- Strokes gained is simple.
- Strokes gained will make you a better golfer.
- Strokes gained is here to stay.
You don’t need to purchase another contraption to tie around your forearm while you swing. You don’t need a set of all-new equipment. You don’t even need to take a golf lesson. With strokes gained, a tiny bit of game tracking shows you almost everything about how you play golf and how to improve your scores.
Strokes gained started on the PGA Tour and the pros use it. For most amateurs, that should be enough of a hint. But strokes gained is not just for professionals. A 20 handicap can benefit just as much. Let’s look at what strokes gained is and why you need it.
What Is Strokes Gained?
Strokes gained is an advanced golf stat. If you’ve heard of advanced stats anywhere, it’s probably from baseball. Think of strokes gained as “Moneyball” but for golf. Some stats geeks saw how poorly traditional golf stats were working, so they came up with something better.
Let’s face it. Has your golf game ever really gotten better simply by knowing you made 30 putts and hit 12 greens in regulation? That may be nice data, but how did you translate that into becoming a better golfer?
Chances are you didn’t.
Strokes gained requires some simple tracking of your game (more on that later), but then it gives you a wealth of information about exactly what to work on. By comparing your game to other players at a similar skill level, you can see clearly how to lower your scores.
Why Does Strokes Gained Matter?
How do you know which areas of your game actually need improvement? Most golfers have a hunch. Is it right? (In our experience: probably not.) Sure, you may slice the ball off the first tee from time to time, but did that lead to you shooting 105?
Golf is a game of many different skills (power, accuracy, consistency, long and short shots, different lies, chipping, pitching, putting). Each golfer’s ability can be broken down into many subsets of performance.
Strokes gained gets around all that variety with a simple tactic: it compares each of your shots to other players hitting that same shot. We call this the “baseline.”
Professionals use strokes gained because they know that stats are only useful compared to a baseline. If you need to get better, better compared to what?
Without a baseline, you are just guessing where your golf game needs to improve. With a baseline, strokes gained measures precisely how good or bad each of your shots is.
How Strokes Gained Works
(For the complete and detailed explanation, check out our comprehensive post on How Strokes Gained Works.)
The first step of working with strokes gained is to choose a baseline for comparison. If you are a 3-handicap golfer, you may want to choose a scratch golfer as the baseline. For a 15-handicapper, choosing a 15 handicap as the baseline is entirely acceptable.
Every single shot you hit gets a number that tells you whether it was a good or bad shot relative to the baseline. Hit a good shot in the middle of the fairway: chances are that will be a positive number (better than the baseline). Hit an approach shot into the bunker: that will be negative (worse than the baseline.)
Let’s look at a single hole (a 140-yard par three) as an example.
- Wesley is a pretty good player, so he uses a scratch golfer as his baseline.
- For a scratch golfer, the average expected score on this short par 3 is
- Wesley hits a tee shot onto the green, 20 feet from the hole.
- From 20 feet away on the green, the average expected score for a scratch golfer is
- Notice how the expected score has improved because of a good tee shot. That improvement gives us the “strokes gained” for the tee shot:
3.1 - 2.9 = +0.2
- Wesley’s tee shot gets a score of
+0.2(better than his baseline).
The great thing about strokes gained is that you can add up all the numbers for each individual shot and get stats about your full round. Wesley can add up all his 140-yard shots to see if he’s generally good from that distance, or if this hole was an anomaly.
Now you can definitively answer big questions like:
“Am I a better putter than the average scratch golfer?”
Or you can get much more detailed:
“How good am I at lag putts vs short putts?”
“How are my shots from 100-150 yards?”
“How good am I out of greenside bunkers?”
Strokes gained breaks everything down for you so you can finally analyze your game the correct way.
Sounds Complicated… How Do I Actually Use It?
You’re not wrong. It’s a little complicated. Establishing a baseline means tracking thousands of rounds of golf from players of different skill levels. Comparing yourself to that baseline means tracking all your own shots.
It could sound a little overwhelming, but we’ve made it simple. All you need to track strokes gained is the Pinpoint app. Pinpoint comes pre-packaged with all the baseline data, then makes it incredibly easy to track your shots. Use Pinpoint to track your strokes gained as you play, or after the round is over.
Not good at math? That doesn’t matter. The app does the math for you.
We get it: as a golfer, someone is always trying to sell you something: new drivers, new shoes, new launch monitors. Sometimes it feels like it never ends. The good news is, with strokes gained there is nothing to sell, and nothing to change in your swing. Strokes gained just takes information that’s already available and turns it into guidance about how to get better.
Of course, if you want to track strokes gained on your own, you can get a full understanding from our comprehensive guide: How Strokes Gained Works.
Is This Going To Cost Me Money?
Tracking strokes gained manually is free, but you won’t do it for more than a round or two before you realize that it’s too time-consuming and distracting. Using Pinpoint makes it trivially easy. And using Pinpoint for a whole year only costs about as much as a box of Pro V1s.
Of course, you can go ahead and buy a new driver instead for 10x more money. But without strokes gained, how do you know it’s not your mid-irons or long putts that are really the problem?
In fact, we can take this a step further and say that tracking strokes gained and understanding the weak areas of your game should be done before you purchase any new equipment.
Bold statement, maybe, but we think you will quickly agree when you start tracking strokes gained.
A Case Study: See Strokes Gained In Action
Seeing the stats and reading about the importance of strokes gained is great, but seeing strokes gained in action can be much more valuable.
Let’s say you are a 12 handicap, looking to try and make it into the single digits. Using strokes gained with a baseline of a 10 handicap is a great place to start.
After using the Pinpoint app for an 18-hole round, here is what you learn:
- From 100 yards and in, you have negative strokes gained (
- From 150-175 yards, your strokes gained are positive (
- Off the tee is another weak spot, with negative strokes gained (
- On the putting green, your putting is dead-even with the 10-handicap baseline (
What does this mean?
If you want to take your game to the next level, practicing the shots from 100 yards in can easily save you 1.5 strokes per round. This is almost enough to get you from that 12 handicap to a 10. Hit a few more drives in the fairway, and you could easily end up in the single digits.
The point is, you may have gone to the range and hit a bunch of 7 irons in that 150-175 yard range trying to become a better player. Strokes gained tells us you’d have wasted your time.
Why Strokes Gained Is Better Than Traditional Golf Stats
The bottom line is that traditional golf stats are not as focused as strokes gained. They can give you a general overview of performance on the course, but they aren’t specific enough to help you get better.
What We Tracked Before
The three most essential stats golfers have been tracking for decades are:
- Fairway Hit
- Greens In Regulation
- Number Of Putts
After all, if you hit every fairway and every green and make a small number of putts, you should shoot a low score. Right?
These stats have filled a void for a long time, but they have major gaps.
Why Don’t They Work
Let’s look at a few examples of traditional golf stats in action:
- If you miss the fairway, there is no data about how that miss impacts your score. Did you hit a house with your drive, or did you roll into the first cut? These are completely different misses, and only strokes gained can draw the distinction.
- If you hit poor drives, your greens in regulation statistic is almost useless. Did you hit poor approach shots, or did you never have a good shot at the green in the first place? Traditional stats can’t tell you, but strokes gained can.
- When you miss greens, you have shorter putts. It’s easier to get it close chipping than hitting full approach shots. Having 25 putts may seem great, but not if you missed every green and your putts were for par or bogey.
Traditional stats don’t tell the whole story. Now with advanced golf GPS technology, smartphones, apps, and more knowledge, strokes gained can give us real, actionable information about how we play and how to get better.
Who Needs To Track Strokes Gained?
One of the most common misconceptions about strokes gained is that it is for professionals only.
No, strokes gained is for any golfer.
In fact, higher handicap golfers often notice greater opportunities to improve. Some higher handicappers can look at a few rounds of golf and find an obvious problem area (e.g. shots from 50 yards and in) that are costing them three or even four shots per round.
Hate to tell you, but even that new $750 driver can’t claim to save you 3 to 4 strokes a round!
The Competitive Golfer
If you compete at the high school, college, or professional level and are working on taking your game to the professional tour, strokes gained is a must. Golfers in this category need to capitalize on any chance to be better than the baseline.
The Low Handicap Player
If you’re a solid amateur player, competing for club championships and maybe in some amateur events, you may feel like you’ve hit a plateau around a 0-5 handicap. Strokes gained can help you shave a few more strokes off your game.
The Practice-Obsessed Golfer Who Never Settles
You are at the range before a round, after a round, at night, in the morning, on a lunch break. Every golfer recognizes the desire to get better, but you really put that desire into action. Why not get better faster by working on the things that will make the biggest difference?
The Educated Player
Do you follow all the latest information and discoveries in the game of golf? If you do, then you know it’s time for you to start tracking strokes gained.
The Determined Beginner
Some beginner golfers just want to get outside and play with friends. Others are looking for ways to drop their handicap as quickly as possible. If you want to learn about the game of golf, how you can improve, and what it will take, the strokes gained concept is one to grasp right from the start.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Developed Strokes Gained?
Mark Broadie from Columbia University developed Strokes Gained and also wrote the book Every Shot Counts to help golfers understand how these more advanced statistics can take their game to the next level. Our comprehensive How Strokes Gained Works post is a great way to understand the concept in detail, but Every Shot Counts is truly the bible of Strokes Gained.
Is Strokes Gained Used On The PGA Tour?
Strokes gained is used on the PGA Tour all the time! In fact, PGA Tour tracking through the ShotLink system is where the concept originated. Players, coaches, announcers, and sportsbooks constantly use strokes gained to assess how each player is performing relative to the field.
Which Baseline Or Benchmark Should I Use For Strokes Gained?
You can use whatever baseline you want to track your strokes gained. Pinpoint provides baselines from a 20-handicap to a tour pro. For most golfers, it’s best to choose something within a few strokes of your handicap.
Should More Golfers Be Tracking Strokes Gained?
If you have ever asked yourself, “why am I not getting better?” then you should be tracking strokes gained. If your handicap is the same as it was 2 years ago, then you should be tracking strokes gained. If you want to improve faster, or gain an edge over competitors, then you should be tracking strokes gained.
Can Strokes Gained Be Used To Analyze Equipment?
Absolutely. Golf equipment analysis uses strokes gained all the time. Instead of looking at whether or not you got 7 more yards out of a new driver, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that the driver is saving the average golfer one shot per round?
Stokes gained is hands down the easiest way to become a better golfer. You can ignore strokes gained and keep tracking how many putts you have per round or how many fairways you hit, but you are doing yourself a disservice.
Strokes gained is your golden ticket to actually getting better at golf.
Start tracking your rounds with the Pinpoint app and see for yourself the difference it can make in how you approach your golf game.
Strokes gained is just basic math, tried and proven at the top levels of the game. There is really nothing to debate. It just works.