No doubt by now you've heard of the strokes gained statistic. You see it in explanation of a golfer's performance and you hear TV broadcasters talk about it. But what does strokes gained mean? How are strokes gained putting and strokes gained tee-to-green defined?
Let us walk you through it.
Strokes gained is a statistic that aims to define the ways in which golfers pick up and lose strokes against the field. That could be from hitting a really long drive down the fairway. It could be from sinking a 40-foot putt. It could be from putting one in the water with a short iron.
With the help of Columbia University professor Mark Broadie, who created the strokes gained concept, the PGA Tour currently has two strokes gained statistics: strokes gained putting and strokes gained tee-to-green. However, the way the two stats are measured and what they mean are very different.
Let's start with strokes gained putting. It's a much more meaningful statistic, primarily because it's based on make-miss data for thousands upon thousands of putts on the PGA Tour. Using Shotlink data from the prior season, the PGA Tour knows how successful a player is on average from a particular distance. Every time a player makes a putting stroke, the PGA Tour knows the average number of strokes it takes to get in the hole from that distance. So, a player's performance from that situation is compared to the average player.
For example, the average PGA Tour player makes about 50 percent of their putts from 7 feet, meaning they average 1.5 strokes from that distance (since, simplistically, half take 1 stroke and the other half take 2). So, if a player makes from 7 feet, they "gained" a half-stroke.
At the end of the round, a player's strokes gained (or lost) are added up to get a total figure for the round. Then, the player's strokes gained are compared to the entire field's average for that round to figure out the strokes gained or lost against the field.
Now, strokes gained tee-to-green uses strokes gained putting to make an approximation of the strokes a player gaing everywhere else on the course. That's calculated by first comparing a player's score for a round against the field average for that day. Let's say our player shot 69 for the round and the scoring average (not par) was 71. Then our player gained 2 strokes against the field for the round. Now, we subtract the strokes gained putting from that 2 to get our strokes gained tee-to-green. If our player gained 1 stroke putting and 2 overall, then the player gained 1 from tee-to-green.
Of course, strokes gained tee-to-green is a big of a psuedo-statistic. While strokes gained putting is a fairly precise measure, strokes gained tee-to-green isn't. It's merely a reflection of how a player did in a particular round against the field average -- a stat which already exists and is known as adjusted scoring average. Its derivative, strokes gained total, is how the PGA Tour's Byron Nelson Award is decided.
We aren't yet able to discern how every individual stroke impacts a player's performance. However, Shotlink data is being compiled to help create a series of more intricate stats that explain player performance: off the tee, approach, chipping and from the sand. Ultimately, those more precise measures will replace strokes gained tee-to-green.