Bringing Strokes Gained statistics to all golfers.

PGA Tour Strokes Gained Benchmarks: Where do they come from, and are they useful to all of us non-PGA Tour golfers?

All strokes gained golf stats start with detailed baselines or “benchmarks”.  These benchmarks represent strokes-to-hole values for every distance-to-hole and lie type possible.  Lie types include tee, fairway, rough, sand, green, and recovery.  Benchmark numbers are usually expressed to a hundredth of a stroke.  On the green, distance-to-hole is expressed in feet, and off the green all distances are expressed in yards.  These benchmarks provide the essential foundation upon which all strokes gained stats are derived.

Benchmark values are determined using an extremely reliable process.  Vital to the process is the establishment of a consistently performing group of golfers in consistent conditions.  While alternative groups could potentially be used, strokes gained stats are currently based upon the performance of PGA Tour pros in PGA Tour events.  There are a great many advantages to using this well-known group of golfers to determine strokes gained benchmarks:

  • ample resources are available to ensure that the data collection is consistent and accurate
  • course conditions are generally consistent over the course of a season
  • golfers are of relatively equal ability and remain that way over time
  • golfers perform relatively consistently over time
  • strokes-to-hole values are at their highest possible level, neatly establishing “top-end” benchmarks that are the highest of any group of golfers in the world
  • over time, millions of shots can be utilized

Fortunately, the PGA Tour sensed the potential of collecting extensive data for tournaments back in 2003, and we are still reaping the benefits of their foresight.  While they did not predict the development of strokes gained methodology, they understood the value of extensive, detailed golf shot data enough to commit extensive resources to the project.  Around 2003, the Tour developed and implemented the Shotlink data collection system, which employs hundreds of volunteers and employees at each event to collect detailed data for every shot taken.  Shotlink has proven to be spectacularly successful, providing the foundation for all kinds of new statistics, information, and analysis.

The development of strokes gained golf stats may prove to be the most important result of Shotlink.  Interestingly, there are really only a few pieces of data that make the whole spectacular machine run: golfer identification for each shot, distance-to hole before and after every shot, and lie type before and after every shot.  It is this simple data, for every shot taken since 2003, that forms the basis of strokes gained stats.

The strokes-to-hole benchmarks are determined by examining results of literally millions of shots.  So when the benchmark tables show that the PGA Tour average strokes-to-hole from 37 feet on the green is 2.03 strokes, or that a shot from the fairway 140 yards from the hole averages 2.92 strokes, it is not mere conjecture.  The value is determined by taking into account literally tens of thousands of shots from that distance range.  In fact, statisticians found that all new data coming in strongly reinforced the value they already had established for each distance and lie type.  In other words, all the new data constantly pouring in from the tour only serves to support the already existing benchmarks.

The potential of strokes gained methodology to completely change the way golf is played and analyzed on the PGA Tour is nearly limitless, and serves as a great, extensive topic to be explored in a later blog post.

However, what I’d like to explore here is what this all means for you and your golf game.  How does having these extremely accurate benchmarks and this extremely elegant strokes gained methodology impact your typical scratch golfer, 80 golfer, 90 golfer, etc?  How can the strokes-to-hole figures for the best golfers in the world affect how I play and critique my own golf game in my own little corner of the world?

In short, strokes gained stats to measure performance of non-PGA Tour golfers is exceptionally valuable.  Having PGA Tour strokes-to-hole values is valuable because it is all relative.  For the majority of golfers, “par” is a goal for a round that they are unlikely to achieve.  However, we still use “par” as a baseline or benchmark to compare our score to.  In much the same way, golfers are able to compare the quality of each shot to the PGA Tour benchmark value for that shot.  Over time, most golfers will likely not be able to approach the benchmarks in any category.  That is not the point.  The point is to know where you stand relative to the benchmark.  The beauty of the benchmark is that it represents a stable, consistent point to compare your own golf game with.  Just as most golfers do not expect to shoot par for a round, they should not expect to achieve an average in any category that equals the PGA Tour benchmarks.

The result is that we are essentially able to create new benchmarks, relative to the PGA Tour benchmark.  For example, after keeping stats for an entire year, your strokes gained putting may show that you lose 2.32 strokes to the benchmark.  Furthermore, your tee shots on par 4s and 5s may show a -5.63 value by years end.  You have now established your own “benchmark”: during the next year you now know at the end of each round whether your putting and tee shots are better or worse than your own average.  In other words, while the value for putting is stated as -2.32, and the tee value is stated as -5.63, there is nothing negative about the values.  These values now represent your own personal benchmarks.  If you turn in a new round with a strokes gained putting value of -1.25 and a tee value of -3.53, you know you have improved upon your average.

Just remember, all the values are relative.  You will be surprised, however, by how many of your own individual shots will surpass the PGA Tour average!  Most likely you will have several shots during a round that will “beat the pro”, resulting in positive strokes gained values for the shot and a real thrill!  This is really a whole unique benefit of strokes gained analysis: each shot takes on its own value, and this is almost always a good thing.  All of a sudden there is a new game within the game.  That’s a subject for another blog post in its own right.  You may even have entire rounds where you beat the PGA Tour average in some category.  Over time the edge may be lost, but it is very gratifying to know that on that day, in that aspect of the game, you played at a pro level!

Of course, this concept of “relativity” can be greatly expanded.  Not only can you establish benchmarks for your own game in any category, but you can compare yourself to any other golfer or group of golfers that are keeping strokes gained stats.  You will be able to compare yourself to a scratch golfer, a 5 handicapper, a ten handicapper, a 20 handicapper.  In any category, for individual shots, individual rounds, or over time.  This site will very soon have the ability to establish accurate benchmarks for any handicap level.  You can compare various aspects of your game to friends across the country.  Eventually, you may be able to compete with golfers in other locations.  Furthermore, you can compare yourself to any individual pro.  How does your putting stack up to Steve Stricker or Tiger Woods?  All of this is possible and not at all difficult with strokes gained statistics.

Just remember: all strokes gained values are relative.  The PGA benchmarks are the top of the top: the ultimate goal we can all aspire to.  But strokes gained stats will allow you to compare yourself to anyone- including yourself.




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