Golf is a game where progress and ability can be measured in many different ways. There is, of course, the raw score; whether one is a scratch golfer or shoots in the 100s, for many of us, this is the only number that matters to us.
However, many golfers take that to another level. For some that means posting their scores and keeping a handicap whereby they can "level the playing field" and compete with others of differing abilities. Others keep different stats to track their abilities and improvement in different areas.
Common stats to keep among golfers are fairways in regulation (FIR), greens in regulation (GIR), and putts per hole. Oftentimes stats such as up-and-downs and sand-saves are also recorded. Keeping stats like these help a golfer to see where their game is lacking and where they could stand to make some improvements. If done correctly, stats can help a golfer prioritize what they are working on. You'll often hear that the quickest way to lower your score is to improve your short game, but really, what is the best way to improve your short game? Stats can help you figure that out.
I recently started keeping my own stats, and through the use of some excellent software, I am able to see many stats by keeping just a few on the course. This is going to be somewhat embarrassing for me, but I'll use my own stats as an example of how stat keeping can help ones game and give them a general sense of what to work on.
We'll start with my ball striking stats. Over my last 10 rounds, I've only hit 24.44% of greens in regulation and I've hit 55.71% of fairways in regulation. Delving further into the numbers, my GIR percentage goes up to 33.33% when my approach shot is from the fairway. Now, you may say, "Duh! Of course you hit more greens from the fairway!" but that's not the entire story. I've hit a whopping 4.17% of greens from the right rough and not a single green from the left rough. With this detailed information, I now know exactly what I need to work on. I need to work my tail off to hit fairways as I hit more greens when I do, and if I miss, I need to miss to the right. While I may have figured this out, or at least a good portion of it, without the numbers, keeping stats has made it crystal clear that I need to eliminate the left side of the course off the tee.
Let's move a little closer to the green now. Honestly, my scrambling SUCKS, and I could tell you that without stats, but there again the stats help clear up what exactly needs to be worked on. Over the last 10 rounds, I've made 13.33% of my attempts at up-and-down. For the record, I count up-and-down as getting onto the green and then down for par after missing my green in regulation, so on a par four if my third shot misses the green, I'm on in four and down in five that isn't up-and-down. Considering that my GIR percentage is around 25%, that means that roughly three quarters of the time I have a shot at up-and-down (or a sand save if the shot is from the bunker), so obviously if I can convert more of those opportunities my scores will go down, but where do I start? Well, let's work backward. When it comes to putting I make nearly 90% of putts inside of three feet (damn that's bad) and just over 70% between 4-6 feet. Get me outside that range and it goes way down (under 20%). On top of that, my average first putt length when I hit a GIR is about 19 feet, yet it isn't much closer when you factor in the length of the first putt if I missed the GIR at 14.1 feet.
With this information, I now know that I need to work on my chipping and pitching to the point where I can get into that six foot range with some amount of regularity. Sure, I knew that my scrambling was bad, but with the stats I have a better idea of how to fix it… Now I can go to the practice area at my course and work on hitting pitches and chips to a circle 12 feet in diameter. Anything in that circle I'd make three-fourths of the time, which wouldn't be horrible for me and would dramatically lower my scores.
On top of that, I know that I really need to work on putts six feet and in. If I'm going to put in all this work to get the ball inside of six feet then I also need to make sure that I'm pretty close to automatic from that range.
So by keeping these stats, I've learned the following to improve my game. First, I need to work on accuracy off the tee and if I miss, miss to the right. This will give me my best chance at a green. If I can hit greens, the short game doesn't mean nearly as much. Second, I need to work on getting pitches and chips to within six feet and work on the putting from that same distance.
Obviously stat keeping isn't for everybody, but it also isn't the pain in the butt that some people make it out to be. In fact, keeping these stats is super easy. On the course I keep track of four things in addition to my score and the computer does the rest. I track fairways hit and if I miss it to which side, greens hit in regulation and if I miss it if I had a up-and-down or sand save opportunity, total putts, and distance of the first putt. That's it. And it probably takes 2 seconds per hole to write down and a total of maybe 5 minutes to input into the computer (I doubt it even takes that long).
I challenge anybody out there who wants to improve his or her game to give it a try. Keep your stats for 10 rounds to get a decent sample size and see if the information you gather matches what you see and feel. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to hit the practice area as I've got some stuff to work on!