Tour players have for theirs.  We know exactly where we are trying to get to, and we know golfers everywhere are soon going to be enjoying all the benefits strokes gained stats have to offer. For better or worse, that seems to be happening at a much faster pace here at Strokes Gained Golf than it is on the PGA Tour.

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