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, 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.

To get a better grasp of the term, we spoke with Sal Syed, CEO and Co-Founder of Arccos Golf, a company which integrates automatic shot tracking with Artificial Intelligence to deliver insights that help players maximise their potential.

Q. So in the simplest way possible, from an Arccos perspective can you explain what Strokes Gained is please?

S: Sure. Without getting into the technical details I would say it is the right way to analyse your game. So let’s say you are shooting 85 and want to shoot 80. The difference of five strokes from where you are to the average 80 is distributed over various aspects of your game and what Strokes Gaines is able to do is tell you where you are losing the most strokes whether that be putting or whatever.

So in the simplest form, Strokes Gaines is doing the correct analysis on your game to help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses are. Traditional stats in golf can be misleading. so for example they used to look at fairways hit as a good metric for how good a driver of the ball you are, but you could be driving it 150 yards and hitting every fairway, and you know that’s not good.

Number of putts is another. You may be two-putting from five-feet, or two-putting from 50 feet, one you are annoyed about, the other you are happy about. So Strokes Gained doesn’t look at number of putts, it takes into account how far away did you two-putt from, so it is doing the right analysis for you to understand and breakdown your game.

Let me give you a simple example on an eight foot putt. The average PGA Tour pro makes 50% of their putts from eight feet. So then their expected number of putts from eight feet is 1.5 putts. And so if you make one putt you gain o.5 strokes but if you miss it you lost that half a stroke. So for each shot we are assessing how many strokes you are gaining or losing versus the benchmark.

And we at Arccos are able to quantify, aggregate and present that information in a very easy to understand way because in the end it just comes down down to how many strokes did you lose in an aspect of the game.

Q. So what are some of the aspect that are more important, or what does Strokes Gained tell us about some misconceptions about the game?

S: Probably the number one misconception is that old saying ‘driving for show, putt for dough’. Driving is really important.

If you are a good driver of the golf ball it positions you well and you gain a lot of strokes, and the golf world is certainly realising that. But at the same time, the accuracy is important because if you hit a bad drive and hit a recovery shot, you are losing strokes there because of your drive. If you are punching back out, that’s half a shot penalty. So it is not all about distance.

As I mentioned earlier the number of putts is a misconception because it makes people think there putting may need work whereas actually it is approach game or around the green aspects that need practice. Really, the number of putts doesn’t tell you literally anything.

Q. So how does Strokes Gained account for different courses, because some are obviously harder than others?

S: Well for Arccos, it has so many rounds of shots taken that our algorithms are targeted and take difficulty into account. We also account for different flag positions because holes can play drastically differently dependent on the flag so it is all in the data. So when we develop our Strokes Gained models, we take that into account. We currently don’t take weather into account we are continually refining these algorithms.

But ideally in the future for Arccos, I want to take things like rough height, green speeds, weather conditions, wind, wind direction too because those things do have an impact.

Q. Looking to amateur golf, because Arccos has access to so much data, what would you say is the most common area where people lose strokes? 

S: So the reality is everybody is different. Arccos breaks it down into driving, approach, short game and putting, and I would honestly say it is evenly spread.

The other thing that is interesting is your golf game is not static. You are getting older, you are experimenting, you may have lessons and so on. So your game is constantly fluctuating and that is true for PGA Tour players as well as beginners.

Q. Also when it comes to analysing Strokes Gained, because it can quite complicated, what tips do you have for people to actually understand that data and implement into their game?

S: Sure well it is very simple to implement because with Arccos, when players look at their last five rounds and see where the weaknesses are, that gives players the ability to go and work on something, to put extra effort into that facet.

And we have seen that when people understand weaknesses, they improve at that aspect the fastest because they put more practice in. What we are able to point out are the three things that require your attention and work on them.

And even when you take lessons, share that with your instructor so they have a clearer idea of how you play on the course.

The Arccos app gives a lot of insight into your game

Q. That’s interesting as my last question is how can Arccos make things easier for coaching but also maybe a buying decision?

S: Yeah there is no doubt. In my case if I am trying two putters and which one is better, I have three rounds with one and three with the other and that provides a lot of data to show which I perform better with. I do the same with the golf balls I play.

So I think in the future, when it comes to a lesson, or a purchase you are making, it has to be tied to ‘is this helping me play better golf? is this helping me improve?’

And I think this is how golfing decisions will be made in the future, and that’s how decisions are made on the PGA Tour right now. But amateur golfers don’t have access to that information unless they have Arccos.

Some Key Strokes Gained terms

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.