How is strokes gained calculated in golf and on the PGA Tour?
Golf Culture

How is strokes gained calculated in golf and on the PGA Tour?

A photo of golfer Min Woo Lee

In the last 20 years, golf statistics have improved and evolved in dramatic fashion, thanks in large part to massive data capture by the PGA Tour's ShotLink and, eventually, golf performance-tracking platforms like Shot Scope.

The tracking of individual shots from their start to end point has given golfers a great idea of how the world's best and recreational golfers of all skill levels tend to perform around the golf course. There are four different facets of the game tracked by strokes gained subcategories: off the tee, approach, around the green and putting.

However, all of these facets roll up into the bigger statistic of strokes gained. How, then, is strokes gained calculated? As it turns out, there are really two ways: the simple way and the more complex way -- and they get to the same number.

How is strokes gained calculated in golf?

There are two ways to calculate strokes gained. The first way is simpler, and it doesn't require the ability to track each shot for each player in a tournament or competition. This is the OG way, really. The simple way is to first find the average score of a field over the course of a round of competition. Then, to determine an individual player's strokes gained against that average, simply subtract a player's score from the average. What's left over is the strokes gained.

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For example, if a player shoots 69 on a day when the field average is 71.4, then they have gained 2.4 strokes -- 71.4 minus 69. However, if a player shot 75 on the same day, then they have lost 4.4 strokes -- 71.4 minus 75. The idea is, of course, to have positive strokes gained.

The other way to calculate strokes gained is by tracking each shot a player hits during a round and then comparing the performance of that player to a cohort group: PGA Tour players, golfers of a similar handicap or skill level, all golfers, etc. From there, you'll know how your drives compare to that cohort, then how your approach play compares, as well as any short-game shots and then putting. Add the strokes gained from all of those categories together, and you'll get your total strokes gained for the round.

On the major professional golf tours, these two different calculations should and do add up to the same strokes gained number.

Of course, strokes gained is a relative statistic. It's not absolute. Strokes gained can be broken down in other ways, depending on parts of the draw in a tournament, time of day, by hole type and in a bunch of other ways. It's a comparison tool that is only as good as the data gathered on which the comparison is based. However, having reliable comparison points for golfers is a great way to help them learn how they play relative to peers and peer groups and where they can improve their games.

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