A phrase used regularly in the world of golf, we explain what Strokes Gained actually means in this piece.


What Is Strokes Gained?

Strokes Gained is a term that has had growing influence across the world of golf in the past few years to the point where it has been used as a definitive marker as to where a player sits in terms of their game, the tournament they are playing in and their overall form. But what exactly does Strokes Gained mean? Below we have taken a look that, as well as where it all began, and attempted to explain it in the simplest way possible.

What Is Strokes Gained?

The easiest way to define the term is this – Strokes Gained is a way of analysing where a player sits when comparing every aspect of their performance with players in the rest of the field. This can be in a multitude of ways (off-the-tee, approach, tee-to-green, putting, total etc.)

The PGA Tour website acknowledges that; Strokes gained is a better method for measuring performance because it compares a player’s performance to the rest of the field and because it can isolate individual aspects of the game. 

For decades the game of golf had no idea about any of this and according to the PGA Tour website it wasn’t until 2007 that all these statistics became available through ShotLink. Developed by Professor Mark Broadie at Colombia University, the whole philosophy of ‘Strokes Gained’ came about because the data was made available to academic institutions from that year. Ever since, term has grown in importance.

Here is a brief explanation from Broadie himself: If a stroke starts on a tee where, according to historical data, the average score is four, and if it finishes at a position in the fairway where the average strokes to hole out is 2.8, then the tee shot has moved the ball 1.2 strokes closer to the hole with just one stroke. The single tee shot has gained 0.2 strokes compared to an average tee shot, so it has a “strokes gained” of 0.2. Strokes gained recognizes that sinking a 20-foot putt represents a better performance than sinking a three-foot putt, even though they both count as a single stroke on the scorecard. Strokes gained assigns a number to this intuition.

Complicated right? Well if truth be told there are only a few levels to the term that we can say are the most important, chief among which is Strokes Gained: Total. This is simply because it is a combination of all the other Strokes Gained statistics and gives a clear indication as to which players are the best in the game. For example during the 2019 season Rory McIlroy was the player at the top of that leaderboard. Then you have Dustin Johnson (2018), Jordan Spieth (2017), Jason Day (2016), and of course Tiger Woods utterly dominated the statistic over many seasons.

Tiger gained a ridiculous 3 strokes on the field during the 2007 PGA Tour season (Getty Images)

As mentioned above though there are several other sections which we have defined below;

Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee

On all par 4s and par 5s this measures a players performance off the tee.

Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green

This stat measures all the shots taken by a player from the tee box to the green.

Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green

This measures a players performance on approach shots. Approach shots are defined as shots not form the tee on par-4 and par-5 holes that are not part of the around the green and putting statistics. This also includes tee shots on par-3s.

Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green

Measures player performance on any shot within 30 yards of the edge of the green. However this does not include shots taken on the green.

Strokes Gained: Putting

This measures how many strokes a player gains (or loses) on the green.

With all this information it is easy to get lost in the data and statistics but what is clear is that the information is changing how the players prepare too. In the past Rory McIlroy has spoken about certain Strokes Gained statistics and how he recognised where he needed to improve as a result.

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