Track your stats like a pro to improve

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A club golfer who plays 38 rounds of golf in a year, registering an average score of 79, hits about 3,000 golf shots. That’s a truly valuable data sample, containing a wealth of useful information about how he plays the game. Hidden in there is the data that can tell him how destructive a driver he is, which iron is his weakest, how many shots the par 3s are costing him, and so much more. But of course, the sample is much too big for the brain to compute. If this golfer wants to truly understand his game, he needs to put a performance measurement system in place.

Measuring your performance is absolutely central to improving. If you can’t measure your game, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you won’t know where you are strong and where you are weak. And if you can’t target your work on your game, you’ll struggle to make progress.

Here, I will show you five simple ways to start building your own performance measurement system. There’s loads more you can do, but if you can start with these five you will gain some real insight to where your true strengths and weaknesses lie – and that’s the first step to improvement in 2017.

1 Focus on driving inaccuracy

Traditional driving stats, even on tour, measure only whether a fairway was hit or not. It is known as “Driving Accuracy”. The strongest drivers on Tour will find the fairway 70% or more of the time. The weakest will hit less than 50%. Paul McGinley and Tommy Fleetwood were just inside the top 100 of drivers on tour this year, both hitting 59.5% of fairways and therefore missing just over four out of 10 on average. But what is important here is to know where the missed 40% finished up. We can’t ignore this. It’s hugely valuable info, because an OB clearly can’t be given the same weight as a drive into the semi. If a fairway is missed, the only possible lies off a par 4 or 5 are; semi (first cut); bunker; rough; ‘position Z’ (a catch-all for middle of trees, a bush etc); hazard; adjoining fairway; OB. To truly understand the strength of your driving, focus only on missed fairways. Note how many found the first cut, and how many ended up in “worse-than-rough scenarios”. Keep track of these figures to understand whether your driving is improving... or getting worse.

2 The par-3 tee shot

There are seven distinct and separate shot types in golf, and the par-3 tee shot is one of them. There are usually only four of them in a round and on average they are 45 yards longer than the typical-length approach shot. So they present more danger to your overall score than any other full shot. Scoring data analysis informs us that par-3 average scores on tour (3.09 or 3.10) are usually the same or slightly more over par than par 4 scoring (4.09), par 5s always being sub-par, 4.77 on average. So make it a rule to keep stats on how many times you hit the green with your tee shot on par 3s. Get this figure down, and you’ve given yourself every chance of a better score. 

3 Measure approach shots in terms of clubs used

To measure and better understand your proficiency with your irons, keep a record of greens hit and missed by the club you used. This works better than through the distance brackets we see on Tour, as wind, slopes and many other factors can affect clubbing. A 200-yard shot down a strong wind may require the same club as the 100-yard approach into the same wind! By examining greens hit by clubs used, you can build up a clear picture of how strong you are with each iron. Not only does this reveal where you are stronger or weaker, helping you target your practice time; it can also reveal equipment issues. Lies and lofts can be easily altered throwing our clubs into the boot of the car. Data Analysis like this has even revealed a misaligned shaft spine in an 8-iron! 

4 Divorce chipping from putting in your short game stats

The traditional scramble or sand save stat combines two separate shot types – the “up” (chip, pitch, bunker shot) and the “down” (putt). As a result, it can give you a very misleading view of the strength of your short game. A poor chipper who is a great putter might end up with the same scrambling stats as another player who is a beautiful chipper but not very good with the flatstick. The only way to understand how good, bad or average we are at chipping, pitching, bunker shots, and putting from off the green, is to measure it separately and not combine it with the putt that followed it. So keep a record of how close you hit each shot from inside, say, 30 yards and use the results to form an average. Once you have this accurate measurement of your short game prowess, you can discover how good or bad you really are – and also whether you are improving. 

5 Measure putts taken from a given distance

Invented in 1968, the Putts Gained stat has enabled tour professionals to rate their putting performance against an average. As data has been collected over the years, we now know how many putts are taken from each distance on average. For example, on the PGA Tour, a pro takes an average of 1.5 putts from 8ft – in other words, he’s just as likely to hole it as miss it. From 32 feet, he is equally likely to single putt as three-putt as 2.000 is the average number of putts taken from that distance. By taking a measurement of how many putts you take from your first putt distance, you can begin to create your own averages of how successful you are from each range. By seeing how your figures compare to this PGA Tour average you can assess the distances where your putting is strong... and weak.