Strokes Gained: The Statistic That Could Help Change Your Game

By Steve Zahn
February 10, 2015


Imagine for a moment that you are the world’s Golf Dictator! Yours is the last word in golf and is played according to your wishes. However, you are a benevolent ruler and your subject’s love you.

Then, one day, you decide that all golf statistics are now illegal except for Strokes Gained. Strokes Gained?! Your loving subjects rebel! Has he gone mad? Nope! Not only are your benevolent, you are wise, for Strokes Gained might be the best way to understand performance and improve skill the game has ever known.

Blow up hole

In this article, I will explain Strokes Gained and the benefits it offers over traditional golf statistics. The majority of this material comes from the book Every Shot Counts by Mark Brodie.

Although it sounds obscure, Strokes Gained (SG) is actually a very easy concept.

Strokes Gained measures the progress to the hole in terms of the average number of strokes to hole out. It’s a simple calculation – just subtraction. And it is independent of your club selection.


Let’s imagine your ball is in the fairway where, according to historical data (based on both actual measurements and computer simulations), the average number of strokes to hole out is 3.5. You hit that shot and the ball ends up in a spot where now the historical average to hole out is 2.7 strokes. That shot would earn you a Strokes Gained of -0.2.

In other words, you used 1 stroke to advance the ball 0.8 strokes closer to the hole! The actual math is this: 3.5 – 2.7 – 1 = -0.2. Over time you will accumulate Strokes Gained values for a variety of shots.

Imagine your accumulated Tee Shot Strokes Gained is -0.5. That would mean, against your comparison group, you are losing 0.5 strokes for every tee shot on average. Driving the ball might be something to practice.

 Why might Strokes Gained be a better statistic?

1. Strokes Gained captures the quality of every shot

Traditional statistics lose information.

Take putts per round. If it is low (I’d be happy with an average less than 30!) is it because you are excellent around the greens and get the ball close all the time or that you can putt lights out from anywhere on the green?

Strokes Gained on the other hand, captures your pure putting skill independent of your approach accuracy. If your “Over 15 feet” SG is 1.2, then your long distance putting rocks regardless of the reason for the long putt.

2. Strokes Gained measures every shot using a common unit

Consider your average drive distance vs GIR.

How do you compare the effects each has on your game? It’s hard because they are not similarly measured. But when drives and approach shots are expressed in strokes gained, you can directly compare how they help or hinder your scoring.

Recall your -0.5 tee shots SG. If your corresponding “Approach from 125 to 175 Yards” SG is 1.2 then your GIR is probably making up for some short or wayward drives.

3. Strokes Gained overcomes the inherent non-linearity in golf

What?! Trust me, you know all about non-linearity!

Compare yards per drive vs accuracy (in yards) on approach shots. Two yards closer on a drive means a whole lot less than two yards closer to the hole. You can’t compare these two shots in yards however, because of this non-linearity. Averages are also flawed in non-linear systems.

Take FIR for example. Your average FIR might be 8 of 14, but, of those misses, how many are close to the fairway vs OB? It makes a big difference and strokes gained accounts for all of your tee shots when calculating your skill.

You could easily imagine two people with equal FIR average, yet one is gaining considerable strokes with his drives because his misses are slight.

Have I convinced you about the merits of Strokes Gained? Have I at least convinced to learn more about it? If so pick up a copy Every Shot Counts by Mark Broadie. It’s a little heavy reading, but  Broadie makes the topic very interesting. And he offers some excellent drills to focus on problem areas based on SG.

And once your subjects read this book they will love you again!

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