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The full title of the book is: Every Shot Counts: Using the Revolutionary Strokes Gained Approach to Improve Your Golf Performance and Strategy – and that sums it up pretty well. If you’ve seen the “Strokes Gained Putting” stat that is used on the PGA Tour in recent years, then you’re familiar with Mark’s work. If not – the very brief idea is that with the advent of ShotLink measurement on tour, we now know the average number of shots to get in the hole from any location (in this case on the green). The average number of strokes from 33 feet is 2. So, if a player makes a 33 foot putt, then by simple math, they have “gained” one shot compared to the average. This math holds true from any location – the average number of strokes from 12 feet is 1.5 – so again, if a player makes a 12 foot putt – then they have “gained” (1.5 – 1) = 0.5 shots to the field. Over the course of a round, one simply adds up the gains (and losses) to the field to get a “strokes gained” figure for the round.
From a nerd point of view – this book is a treasure trove of obscure information. I loved picking through the details to understand how and why different golfers performed the way they did. For instance, while Steve Stricker is well known for his putting prowess, where he is even more lethal is the short game around the greens. From 2003 to 2011 he was never outside the top 10 in strokes gained short game (SGS) while during the same stretch he was outside the top 20 in putting 4 times. He is a great putter, but he may be the best chipper and pitcher.
Vijay Singh is an example we all know – he was dominant and won in spite of his putting. from 2003 to 2012 he never cracked the top 60 in strokes gained putting (SGP) and was frequently outside the top 150. Just shows how amazingly good the rest of his game was.
It was eye opening (if not surprising) to see just how dominant Tiger Woods really could be compared to the field. Most players, even top tier players have their strengths (Phil Mickelson – short game/approach, Luke Donald – putting, Bubba Watson – driving) but in Tiger’s “on” years he was top of the heap in nearly all categories. Even he though truly dominated in one stat – approach shots. From 2003-2012 Tiger has never ranked worse than 5th on tour in that category, even in the “down” years, and he was #1 in that category for 6 of those years.
The approach shot stat seems to me to bubble to the surface as the most important factor. Looking at the first 10 players from 2004-2012 in this category reads like a whos-who of modern golf: Tiger Woods, Robert Allenby (ah but if he could putt the announcers would say – this time correctly!), Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh and Luke Donald.
A great anecdote in the book that shows just how difficult it can be for players to make the “right” decision. James Hahn (you might know him from his “Gangnam Style” dance at the 16th hole in Phoenix in 2013), was trying to qualify for the PGA Tour, when he had to make a decision to go for a par 5 in 2 over water, or lay up. Without any good information to fall back on, they played “rock-paper-scissors” – Hahn’s scissors beat his caddy’s paper. James went for it, cleared the water, but it rolled back in on the other side. Here’s the money though – he still got up and down for par! Would he have birdied if he layed up? We’ll never know, but strokes gained could have told us his odds.
I found one area of the book a little troubling, and that was when Mark was describing the “aim point” for putts that were going uphill and downhill. The diagrams in the book suggested that a pro would “pick” a target much further past the hole on a downhill putt than an uphill putt. This didn’t intuitively ring with me – as I couldn’t seem myself standing over a 12-foot knee-knocker downhill and thinking “well, I’ve got to hit this EVEN FURTHER past since it’s downhill”. I reached out on Twitter, and Mark was kind enough to validate my suspicions:
What the book has helped me with is exactly that – how I think about shots on the course. For one – it helps me be more accepting of poor shots. If I hit a drive into the woods, or miss a green on the short side, I know – the shot is already gone. While I can do my very best to recover, I realize the poor shot doesn’t put “more pressure” on the next shot, it simply means on average, I’m going to score worse from here, and if I do hit a good recovery and make a putt, then realistically, I’ve beaten the odds. Also – it has certainly made me more aware of big trouble such as out of bounds. There’s a great diagram in the book that shows where the typical 80-golfer and 100-golfer should be aiming when there is OB on the right, with no trouble on the left (other than rough). Mark’s analysis shows that amateurs, with our wide variance from shot to shot would actually be served to aim very near (80 shooter) to IN THE ROUGH (for 100 shooters) on the left side to maximize our average score. The small penalty of hitting the rough greatly outweighs the huge penalty of stroke and distance for being OB. When the penalty is just one shot (such as water) one may adjust to play a little more aggressively.
Mark sums it all up as (a nod to Bob Rotella): “Extremely conservative and extremely aggressive strategies, on average, waste strokes. My advice is to choose an optimal target and then swing aggressively.”
There are some good green reading drills, and some concepts that you might bring into your regular game – such as Greens or Fringe in Regulation Plus One (GIRP) and the number of “Awful” shots as a stat.
Overall I found this book to be a fascinating (if possibly a bit dry to the non-data wonk) read. Mark has stated that he is working on a mobile app that would help a user put these concepts in to play in their own game, and I’m very excited to see this when it hits the market. A definite recommend to all statistically minded golfers. If you’re not as in to the stats, it is still worth a reading for the anecdotes and concepts, if not the hardcore numbers.
Mark Broadie – Research (Columbia University)