Category Archives: statistics

Goodbye to GIR

A lot of golfers keep statistics on their game. What they do with them I don’t know.

But one of them always seems to be greens in regulation — GIR. And why that is one of them, for a recreational golfer, makes no sense.

It means something to professionals, because a GIR is a birdie chance. A missed green means that the birdie comes from a chip-in, and those don’t happen all that often.

But for recreational golfers, who are trying to make pars, and for whom birdies of any kind don’t happen all that often, there is a better stat, which I will call, if it even needs a name, Strokes to the Green.

How many strokes does it take you to get the ball up to the green — on it or beside it. That, to my mind is the real measure of your long game — how many strokes did it take before your greenside short game or putting could take over.

As a rough guide, half your strokes come from getting up to the green. The other half come from getting the ball in to the hole.

If you want to break 90, start by getting the ball up to the green on 45 strokes or less. Include penalty strokes in that count, too. If you want to break 80, get that number down 40 or less.

If you can do those things, and you still aren’t shooting the scores you want, well, that means either your short game or your putting needs work. Short shots plus putts should equal two on any hole. Three is OK, but only a few. Down in four? Eeegh!

But the key to scoring at any level is getting the ball up to the green in the fewest number of strokes. Pick your favorite touring pro. Would you rather have her or him get the ball up to the green for you, where you take over the chipping and putting, or the other way around?

I guarantee that Door Number One will produce the lowest score.

Keeping Golf Stats

Golf statistics have gotten pretty complicated lately. These four, which you can easily keep as you go around the course, tell me what I want know over time about how well I’m hitting the ball.

1. Number of full shots.
2. Number of short shots.
3. Distance from the hole (in feet) once my ball gets on the green.
4. Number of putts.

If you want more detail, write down every stroke when you get home to find out exactly what went right and what went wrong.

The Only Golf Stats You Need

In the mid-1980s, Bill James elevated baseball statistics to unthought-of heights and called his work sabrmetrics. The “sabr” part is an homage to the Society for American Baseball Research, of which I was once a member.

Now, Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia University, is doing the same for golf, with his strokes gained concept. His work has great value for professional golfers, but the jury (of which I am the only member) is still out on its value for recreational golfers.

Here are the stats I think you need: just three numbers.

1. How many full swings did you make?

2. How many shots did you make from a distance that is less than a full swing with your pitching wedge, down to just off the green?

3. How many putts (shots where the ball lies on the green) did you make?

Throw in penalty strokes and hack-outs from big trouble, and you’ve got ’em all.

By the way, everybody thinks the 3rd one isn’t worth much, but for recreational golfers it’s critical.

One of my old blog posts tells you how to diagnose your game with just these three numbers.

I often play with three guys who don’t break 90, but who write down hieroglyphics on their scorecard after every hole. All they need for each hole is these three numbers.

That’s all you need, too.

Statistics for the recreational golfer

Traditional golf statistics, such as fairways hit, greens in regulation (GIR), and number of putts, only exist because they’re easy to collect. They don’t tell you what you need to know about the state of your game. These four stats do. Get a second scorecard and record them on that one, for each hole.

1. Distance to the hole, in yards (DTH). This is the vertical distance to the hole after the regulation number of strokes (par minus 2) have been taken.

DTH is measured from the ball to a line drawn through the hole at a right angle to the fairway leading up to it. If your ball is on this line or beyond it, put down a zero. You can have a positive DTH even if the ball is on the green. A good way to lower your score is to get the ball hole-high as soon as you can.

2. Number of short shots (SS). Any shot into the green that is less than a full swing goes here.

If you want to, you can write down the length of the shot (distance to the edge of the green along the line of the shot) to remind you what kind of shot it was. Clearly, you want only one SS per hole if that.

3. Length of your first putt, in feet (LFP). Circle it if you sink it. LFP is a way of evaluating your long game (if SS is zero) or your short game, if SS is 1.

4. Length of your second putt, in feet (LSP). Circle it if you sink it. An uncircled number indicates a three-putt green. LSP is a way of evaluating both your approach putting (value of LSP relative to value of LFP), and your short putting (by the value of the circled or uncircled LSP numbers).

5. Mental errors. These errors cost you extra strokes for no reason. Examples are not being confident while hitting the shot, quitting on the shot (common in the short game), thinking too much about results, and so forth. Mental errors are not random. If you keep track of them, you will find a pattern of them occurring with particular shots, or at similar points in the round. Knowing that, you can take the proper corrective action.

Put a check mark in one of the four boxes above to indicate a mental error on that shot. You’ll remember what it was.

If you’re a beginning golfer, keep track of these two numbers only: number of fairways hit, and number of three-putt greens. These entry-level indicators show you how well you’re doing at learning golf’s two fundamental skills, the swing and putting.


Practical Note-Taking For Golfers

I encourage you to make notes when you get home after a round of what shots worked and which didn’t, along with a suggested fix. This is how you learn to play the game, and get a book on your course.

I played nine holes two days ago on Tuesday, just chipping and putting, since it’s still far to soon for me to be swinging a club. I dropped a ball beside the green and played away. This is what I wrote down:

1. 56 from front center to pin in front middle. OK
2. Flop from left side to a tight pin too short. Work on this shot.
3. PW from the fringe beside the right side bunker to a back pin. OK
4. Bump off a left side bank with one more club than the distance would indicate.
5. 60 from the right side to a pin at bottom of slope. OK
6. 56 from left side to back pin. OK
7. Another flop too short from left side to front pin.
8. 8 from 6 yds in front to back pin OK
9. 52 from front hillside. OK

Now this might not mean much to you, and but that’s all right. They’re notes to myself which I can use next time, because I made diagram of each green in a flip notebook. All this information is now marked down on the digram of each green, along with notations made from previous rounds. When I play this course, I just have to consult my notebook and find out what to do. No guessing. Simple.


Evaluate Your Golf Shots

Some golfers like to keep statistics on their game. All golfers who want to improve, should. The usual stats are fairways hit, greens in regulation, up and downs, and number of putts. While these stats tell you what, they don’t tell you why. I would suggest you keep a different set of stats that are more to the point.

A valuable exercise that will tell you what you really need to know about your shot-making and mental game is to evaluate every shot after the round is over. When you get home, the round should be fresh enough in your mind that you can sit down for a half-hour and make a notation about every shot, except, say, the one-foot or under tap-ins.

This is a scheme I use.

1. Given my skills,
a. I got everything I could out of this shot.
b. My head was there, but my body didn’t perform.
c. I wasted a stroke because of a mental miscue.

2. Shot quality. If I hit every [whatever shot you’re evaluating] like this one, I would:
a. shoot par
b. shoot 80
c. shoot 90
d. shoot 100
e. take up tennis

3. For 2c, 2d, and 2e shots, was I:
a. trying too hard,
b. upset about something,
c. intimidated by the situation,
d. losing my focus temporarily,
e. trying something I had never practiced,
f. in a brand-new situation with no clue,
g. trying to get too much out of the situation,
h. playing a shot I don’t know how to hit,
i. not assessing the situation fully,
j. not aimed properly, or
k. just making a bad stroke.

Every shot gets a 1 and 2 score. The shots you aren’t satisfied with get a 3 score. While poor shot-making is sometimes related to the skills you have developed so far, much more often they are due to mental errors. Being able to fill out part 3 means you are paying attention to the way your mind operates when you play. I guarantee that you could take four shots off your game right now by playing smarter and keeping your head in the game.

Pay special attention to 3j. A teaching pro told me once that almost half the swing problems he fixes involve nothing more than correcting the student’s aim.


The New Golf Stats/The Secret to Golf

Do you think that fairways hit, greens in regulation (GIR), number of putts, etc, are important stats to keep? Many golfers do, and I hear teaching pros say their students should keep track of them. There has always been this gnawing feeling that they don’t really tell us what we want to know about why we shoot the scores we shoot, and the only reason we use them is that they’re easy to count.

Enter the statisticians, the real statisticians who work at the university level, and who use analytical procedures that would make your head spin. They’re going straight to the heart of golf, and their works is starting to emerge into the mainstream.

A few weeks ago, the PGA started posting a new putting statistic, Strokes Gained–Putting. This is the brainchild of Mark Broadie, of Columbia University. It compares the putting of a particular player with the putting of the field overall. It was mentioned during the Wells Fargo Championship on May 8, that eventual winner Lucas Glover had gained 8 strokes on the field on the greens, per this new stat.

You could say his putts per GIR were low, or his total putts were low, but SG-P tells you directly what the effect of his week with a hot putter was.

Broadie’s description of the new stat is posted here.

There are several other reports I would like to call your attention to. One by Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer concludes that the pros are more likely to leave birdie putts short than par putts of the same length, showing that they are loss averse, that is, the risk for them of making a bogey outweighs the gain of making a birdie.

Another study, also by Broadie, shows that where Tiger Woods has (or had) his advantage over the field is not on the green, but from the fairway. In 2003-10, Woods had a 3.20-stroke margin on the field, but 2.08 strokes of that came from his long game, mainly his iron play, and only 0.70 shots per round from his putting, and 0.42 shots from his short game. Read it here. Tiger himself has said that his irons are his offensive weapons.

Hopefully, these new stats and ways of analyzing golf will trickle down to recreational golfers. But even if they do, they will only tell us that our irons need work, not how to work on our irons.
This video, a mock infomercial, has been making the rounds lately. It’s John O’Hurley’s The Secret to Golf, and it’s pretty darn funny. When you watch it, pay attention to the guy in the bunker in the background.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

The Golf Statistics You Should Really Be Keeping

Lots of players like to keep track of their game as they play. They write down fairways hit, greens hit in regulation, up and downs, number of putts, and so on. Those statistics don’t really tell you what you need to do to improve, because they are effects, not causes.

Instead, keep track of which shots come off like you had intended, and the reasons why something else happened. Only then will you get the information you need to know about what is working and what is not.

I would suggest that after you get home you answer these two questions for every shot you hit. Be honest.

1. Shot quality. If I hit every shot like this one, I would:
a. shoot par
b. shoot 80
c. shoot 90
d. shoot 100
e. take up tennis

2. For d. and e. shots, was I:
a. trying too hard
b. thinking about technique
c. not sure the shot would come off
d. losing my focus temporarily
e. trying a shot I had never practiced
f. in a brand-new situation with no clue
g. trying to get too much out of the situation
h. not assessing the situation fully
i. just a bad stroke — they happen

Notice that most reasons you miss shots are mental mistakes. Sure, better technique cannot be denied. But it’s the mind that lets the skills you have come to the fore, no matter how good you are.


Many players write down not only their score on their scorecard, but notes on the quality and quantity of different shots. They might take note of whether their drive finished in the fairway or not. Whether they hit the green in the regulation number of strokes (GIR). How many putts, and so on, and adding on whatever level of detail they can make use of.

Here is a system to try. It’s easy to mark down, easy to read and interpret. For each hole, write down three numbers: the number of full swings (FS), short shots (SS), and putts (P). Make a note of penalty shots and recovery shots, but don’t put them in any of your counts.

The number of full swings on a hole should equal par minus two, though on par 5s, your third might be a pitch. Every time you miss a green there will be a short shot. For example, 202 is a green hit in regulation, but 211 means you missed the green and made par with an up and down.

There should be only one short shot per hole. Short shots plus putts should add up to two per hole. No fours! 211, good. 212 OK, 222 bad.

Three-putt greens (213) generally mean your approach putting is weak. One-putt greens are usually the back end of a short shot and show your short putting is strong (211 or even better, 201).

For the round, if full swings add up to 40 or less, or if short shots plus putts add up to the same, that’s pretty good. If either of these totals are 45 or more, get to work! Ideally, the short shot total would be zero, but less than nine is pretty fine. 32 putts is a good goal. 38 or more is telling.

By looking at the totals (FS, SS, SS+P, P) over time, trends might emerge. The number of full swings going down indicates improvement in their overall quality. Further improvement would be indicated by a lower number of short shots. A decrease in the number of putts could mean improved putting or improved short shots. Practice everything, but spend most of your time at the range on the number that isn’t going down.

After you get home, you can write down every shot and record the particulars according to this system. Keep it simple while you’re playing.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.