Golf Science – Strokes Gained, Explained

Golf Science – Strokes Gained, Explained

More and more golfers use, or are fascinated by, the idea of using the new “strokes gained” statistics as opposed to some of the more traditional ones. So what are traditional statistics and what are the new ones? Traditional statistics include fairways hit (on tee shots), greens in regulation, short game up and downs, putts per round, and sometimes even penalty shots per round.

There are limitations to this information, such as if a tee shot is not in the fairway, the difficulty of its lie is unknown. All non-fairway shots, whether they be in just some light rough, a bunker or even a penalty (water) area or out of bounds, are weighted the same, while in reality, some positions are far more penalizing to a golfer’s score than others.

Similarly, greens in regulation does not consider a shot lying just off the green and only 15’ away from the hole, but a ball that is 60’ away from the hole counts and is a much tougher position to score from.

So what is the fairly new “strokes gained” statistic and how can that help golfers? A strokes gained comparison can be made for a tee shot, an approach (fairway) shot, an around-the-green shot (within 30 yards of the green) and a putt. It basically asks the question: what is the average number of shots taken by golfers from any given distance to the hole?

The simple formula that is used to discern whether a shot a particular golfer makes is better or worse than the average (of everyone else in the field) and also by how much it is better or worse is: 

Number of shots usually taken from start position – number of shots usually taken from finish position – 1 = strokes gained for a shot. The starting position number indicates the average number of shots players tend to take from that particular distance to the hole. The finish position number indicates the number of shots golfers typically take if their ball ends up in that position. “Position” means the number of yards remaining to the hole, and the “number” used in the formula represents the number of strokes golfers typically need from that distance to complete the hole. The minus 1 is to account for the shot just hit from start-to-finish positions. 

A negative number indicates how much worse than average a golfer is, while positive indicates how much better, for each shot during a round.

However, even the “strokes gained” concept has limitations (a lot of good information on For instance, a tee shot of -2.72 does not explain whether the fairway was missed or whether the golfer had less distance than the rest of the field. It only tells us how many more strokes a typical golfer would need to complete the hole when lying a particular distance from the hole. In such a case, using traditional statistics (fairway hit) combined with strokes gained being negative, can be useful as it would indicate the issue is direction rather than distance.

So, how useful is the strokes gained information to the weekend golfer? How useful even is the traditionally used information? A Tour professional’s strokes gained data compares his or her shots to those of all others who played on the same course on the same day. As a lot of data is collected every single day on any major tour, there is a lot of information available for any Tour player to access, in order to better understand areas of the game where improvement is needed. Do even the Tour pros use the information generated?

For instance, do the amazingly talented players of the LPGA Tour use strokes gained information? The two events held recently in Southern California were a great opportunity to ask some leading professionals whether they use the information that is uploaded onto the KPMG Performance Insights ( Here is what some leading ladies said during the DIO Implant LA Open held at the Palos Verdes Golf Club, and the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro at Wilshire Country Club. 

Linnea Strom uses the information “a little bit.” She has stats that her coach has built for the Swedish golf team. She knows that her tee shots and approach shots are normally pretty good, and she needs the most work on her putting.

Cheyenne Knight says that she has “never really been a huge stats person myself,” but it’s great to look at. She does not really use it that much. She says that “Driving is kind of tough because I don’t gain strokes distance-wise (240-250 average distance), but I gain strokes fairways hit.” She works a lot on wedges and proximity to the hole.

Hannah Green, who won the JM Eagle event, says, “I look at KPMG insights, but I wouldn’t say I look at them in-depth.” Her coach looks at it, and she knows that her approach to the green and off the tee were in the positive last year, and she is best in around the greens and putting.

Aline Krauter says that recently she has been looking at the strokes gained information. She uses a platform called Clift, and her caddie and brother go over it. According to the platform, her strength is around the greens. But she says that there is a discrepancy between her good and bad shots, so that is something she needs to work on. Her off-the-tee results are good, and her distance off the tee is about 260 yards. 

Lauren Coughlin says that, yes, she looks at the information “a little bit. I pay attention to the KPMG stuff, for sure.” So which is her best stat? It is overall tee to green. Approach is her best one while her weakness is her putting, but it is getting better. Off the tee, she is very good and drives the ball about 260-265 yards, and she’s pretty accurate, as well.

Alison Lee also says she uses SG information “A little bit. I would say it’s just more so to compare yourself to other girls out here, and you can use it to see what parts of your game you need to improve. For me, personally, I feel like it’s pretty obvious to me as soon as I finish the round before even looking at strokes gained, what needs to get better and what I needed to improve on.” For people for whom it may not be that obvious, Lee believes they can do a great job to have a structured practice and know what they need to work on, when it comes to getting ready for the next event or if they have a couple of weeks off and need to know what they need to practice. Her strength … most of time chipping is her strength. Her weakness is sometimes her putting and driver, but it differs every week. “Some days you get the putter rolling really hot, but that’s why strokes gained is so tough, right. Because some days the putter is hot and some days it’s not.”

Gemma Dryburgh uses it. Last year around the green was her best, and recently her approach was pretty good. “Putting is probably not what I want it to be. Off the tee, I’m not the longest— below average probably. I think straightness-wise, I’m good. Off the tee strokes gained gives you more for length, not my 100 percent strength.”

Valerie Plata says with strokes gained, “I think you can look overall at everything, see what you can improve and where the top players rank in each category, and see what you can work on to keep moving up in those categories. This my first year, so first time looking at them, just learning and trying to figure out a way how to use it.”

Atthaya Thitikul, on the subject of using strokes gained information, says, “Not really. I think all the players don’t really look at that because we’re just trying to do the best that we can do out there.” 

Minjee Lee responds, “I’m sure it is useful for my coach, but I don’t personally look at it every week. I think he looks at it, not every week. If you do it for one week, it’s not as effective as like over a period of three months.”

Kelly Tan also said,I don’t, but I know my team does … my coach looks at it and tells me.” What does she do with the numbers? Does she change anything? “Yes, obviously those data are important, and we try to use that to improve my game.” She adds, “It’s not always technical; it could be the way I play the hole. I could feel like my driver’s not good, but it’s telling me I’m hitting 14 fairways, so those numbers are good that way.”

So one might say that LPGA players are aware of their strokes gained and traditional statistics information but do not obsess about it and try to improve all parts of their game anyway. Some understand the limitation of strokes gained off the tee as being more of a distance measurement, especially if they tend to be more capable of accuracy. While others know that strokes gained putting is not very useful as a “hot” putter can sink long putts but might only be “hot” only once in a while.

Do you believe it might improve your scoring, especially if, as many new apps do, your strokes gained are calculated relative to your peers rather than to Tour players?