The adage “You can’t improve what you don’t measure” is attributed to the top management consultant and author, Peter Drucker. All successful businesses measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in order to identify actionable measures to improve their performance. Similarly, competitive junior golfers should be tracking golf stats (their personal KPIs) in order to identify areas for improvement and also to identify strong points (e.g. if they are better from 100 yards than 60 yards then laying up to 100 yards in a better option).
This article explores the world of golf stats from the most basic (e.g. GIR) to the most advanced (Strokes Gained).
Golf Stats Basics
At a minimum juniors should be tracking basic or traditional golf stats such as fairways hit, greens in regulation (GIR), number of putts, and number of feet of putts made in a round. Sand saves and up-and-down outcomes are also good to track. The traditional way of doing so has been to simply mark these on your scorecard such as in the example below. Alternatively you can find pre-printed cards or books for such as the G Stats Pads, with replacement pads for less than $7 a pad.
The next level of stats that juniors should track are all "unforced" errors since these typically are the single biggest negative impact on a golfer's score. Major errors naturally do occur - even for Tour players. However, where the same unforced errors recur frequently they need to be addressed through focused practice and possibly work with an instructor. Typical unforced errors include:
- Tee shots that result in a penalty, no-shot or recovery shot (e.g. having to chip back out onto the fairway), and out of bounds (OB).
- Missing the green with a wedge in hand (e.g. pitches, chips, and green side bunkers). The goal is "no bogies with a wedge in hand".
- Three puts from within a reasonable distance (this depends on the junior's skills level and could be anywhere from 15 to 30 feet).
In general, juniors competing in high level tournaments need to limit these to a minimum if they want to be competitive.
It is important to tracking major errors over multiple rounds to provide insight into trends - i.e. which ones are improving or getting worse. This is especially important for juniors as they progress to longer and more difficult courses. For example, at age 8 juniors typically play par 4's from less than 200 yards. It is relatively easy to hit the fairway from this starting point. As they progress, however, the courses start getting much longer (up to 7,000 yards by age 15). A slight wayward shot shot with an 80 mph swing will likely still find the fairway whereas with a 110 mph swing the same miss could result in a "major error".
However, the basic golf stats above often do not tell the real story. For example, a missed fairway may not actually be a bad shot if missed in the right spot. E.g. the left rough on a dogleg right might be the best location to have a shot into the green - or a long drive into a greenside bunker on a par 4 might be a missed fairway but still a great spot to be in - or a green in regulation with a wedge in hand might not be a good shot if it leaves a 60 foot putt. To get a true assessment of shots, strokes gained is a critical measure..
Why Strokes Gained is Important
With the advent of strokes gained, we are able to analyze every shot played to determine it's real impact on scoring and thus areas to work on. For example, using the Golf Metrics app (see more below), one of our juniors was able to clearly see that his stats were generally in line with Tour players for most categories except putting where he was "losing" an average of 6 strokes per round. This enabled him to really focus on green reading and putting skills. It also became clearly evident that he was excellent from 120 yards but not nearly as good from 60 yards in. Again, an opportunity to focus on wedge distance control on less than full shots.
What is Strokes Gained? Introduced by Mark Broadie, Columbia University business professor, the strokes gained approach has been widely adopted by the PGA Tour and is based on the "Every Shot Counts" book by Mr. Broadie. At it's basis, strokes gained measures the outcome of any shot compared to PGA Tour averages for the same shot from the same location and distance.
The calculation is based on mountains of data gleaned from ShotLink and takes into account the length and location of each shot and putt. For example, a drive of 200 yards into the rough might result in -0.75 strokes lost, whereas making a 15 foot putt might result in 0.5 strokes gained compared with the average result from that distance on Tour. A positive number means the stroke was better than the benchmark, and a negative value means the stroke was worse than the benchmark.
Even though strokes gained is based on Tour data, amateurs and juniors can still use the data to get feedback on where they are gaining or losing strokes.
There are a number of golf apps and websites that an be used to track advanced stats including strokes gained type data. The data from these tools is excellent but does come at a cost, both in terms of having to buy or pay a monthly fee for the app and also in terms of the time an effort in entering the data. At the end of the day, golf stats are only as good as the quality of the data entered.
So how easy is it to enter stats while playing? Depending on the app it can be super simple or really tricky and time consuming. Ideally a junior will have a parent or coach either playing with them or watching the round, who can enter stats for them as each stroke is completed. Alternatively, juniors can make simple notes about each shot on their scorecard and input data into the app after the round.
One benefit of a junior entering the data themselves is that it forces juniors to assess their round after the fact and often will result in a realization about patterns of shots and mental mistakes - e.g. why did I aim at that pin where a small miss is a tough up and down or a penalty - or why did I hit driver off the tee on the short par 4 with a narrow fairway and OB through the fairway, I now realize that all my putts are missing on the low side or short etc.
Golf Stats Apps
While the old fashion paper and pencil stats are a great first step and give you an indication of weak areas, tendencies (e.g. missed fairways, number of putts, number of penalty shots) etc., there are also many golf apps that provide a wide range of additional stats and can easily track progress over time. These apps track both basic stats (e.g. GIR, number of fairways hit, number of putts per round) to advanced strokes gained data for every shot hit during a round.
Having tried a number of golf stat apps, these are some of our favorites:
Golfmetrics was developed to provide the same valuable "strokes gained" information that tour players use, to the general public and is based on the stats and analytics developed by Mark Broadie. The app also provides traditional stats such as GIR, number of putts etc. See below for a detailed review and screen shots of the Golfmetrics app.
- Price: 1 month: $9.99; 6 months: $39.99; 12 months: $69.99. Has a free one-week trial option to see if you like the platform.
- Pros: Easy to use (either while playing by junior or a parent - or fill in the data after the round), Provides great stats, One push pdf report that can be emailed to coaches or parents. In September 2020 they also introduced a mental game scorecard which is a great addition to the stats.
- Cons: Relatively expensive, lacks some in-depth stats such as club history, location of misses (e.g. right/left, putts below the hole or above, short or long etc.)
Golfmetrics Analysis - Sample Screen Shots (click on image for full size)
The Anova golf platform is used extensively by players (including top level tour pros), coaches, teams and academies. Once again, strokes gained is the key driver behind stats generated from this platform. Anova is incredibly detailed and uses over 700 statistical variables to track your golf game.
- Price: Ranges from $13/month (Starter level with limited stats) to "Tour Pro" at $24/month. Has a free two week trial option to see if you like the platform.
- Pros: Very detailed stats, good platform for coaches and teams, data entry is relatively intuitive.
- Cons: Relatively expensive, to get world class stats you have to enter a lot of data (for example, if you want to know stats on putts like miss low/high, long/short, downhill vs uphill putts, breaking vs straight putts etc., you need to enter all that data in for each shot). This takes time and can be difficult to do while trying focus on playing and even more difficult to remember all the details after the round.
Anova.golf Analysis - Sample Screen Shots
Developed by TaylorMade, MyRoundPro (app is called "MyTaylorMadeOnCourse") also uses strokes gained as a basis for round by round stats. Shot data is either entered into the app on your phone or the app can interface with Apple Watch, Android and Samsung's Smartwatches and Smart Fitness Bands. The data is entered into a visual overview of the hole by selecting your club and "adding a shot", then dragging the location of the shot to the correct position on the map.
- Price: Free
- Pros: If you're looking for a free app that provides excellent strokes gained and "regular" stats, look no further. The graphical output is very well presented and intuitive to interpret. We like that you can also get stats by club and also location of misses - e.g. driver distance and misses left or right.
- Cons: The data entry takes a little getting used to and can be tricky to get right.
MyRoundPro Analysis - Sample Screen Shots
Other Golf Stats Apps
There are many other golf stats apps, some of which have great user reviews. Most of these have a free version with a pay option for premium subscription and analysis. These include:
- Golf Stats Coach. golfstatscoach.com
- 18 Birdies App. Lots of amateur recommendations
- The Grint. Lots of recommendations from users.
- GRGS - Get Real Golf Stats
- Golf Shot. Lots of recommendations from users.
Let us know your favorite in the comments section below!
Strokes Gained Putting Stats
We also found this pretty cool putting stats tool that juniors and parents might like to try out: Online Strokes Gained Putting input form.