Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Problem with Traditional Golf Statistics

Niblicks of Truth is all about the right and wrong answers that can result from the use - and misuse - of golf statistics. One of the most frequently-asked questions from prospective users of our ShotByShot golf game analysis program is: “How can you tell me what I need to know about my tee game if you don’t track Fairways Hit?” At the risk of harping, whenever I hear this question I know that it's time to point out some of the flaws in traditional golf statistics.

In my view the main reason that traditional statistics don’t work is because golf is a multifaceted game, played in three dimensions – up, down, right, left, long and short. It cannot be properly represented by flat, YES or NO answers to one-dimensional questions. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Fairways Hit
This may be the best example of the shortcoming of traditional stats. Did a golfer hit the fairway – or not? With traditional stats, a YES answer is always presumed to be a better outcome than a NO answer. But is this correct? Which would you rather have – a drive that ends up only 175 yards out but in the middle of the fairway, or a 275 yard rocket that ends up in the first cut of rough? And if you miss the fairway, wouldn’t you prefer the 275 yard rocket over a ball hit Out of Bounds or Lost? The Fairways Hit stat treats those two misses equally.

Greens-in-regulation (GIR’s)
This is by far the most useful of the old-world stats because a YES tells us something definite and positive about the way that hole was played. There are two problems, however. First, most amateurs do not hit very many greens. The average, male 18 handicapper will hit less than 4 of 18 greens each round. Along with this, there is no indication of what happened - or how bad the miss was - on all of those other holes. So a big part of the story goes untold.

Sand Saves
Also known as a 1-putt following a greenside sand shot, the Sand Save stat actually encompasses two facets of the game – sand play and putting. Because it is a blend of the two, it can mask an unusual strength or weakness in one area or the other.

Unfortunately traditional stats ignore the rest of the short game, which usually comprises a far greater number of shots per round. And again, traditional stats tell a golfer nothing useful about the shots that miss the green.

# Putts per Round
This statistic is relatively easy to keep but has a major flaw in that it ignores the distances of the putting opportunities. A 2-putt from 3 feet counts exactly the same as a 2-putt from 75 feet. It’s like balancing your checkbook based upon the number of checks you wrote, and ignoring the amount. Not very helpful…

If anything I am saying here makes sense, and you believe that the ability to measure performance is a key component to improving your golf game, then the ShotByShot game analysis program is for you. Go to and check out the Free Trial.

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