One quick look at the PGA Tour stats web page will highlight the hundreds of golf stats available to professional players to help them with their game.
But while the pros have armies of people and mountains of technology available to them to make it easy to collect stats on their game the average golfer is not so lucky.
We barely have time on occasion to make it to the first tee on time never mind think about setting up the tools required to gather data and analyse it to produce meaningful stats on our game.
That the average golfer is time-poor by comparison with the pros however actually serves to illustrate how stats are in reality more important for them.
The average golfer doesn’t have 8-hour practice sessions 4 times per week to let them analyse their stats and focus on improving the key areas of their game that are holding them back.
So surely when we do find time to practice it’s even more important that we are focusing on the areas of our game that are needed to make real progress.
And that’s where the need to track some meaningful stats on your game comes in and why it is so important if you want to improve.
After all you wouldn’t let your doctor treat you without doing some tests first to highlight what the problem actually is.
So why would you spend your valuable spare time practising an area of your golf game, or indeed spend your hard-earned money on a new club, that you’re not actually certain will make a difference to improving your scores?
Stats have a way of cutting the emotion out of your analysis of your game and help you focus on the real problems rather than the ones you think are to blame.
“Keeping track of how many fairways you hit, how many up and downs you got, and how many greens in regulation you are hitting – they’re not telling anything worth of value that’s going to help you play better golf.”Todd Kolb (PGA Teaching Professional), Director of Instruction US Golf TV
Another issue is that the traditional stats that amateurs have collected over the years – % of fairways hit, up and down % and the number of putts per round – can be misleading and are in reality often not the best ones for keeping track of the health of your game.
These are binary yes/no answers aiming to describe a very complex, multi-dimensional game.
So to help we’ve put together the following list of the 10 best stats to keep track of to enable you to improve your golf game across the 4 main disciplines – driving, approach shots, short game and putting.
The first 5 stats are focused on highlighting ‘major mistakes’ and are the essential ones for all players, particularly beginners and high handicappers.
The second 5 will help you go a bit deeper into analysing your game as you get better and want to really start honing in on those areas of your golf game that are stopping you scoring better.
Number of Major Driving Mistakes
The traditional measurement of driving performance in golf has been ‘fairways hit’.
This stat measures the percentage of time a tee shot on a par 4 or par 5 comes to rest in the fairway regardless of the club used.
The problem with it is that it doesn’t tell a very detailed story about the quality of the drives that you play.
For example a topped tee shot which went 50 yards but ended in the fairway on a 420 yard par 4 would count better for this stat than a 300-yard drive which is in the perfect position to come into the flag but only a couple of yards off the fairway in light rough.
The value to the average golfer of using this statistic to help highlight how good or bad their driving is therefore clearly flawed.
A much better driving measurement for the average player to keep track of is the number of ‘major driving mistakes’ they make.
The drives that destroy a scorecard the most are not the ones that end up in the rough.
“I use them a lot. I got a stats report last week after the three weeks I’ve had at Torrey Pines, Riviera and Mexico, and that’s what I base my practice off going into the next few weeks.Rory McIlroy, 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational
They are the ones that go ‘out of bounds’, or into a hazard, or into major trouble giving you no chance of hitting the green in regulation and most likely requiring you to simply hit a shot to get the ball back in play.
Therefore from now on simply mark the holes where you make one of these 3 mistakes off the tee with any club – ‘out of bounds’, ‘into a hazard’ or ‘into major trouble’.
The aim is, of course, is to start cutting out these ‘scorecard wreckers’ from your card.
And once you’ve tracked this stat for a few weeks at your home course you may find some trends emerging such as particular holes where you are always making major driving mistakes.
If that’s the case it may be time to start experimenting with a different strategy off the tee either by picking a different target line or choosing a different club.
Whatever the results this stat will give you a clear indication whether your driving off the tee is improving or getting worse.
Par-3 Greens in Regulation (GIR) %
We’ll explain this in more detail later but the long game is more important than the short game when it comes to scoring.
Yup, you are reading that right – the idea that chipping and putting are the most important elements of the game when it comes to scoring is a myth!
And within the long game, your ‘Greens in Regulation’ or GIR % is the top determinant of score.
For beginner and high handicap golfers in particular however to start measuring their GIR % across the round can be a bit of a soul destroying experience and not that helpful.
Beginners and high handicappers are only likely to hit 1-2 greens per round, if they hit any at all, and even some single figure golfers struggle to hit more than 9 greens per round so the value of tracking this stat for the average golfer is a bit limited.
But when it comes to par 3s every player has a perfect lie, a clear shot, and unless they are very long, a reasonable chance of hitting the green.
There are also usually between 3-5 of them on most courses so after only 3 or 4 rounds they should start to give you a decent idea of the state of your iron game.
“… I never practised my short game because I felt like if I can hit 15 greens a round and hit a couple of par fives in two and if I can make all my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it?”Jack Nicklaus
So keep track of how often you hit the green in regulation on each par 3 (i.e. in one shot) and if you can get this % figure up you will give yourself an excellent chance of getting your scores down too.
And as you get used to tracking this stat you can begin also to record the club you used on each par 3 and see whether it shows you have any issues with any particular group of irons – long, medium or short irons – or indeed a particular iron as you build up a picture of how strong you are with each club.
It may show you have a particular issue at one of the par 3’s on your course highlighting you have a course management issue or indeed you never hit the green with your 7-iron giving you clear focus for your practice time.
It’s also possible something is wrong with the club itself and it’s worth getting it checked by your local pro and you get the chance finally to correctly blame the club rather than you!
[Note – Hitting a ‘’Green in regulation’ (GIR) means that a player has taken two or fewer strokes than the scoring par for the hole to put any part of their ball on to the green – for example they hit the green in 1 stroke on a par 3, in 2 strokes or less on a par 4 and in 3 strokes or less on a par 5.]
Chips Shots Within 50 Yards that Miss the Green
The problem with the traditional ‘up and down‘ statistic – that is the measurement of a golfer’s ability to get the ball into the hole in 2 strokes from around the green – is it does not tell the golfer about the individual quality of their chipping and putting.
A duffed chip to 30ft followed by a great putt is measured equally with a fantastic chip which ends up only a tap in distance from the hole.
The first player’s chipping is potentially seriously faulty while we know nothing about the 2nd player’s putting ability if we are only tracking ‘up and downs‘.
We therefore want the statistics that we track to separate chipping, and indeed bunker play also, from putting to enable us to see where our strengths and weaknesses actually lie.
And continuing the theme of highlighting, and therefore trying to cut out our ‘major mistakes’, the statistic we are simply going to measure when it comes to chipping is the number of times that you miss the green with a chip shot which is within 50 yards of the hole.
For chips around the green that will potentially seem easy but as the yardage increases towards the 50-yard mark it’s important that you cut out the major mistake of missing the green from that distance.
“I realized years ago that frequency and severity of errors do more to establish every player’s scoring level than all of the good shots hit. Further the ability to identify and limit these errors is the most efficient way to improve.”Peter Sanders, stats guru to numerous PGA Tour players, including two-time major winner Zach Johnson
Obviously the target is to get the ball as close to the hole as possible from the shorter distances however if you are able to ensure you are never, or very rarely, missing the green from that distance you will inevitably find an improvement in your scores.
And the great thing about this stat is as you get better you can simply increase the distance you measure it from.
If 50 yards out is too easy and you never miss the green from there increase it to 75 yards.
And once you’ve got to the stage where you are almost never missing the green from 75 yards and starting to get that handicap low up the number to 100 yards and repeat the process.
Bunker Shots Within 50 Yards that Miss the Green
It seems obvious that bunker shots require a different skill to chips and pitches.
For one while you may use all sorts of clubs to chip and pitch the ball onto the green it’s likely that 99% of the time you are going to be reaching for your sand wedge when it comes to your next shot out of the sand.
So why would you lump these two skills into the one by tracking the ‘up and down‘ statistic which will then not let you see how good your sand play is.
If you only measure the number of times you get ‘up and down’ from around the greens whether you are in the sand or not you will have little idea of whether you need to specifically work on your bunker shots or chipping.
‘Sand saves’ – i.e the % of time a player was able to get ‘up and down’ once in a greenside bunker regardless of their score – are a specific type of ‘up and down’ and a much more useful statistic when it comes to measuring the quality of a player’s bunker play.
But again for beginner golfers and high handicappers, it’s a tough statistic to use as a benchmark.
The average 20 handicap golfer will typically only get up and down from the sand 1% of the time while the sand save % of the average 10 handicapper measures frequently below 10%.
The best pros in the world are very happy with a sand save percentage above 60% so it’s not going to help a beginner or high handicapper much to keep looking at a percentage hovering around the 0-2% mark.
A much better approach is again is to focus on the ‘major mistakes’ with your bunker shots, and like with the chipping statistic we looked at above, measure the number of times that you miss the green with a bunker shot which is within 50 yards of the hole.
Number of 3 Putts
The last ‘major mistake’ which all golfers need to be focusing on is the dreaded 3 putt.
All golfers are aware of them, hate having them, yet many continue to blindly measure the number of putts they have per round to assess their putting performance.
But keeping a track of your average putts per round is not a great way to answer the question of how well you are putting.
And the reason for this is it takes no account of the distance you have hit your putts from or the number of greens in regulation you hit.
Let’s take an example to illustrate this.
One player hits all 18 greens in regulation and 2 putts every green but none of his first putts were from closer than 40 feet.
The second player also hits all 18 greens in regulation but is within 8 feet of the hole for every birdie putt and as a result makes 6 birdies.
The first player takes 36 putts and scores 72 compared to the second player who takes 30 putts and scores 66.
So the second player is clearly the better putter and that is why he had the better round?
Of course he isn’t but just by measuring the number of putts per round you will not get a true representation of how good a putter a golfer is.
This example clearly shows the player who hits the ball to farther away from the hole but is a fantastic putter will be hidden by the number of putts per round statistic.
So rather than keeping track of putts per round your average golfer is again better served by aiming to cut out the ‘major mistake’ of taking 3 putts to get the ball into the hole.
Reducing your number of 3 putts has been proven time and again to be the quickest way to shaving strokes off your score for the vast majority of amateur golfers.
And the simple reason the average golfer with a handicap of over 15 will 3 putt between 3-4 times every round (that is almost 6 times more than the average PGA tour player) – is because they leave their first putt too far away from the hole.
Shotscope has found that the average distance the average 20 handicapper leaves their first putt away from the hole is almost 9ft.
The bad news with that according to Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor and author of Every Shot Counts, is that tour professionals make less than half (only 48%) of their putts from 9 feet.
So what chance does the average 20 handicapper have of making that 2nd putt of about 9 feet if the pros can’t do it half the time?
So if you are looking to shave strokes off your score get focusing on those mid to longer-range putts and start tracking the number of 3 putts you take per round.
As we mentioned at the outset of this article the focus of the first five stats that we are recommending you track is to cut out the ‘major mistakes’ that have the biggest effect on scores.
Doing that and improving those stats will lead to meaningful improvement.
For those of you who have achieved that though, or are looking to take your game to the next level, it is time to go a bit deeper with the stats you keep track of.
To say that the long game in golf is more important than the short game is viewed by many as close to an act of treason.
The conventional wisdom that the short game, and putting in particular, is and always will be the most important part of the game runs deep.
The problem with it is that it’s a myth.
“If you can’t putt you can’t score, but if you can’t drive you can’t play”Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor, author of ‘Every Shot Counts’ and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011
According to Professor Mark Broadie’s analysis of millions of golf shots the results are clear.
The long game, consisting of driving and approach shots, explains two-thirds of the difference in scores between a typical 110-golfer and a typical 100-golfer or between a typical 90-golfer and a typical 80-golfer; the short game and putting explain the remaining one-third.
Professor Broadie’s research also found that 20 extra yards of driving distance is worth nearly 3 strokes per round to the typical 115-scoring player.
This number does reduce as scores get better but a 20-yard increase in driving distance is still worth almost one shot every 18 holes to PGA Tour pros.
So while extra driving distance has the most impact on the highest scoring golfers its’ impact continues throughout all levels of the game.
Golfers therefore who do not continue to drive the ball further as they get better will always struggle to improve their scores below a certain limit.
One quick glance at the USGA and R&A’s Annual Driving Distance report graphic below highlights how clear the link between driving distance and handicap is.
So if you’re serious about getting your scores down it’s worth keeping a track of your driving distance.
You’ll likely find that hitting it further tallies with improved scoring and if you’re struggling to increase the number as you track it bear in mind you’ll likely find there may be a limit to how low you can get your scores as you max out improvements in other areas of your game.
Our advice therefore would simply be to take advantage of all the technology going to ensure your getting the maximum distance you can out of your driver in particular.
Greens in Regulation (GIR) %
As we have already noted the long game is more important than the short game according to the stats.
And within the long game ‘approach shots’ are the biggest contributor to better scores.
Professor Mark Broadie’s (pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011) analysis of millions of golf shots shows that 40% of the difference in the score of a golfer shooting 110 to one shooting 100 comes from skills differences in ‘approach shots’.
And this average holds true when comparing players shooting 100 to those scoring 90 and also golfers shooting 90 compared to those scoring 80.
In other words, if you are serious about improving your game and getting your scores down you are going to need to measure and track the quality of your ‘approach shots’.
While the pros will use the ‘strokes gained’ stat to track this amateur players are not so fortunate as this metric requires a record of the number of strokes a player takes from specific locations and distances measured against a statistical baseline.
It’s more realistic therefore for the average amateur golfer to track the number of greens they hit in regulation to let them assess how well their approach shots are going.
There are weaknesses in this traditional golfing stat though.
For example, a 100-yard wedge shot that barely creeps on to the green still 40ft away from the hole is clearly not a better shot than a 3-hybrid hit from 180 yards out which ends up on the fringe of the green 15ft away from the hole.
But although it is not perfect keeping a track of GIR % is more realistic for amateur golfers as they get better.
And if you also keep track of the club you used for each of your approach shots – as we suggest for the par 3 GIR stat we covered above – you will after a few rounds again start to get a picture of which irons you are stronger and weaker with.
That information will then be very useful when it comes to dialling your practice sessions into the right irons.
And if you’re continuing to measure the number of major driving mistakes you are making alongside this it will become clear to you whether you are missing greens because of bad drives or poor iron play.
[Note – An ‘approach shot’ is a shot that starts outside of 100 yards from the hole, excluding tee shots on par-four and par-five holes.]
Average Distance Chip Shots End Up from Hole
When it came to chipping and stats our initial target was to identify and cut out ‘major mistakes’ by getting players to measure the number of times they miss the green with a chip shot which is within 50 yards of the hole.
As a golfer improves however it becomes increasingly important to measure how close they put their chip shots to the hole after missing the green.
That is therefore the stat we want now to be measuring and keeping track of.
And the reason for this is obvious.
The closer we get our chips to the hole the better chance we have getting up and down and improving our scores.
But again the crucial point in keeping track of this stat is it will make it clear to each player how good their chipping is and entirely divorce that measurement from their putting.
Golfers’ perceptions of other players’ strengths and weaknesses are often skewed by watching the pros on TV and this is a good example.
Tour pros get up and down from within 10 feet of the green more than 90% of the time. When we watch the TV we can often assume this is because they are great putters.
But this wrong. They one-putt to get up and down because they consistently chip to within 3ft of the hole – a distance from which they almost never miss.
Amateurs by comparison will often chip to 7-8ft, then miss the putt and blame their putter.
From that distance (i.e. 7-8ft) the pros are also missing nearly half of the time!
The stats also show that the average 90-scoring golfer would also do pretty well if they chipped to within 3ft every time as they would hole that putt more than 4 times out of 5.
So if you are getting better and looking to get a clear view of how good your chipping is, start by tracking the average distance you are chipping the ball to from 30 yards out from the hole.
As you continue to improve (and as we did with the ‘major mistake’ chipping statistic above) you can then start to increase the distance you are measuring from – e.g. from 50 yards out from the hole, then 75 yards and finally 100 yards if you want to see how you truly measure up against the pros.
Initially from within 30 yards, the average golfer should be looking against a benchmark average of getting their chips to under 10ft away from the hole and as they get better to keep working towards that ideal target of 3ft.
If you are consistently pitching the ball more than 10ft away from the hole on average it’s likely that it’s your chipping that needs work and your lack of up and downs is nothing to do with your putting.
Average Distance Bunker Shots End Up from Hole
Similarly when it comes to sand play, and as we improve we are looking to track a statistic that focuses in solely on our bunker shots and doesn’t cause our analysis to get mixed up with our chipping and putting.
Thankfully when it comes to bunker shots the fact that they are so easily identifiable and therefore recorded makes the task of keeping track of them much easier.
There is never any doubt whether you are in a bunker or not whereas the exact yardage you are from the hole when you play a chip shot is not as straightforward to determine and keep track of for the average golfer.
Therefore, as we progress and are showing signs of having cut out the ‘major mistake’ of missing the green from the sand, we can progress to tracking the same statistic we have started to record for our chip shots.
And that is to measure how close you put our bunker shots to the hole on average after missing the green.
The reasons for doing this are exactly the same as they are for measuring how close we put our pitch shots.
The closer we get them to the hole the better chance we have of achieving a sand save and getting a clear picture of whether our bunker play or putting needs work.
And as with the chipping stat we want to track how close you are getting your bunker shots from 30 yards out from the hole against an average benchmark of 10ft away.
Any bunker shot hit to more than 10ft away from the hole suggests that part of your game needs some work and you can give the putter ‘blame game’ a rest until you get that average distance down.
Because remember from 10ft even the tour pros are only holing 4 out of 10 of those putts!
Average Number of Putts from a Specific Distance
The statistics show that the average amateur golfer is actually a much better putter than they give themselves credit for.
In his book ‘Every Shot Counts‘, Professor Mark Broadie found that the average number of putts per round on the PGA Tour was just a fraction under 29 putts for 18 holes.
By comparison your average 90 scoring golfer averages 33.4 putts per round.
But as Professor Broadie points out this measure “overstates the skill difference because amateur putts start further from the hole than pros, on average.”
However while the stats continue to point to the dominant importance of the long game over the short game in golf it is also clear that if you want to improve your game you can’t ignore your putting.
After all putting makes up on average 40% of the total number of strokes a golfer takes during a round.
Also the analysis shows that putting contributes 15% of the scoring difference between any 2 groups of average golfers scoring on average between 75 and 125.
So as we aim to start digging a bit deeper into our putting performance after initially focusing on tracking the ‘major mistake’ 3 putts we are taking we need to start tracking something else.
We have already noted the flaws in tracking the number of putts per round as a barometer of putting performance as it takes no account of the length of the putt into account.
A brilliant 40ft monster putt holed from the across the green is given the same credit as a tap in therefore giving no insight into how well a player is putting.
Ideally we would want the average golfer to measure ‘strokes gained putting’ as the pros do (strokes gained putting is the tour average number of putts taken to hole out from a given distance minus the number of putts taken) but this relies on a statistical baseline to base the measurement against which is pretty unrealistic for the average player to get a hold of.
We would therefore recommend you simply keep track of the average number of putts you take from each putting distance on the green.
For example, a 90-scoring golfer will take on average approximately 1.5 putts from 5ft away from the hole.
In other words, they are just as likely to miss from 5ft as they are to hole it.
By keeping track of how many putts you take from different distances – you can begin to build a picture of how successful you are from different ranges to see if it highlights any particular areas for improvement.
Start by grouping your stats initially (e.g. putts within 5ft, 5ft to 10ft, 10ft to 15ft, 15ft to 20ft, 30ft to 40ft, 40ft to 50ft, 50ft and above) before ideally looking to track down to the exact whole number of feet away within 10 you are away from the hole – i.e. 1ft, 2ft, 3ft, 4ft … all the way up to 10ft.
If there is a spike in your average when you are putting from a certain distance it may indicate there’s a problem with your putting from that range.
There can be a tendency for golfers to get lost in a sea of statistics without truly understanding what stats don’t matter and which ones are best for highlighting actual weaknesses in their game rather than perceived ones.
The good news for the average club golfer however is that if they start to keep track of the right ones – and we believe the 10 stats above will give you an excellent insight into your game – there is a great chance they can correctly identify what they should be working on.
The average score for men golfers is 95.7 according to the National Golfing Foundation while the average score for women is 107.
Assuming the average player plays 35 rounds a year, that’s well over 3,000 shots a year that both men and women golfers can track, to help build a pretty good picture of their strengths and weaknesses.
The bad news is that simply keeping track of your stats is not enough.
There is an old saying in farming – “Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter.”
In other words just because you are keeping track of your golf stats doesn’t mean they are going to make any difference to your game.
The weaknesses they highlight need to be followed up with some action to address them at the driving range or practice ground!
Other useful info and articles related to this topic
- If you are like me and are a bit of a numbers junkie when it comes to looking at golf stats I would highly recommend ‘Every Shot Counts‘ by Professor Mark Broadie. Check out my review of it here.
- We also did some detailed research to produce a complete guide to ‘what the average golf score is’ in another of our blog posts. Check it out here.
- Are You Average? A Complete Guide to Average Golf Handicaps
- How Far Should You Hit Your Wedges? Be Sure to Fill the Gaps!
- Going the Distance? How Far Should Beginners Hit A Golf Ball?
- Good Putting Numbers – It’s About 3 Putts Not Putts per Round
- How Often Should You Hit Your Golf Handicap? It’s Good News!