It’s true pro golfers are obsessed with taking and keeping track of every little stat that’s available to them, and let me tell you, they have access to stats the average golfer has never even heard of.
Pros track these stats because they give instant feedback on their strengths and weaknesses and help guide the coach into developing future practice sessions. Still, let’s be honest: pros have access to the world’s best technology and a team around them that can compile these stats.
On the other hand, we club golfers don’t have the luxury of being able to sit down with a coach and caddy after every round and evaluate the day’s play. On most occasions, we are left to ourselves, and when it comes to assessing our game, most of us amateurs are either too tough on ourselves or too lenient.
Moreover, the most important factor to consider is often overlooked, and club golfers are left missing the mark by a long way. So the question is not whether you should be tracking stats because you should be; the question is, “What stats should you be tracking?”
You can literally track any number of stats and performance metrics you want, but it’s crucial to keep in mind that the stats that are relevant to the PGA Tour pro are more than likely not going to be relevant to you. In reality, club golfers need to track what I refer to as “non-negotiable mistakes.”
These non-negotiables include the following 10 metrics
- Greens in regulation for par 3s
- 50-yard chip shot %
- 50-yard bunker shots %
- Three putts
- Distance off the tee
- Greens in regulation
- Distance chip shots finish from the pin
- Distance Bunker shots finish from the hole
- Putting % from certain distances
Stats do an excellent job of showing you exactly where your strengths and weaknesses lie. The best part about keeping stats is that the numbers don’t lie, so tracking your game is a must if you struggle with looking at your game honestly and subjectively.
As a professional coach who has coached players to more than ten international wins, I can tell you that stats can do wonders for your game; However, if you let stats “consume” your every waking hour, they can wreak havoc with your game too. I’ve seen players become so obsessed with the “stats” that it leads to the vaunted “paralysis by analysis.”
It’s essential to note that the first five strategies will help you identify the “big” non-negotiable mistakes. At the same time, the final five are designed to help you delve a little deeper into your game and provide a more detailed analysis; the data geeks will find these stats of great value.
Let’s get started on our journey to improving your score!
When it comes to driving stats, most golfers of all levels are familiar with the “fairways hit” metric, but most club-level golfers don’t understand that this stat is not as crucial as they’re led to believe. Basically, the fairways hit stat tracks any tee shot on all par 4s and 5s in which your tee shot lands in the fairway.
Note: this stat tracks any club you hit off the tee, not just the driver.
The major problem with this stat is that it doesn’t paint a fair picture or give the player an honest evaluation and metric of driving percentage, accuracy, and efficiency.
Let’s look at this simple example; Say you’re playing a 450-yard par 4, and you completely “flub” your tee shot, and it roles 90 yards down the middle of the fairway; that will count as a fairway hit, regardless of the fact you’ve still got 340 yards to play and basically no chance to make the green in regulation.
Now, on the other hand; let’s say on the same hole you “bomb” your tee shot 300 yards, and it lands in the light rough but leaves you with you a good look at the pin; this tee shot would count as a “missed fairway.” but be honest with yourself, which would you prefer? A 340-yard second shot out of the fairway or a clear look at the pin from light rough? I know which one I’d choose.
As a club golfer, you’re much better off tracking the driving mistakes that leave you no chance of making the green in regulation. Tracking these 3 driving stats should be your main priority:
- Any tee shot that ends up in a hazard.
- Any tee shot that goes “out-of-bounds.”
- Any tee shot that puts you into trouble
Obviously, the primary objective here is to start eliminating tee shots that can destroy the hole and your round.
I highly recommend tracking these stats for a minimum of 1 month on your home course. Playing a familiar course will give you a more accurate representation and evaluation of your golf game. After a month, you’ll start to see some patterns emerging, which you can then identify and, more importantly, begin to address.
2. Greens in Regulation for Par 3s
Now, I know for most club-level golfers that the long game is more important to scoring than your short game, might come as a shock, but your long game is far more critical for improving your score. While it is true the short game is important, it only rings true for the PGA Tour pros, not your average club golfer.
In most experts’ opinions and mine too, “greens in regulation” is the leading marker when it comes to determining a good round. To be honest, though, tracking greens in regulation for the club-level golfer can be futile, particularly if you’re not hitting many.
Hitting a “green in regulation” can simply be explained as:
- Hitting a par 3 green in 1
- Hitting a par 4 green in 2, and
- Hitting a par 5 green in 3
When you think that beginner and high handicappers hit less than nine greens per round, you might think, what’s the point of tracking greens in regulation? But what I’m talking about is tracking greens in regulation for par 3s. Tracking this metric provides a more accurate evaluation because, regardless of handicap, every player is hitting off a good lie.
Now, when you consider that most courses have at least four par 3s, after a month or so, you should start to get a decent idea of how many greens you’re actually hitting.
Jack Nicklaus is on record saying, ” I never practiced my short game; I felt like if I can hit 15 greens a round and hit a couple of par fives in two and make my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it?” Take a leaf out of Jack’s book and start to track how many greens in regulation you hit; this will improve your long game and your scoring average.
Take it a step further and make sure you write down which club you use on which hole; this allows you to identify clubs you’re hitting well and those you’re not. Doing it this way will help you pinpoint areas of your game you can look to address and rectify during your future practice sessions.
3. 50-yard Chip shots %
Getting the ball “up and down” refers to the player’s ability to get the ball in the hole from around the green in two shots; generally, one chip and one putt. The problem with this stat, especially for club-level golfers, is that it doesn’t accurately assess your short game.
Take this example; you hit your chip shot 40-feet past the hole and then get lucky sinking a 40-foot putt coming back; this counts as an up and down. Alternatively, you can “stiff” your chip to a foot and tap in for par; either way, both are counted as up-and-downs; but in reality, you’ve learned very little about the finer details of each chip and putt.
Because of this, it’s critical that when we track this putting stat, we do our best to separate chipping and bunker play to help further evaluate and identify areas of strength and weakness. As with the driving metric above, the primary objective here is to eliminate easy mistakes from our game.
Separating these up-and-downs stats is easy; what we’re going to focus on is tracking the number of greens you hit from 50-yards in. Now you might be thinking that sounds too easy but remember, the further away from the green you are, the more difficult the chip shot; this is why this stat works so well; it provides a balanced and fair evaluation.
Renowned golf guru Pete Sanders who has coached multiple major winners, said, “I realized years ago that the frequency and harshness of mistakes does a lot more to establish every player’s scoring level than all of the good shots hit. Additionally, the ability to recognize and limit these errors is the most efficient way to improve.”
The ultimate goal of any chip shot is to get the ball as close to the hole as possible to give yourself the best chance of making the putt and saving par, but even if you don’t get it close, just by hitting more greens from 50-yards in, you’re almost certainly going to see an improvement in your scoring average.
One great advantage of this metric is that it’s flexible. Once you improve your up-and-downs from 50-yards in, you can take it out to 100 and 150-yards. Most of the PGA Tour pros track this metric from 150-yards in; if you keep practicing and stick at it, maybe one day you can too.
4. 50-yard Bunker Shot Percentage
Playing out of a bunker not only requires an entirely different skillset from playing chips around the green, but it also requires its own metric to track our efficiency getting up and down out of bunkers.
Unlike chipping from around the greens, where you may use any number of different clubs to get the job done, chances are when you’re in the bunker; you’ll be reaching for your trusted sand wedge. So you’re asking, what’s the point of tracking up-and-downs separately from those around the greens? The answer is simple; lumping them all together provides no assessment of your bunker play.
On the PGA Tour, this stat is referred to as “sand saves,” which basically means the ability to get up-and-down out of bunkers; the sand save stat provides a much more accurate evaluation of your overall bunker play. It provides valuable feedback and can help direct where you plan on spending your practice time.
Sand saves is a stat that Rory McIlroy uses frequently; “I use them a lot. I got a stats report last week after the three weeks I’ve had at Torrey Pines, Riviera, and Mexico, and that’s what I base my practice on going into the next few weeks.
Now, when you think that the average golfer only gets up-and-down out of the bunker less than 10% of the time, you’re left asking why track this metric?; well, as with above, instead of tracking up-and-downs, you’re much better off tracking, “how many times your bunkers shots hit the green.”
Consider that PGA Tour professionals aim for a sand save percentage of roughly 60%; this shows you just how tough it is to save par out of a bunker; hence tracking greens hit, rather than whether you were able to save par or not.
5. Three Putts
Ok, to the last of our first five metrics to track, the dreaded “three-putt.” It doesn’t matter what level of golfer you are, a pro on tour or a high or low-handicapper; one thing is for sure; every golfer hates three-putting.
The three-putt is simply that; say you’re on a par 4 in two; then two solid putts should see you safely make par, while the dreaded three-putt leads to an unnecessary bogey.
Let’s expand on this so you, the reader, can understand how and why the three-putt stat can be informative and misleading.
- Player A hits every green in regulation and proceeds to take two putts on each hole; however, all of his “first” putts were from an average of 50 feet; he ends up with no birdies but a very impressive 36 putts for a great round of 72.
- Player B hits every green in regulation, and his average “first” putt is only 15 feet. He ends up with five birdies and a total of 31 putts for a super score of 67.
- Now ask yourself, who is the better putter? The reality is you could argue for both Player A and B; both players had no three-putts, and although Player B made five birdies, he was putting from much closer in.
- This means that evaluating a round of golf purely on how many putts you took provides far from an accurate measure.
As with all of the above strategies and metrics, we are focused on eliminating basic mistakes from our game, and you guessed it, three-putting is another one of those metrics.
Measuring your putting performance by how many three-putts you made is a much fairer and more accurate appraisal of just how well you putted. Good coaches know the quickest and most sure-fire way to lower your score, and thus your handicap is to start eliminating three-putts.
When you consider a handicapper of 20, three putts between 4-5 times each round, it’s easy to see where the shots are being wasted. Furthermore, the average golfer leaves their first putt nine feet from the hole; now, when you look at PGA tour stats, pros make less than 50% from this distance; so if the pros are only making half of them, what hope does the high-handicapper have?
This is where tracking three-putts comes into play, and practicing “mid-range putts” to help you eliminate the dreaded three-putt.
6. Distance off the Tee
To many in the game of golf, driving distance is the “be-all and end-all” of scoring measurements and determinants; to others, though the short game will always be the most critical part of the game; in reality, both trains of thought are correct, and as with most things in life, balance is everything.
In golf, if you can’t putt, then your score will be lousy, but if you can’t even tee off, then how do you play the game? You can’t; Tennis offers up a similar issue; you can have the best groundstrokes in the world, but if you can’t serve, then you can’t play. So, in my opinion, serving and teeing off are far more critical than putting and having great groundstrokes.
Statistics show that the long game makes up nearly two-thirds of the scoring difference when comparing high and low handicappers; the other third is down to the short game and putting. If high-handicappers can increase their driving distance by just 20-yards, the result is between a 4 and 6 shot scoring reduction, showing exactly why driving distance is critical for club golfers.
Even on the PGA Tour, increasing your driving distance by 20-yards is also worth one stroke each round. So it’s clear to see that regardless of your level of play, increasing your driving distance is a guaranteed way of lowering your score. Put simply, if golfers are not working on continually improving their driving distance as their game improves, their scores will “hit the wall” at some point in time.
So hit the gym, eat better, get a new driver and seek the advice of a coach; do whatever you can to start increasing your driving distance today.
7. Greens in Regulation
Earlier, we looked at the critical role greens in regulations play in acting as an indicator for a successful round of golf; now, nailing your approach shots is also a contributor to lower scoring when it comes to the long game.
Did you know that over 40% of the discrepancy between low and high handicappers is primarily due to the differences in skill levels when playing approach shots? It’s true even when comparing players of handicaps with 90 or 80 and 90 or 100.
The above statement alone should be enough to convince you that you should be doing everything in your power to improve and track your approach shots. Imagine lowering your score just by hitting more greens in regulation; well, it’s not a pipedream; it’s a proven strategy that coaches have been implementing into players’ games for years.
As with any metric, though, it’s not perfect; for example, a pitching wedge from 90-yards that sits on the edge of the green is still classified as a “green in regulation” even though it might be 50 feet from the pin. What about if you hit a 3-iron from 180-yards and, while it just missed the green, was only 10 feet from the hole? The 3-iron would clearly be the better shot.
And while it’s not perfect, tracking greens in regulation for amateur golfers can help them identify their strengths and weaknesses and, more specifically, the short irons they’re struggling with. Tracking which club you use is invaluable because it can help guide you as to where you should be allocating your practice time.
There’s also an added bonus here, too, because tracking your driving mistakes and your greens in regulation should give you a pretty good idea of whether your long game or short game is letting you down.
8. Distance Chip Shots Finish from the Pin
Earlier in this guide, we targeted eliminating the basic mistakes regarding chip shots, but now we can delve a little bit deeper and start to dissect the short game in more detail.
As any sports player progresses, their metrics to measure and evaluate their game are continually changing, and golfers are no different; the better the golfer’s short game becomes, the more critical it is to track distance from the pin. Why, you might be asking? Well, the closer you can hit your chips shots to the pin, the easier the putt.
The primary point to remember here is that we are focusing solely on the chipping and not putting. It’s important to note that club golfers can be influenced by watching pros like Tiger and Mickelson get up-and-down from seemingly impossible positions; this can lead amateur golfers to overestimate their abilities and lead to a bruised ego.
Club golfers have to remember that pro golfers regularly get up-and-down because they consistently land their chip shots within 3 to 5 feet of the pin, not to mention they’re exceptional putters. Stats have even indicated that golfers with high handicaps would also greatly benefit from chipping closer to the pin; obviously, this would increase their chances of making putts.
The easiest way to track this metric is to start by monitoring your chips shots from 30-yards in. As with our stats earlier on, the better your game gets, the more you can increase the difficulty of your metrics. Ideally, for chips of about 30-yards, handicappers of around 15 to 20 should be aiming to land between 10 to 15 feet from the pin. Lower handicappers can probably aim to land their chips within 3 to 5 feet.
9. Distance Bunker Shots Finish from the Hole
Playing from the bunker is every amateur’s nightmare. Unfortunately, they end up in there more often than not; just ask my dad; he’s seen more sand than David Hasselhoff.
As with our chipping metrics, we want to focus our full attention on our bunker play, not our putting. As you improve, you’ll need to track just how efficient your sand play is, especially when it comes to getting up and down. Bunker shots are easy to identify compared to chipping, where some ambiguity may come into question; this makes sand saves easy to track.
Being in a bunker takes the guesswork out of distance instead of a chip shot where you have to “walk-off” the yardage each and every time; if you’re in a bunker, it’s pretty self-evident.
As your game improves, you can start to look at just how good your bunker play is and whether or not it’s something you need to work on; this is where you can really begin to make some significant improvements in your short game, which ultimately leads to better scoring and a lower handicap. As with your chipping, the goal is to stiff the ball as close to the hole as possible.
I would start by measuring and tracking any bunker shot that is played in and around the greens. Generally, this would mean you’re roughly 30 yards from the pin, and it also means you don’t need to track hitting out of fairway bunkers. There’s no need to be “spot-on” with your yardages, which is why it’s easier to track sand saves compared to other stats.
Mid to high handicappers should be looking to land the ball between 10 to 15 feet from the pin, while low handicappers should be striving for a shot that lands within 10 feet. The pros only make roughly 40% of putts made from 10 feet, so anything outside that will be a very challenging putt for any club-level player.
10. Putting Percentage from Certain Distances
Did you know that despite what the average club golfer might think of their putting, they’re generally much better than they think?
The average putts per round on the PGA Tour is a little under 29 compared to high handicappers, who generally take an average of 34 putts per round. It’s only a 5-shot difference, and when you consider that the pros hit their approach shots and long irons much closer to the hole, it’s easy to see why their putting skills look superior.
These stats clearly show that although the long game is vital to your scoring average, you can’t neglect or dismiss the importance of practicing your putting. Putting is responsible for about 40% of your score during any round, so overlooking it would be committing golf suicide.
Likewise, the putting stats further highlight the scoring disparities between low and high handicap golfers by roughly 15%; this is particularly important to golfers who consistently shoot between 80 and 110.
Earlier, we looked at the flaws with tracking two-putts, where a 50-footer holed from the other side of the green is equal to a tap in from a foot; it’s tough to gain any real valuable insight from that scenario, especially when they both show up as “two-putts.”
So to combat this confusion, I suggest tracking your putts across several distances, including:
- 3 feet
- 5 feet
- 10 feet
- 15 feet and
- 20 feet and over
Tracking different distances gives you a very clear picture of where your strengths and weaknesses lie; you can then use the data to build “deliberate practice” sessions dedicated to addressing your problem areas.
The 18th Hole
As a professional coach, I understand how important it is to track stats and metrics for every level of golfer. Whether you’re a pro on the PGA Tour or an amateur club golfer, tracking your game can give valuable insight into your strengths and weaknesses.
It’s critical for mid to high handicappers to understand that the stats the pros use to track their game will not be of any value to your local club golfer. Pros are playing at an extremely high level, and as such, the metrics they use to track their performance are more complex and challenging. Club-level golfers need to give “themselves a break” and start tracking more straightforward metrics like the ones mentioned in this guide.
Three-putts and driving distance are the perfect metrics for beginners to track because they are easy to measure and can significantly impact your scoring average. For club golfers to focus their attention on sand saves and up-and-downs would be a waste of time, at least until they improve their handicap.
I would like to make one suggestion to all golfers, and that’s not to get caught up with stats and numbers; yes, they can provide valuable feedback and highlight areas of your game that need work, but they can also “paralyze” golfers; this is known as “paralysis by analysis.”
Finally, remember this; just because you’re tracking your stats, that doesn’t mean your game will improve; to do that, you’ll need to effectively evaluate and analyze your numbers, then get to work on the practice range addressing and rectifying your weaknesses.