How to Really Understand Your Own Golf Game

There is absolutely no doubt that understanding your own golf game is crucial if you wan’t to improve at an optimal rate. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is the KEY to becoming a better golfer.

And the best way to gain this understanding is by taking some form of statistical analysis at the end of your rounds…


Why Stats are Vital


Spending a small amount of time jotting down your performance post round gives you a deeper understanding of where your strengths and weaknesses are.

With the appropriate data, you can tailor your future goals and practice sessions to suit your needs, and as a result, spend your time practising on things that will actually yield better results.

One of the reasons so many golfers do not improve is because they simply don’t work on the correct things.

So, after this article, you will know exactly how to analysis your own performance and you’ll never be one of these golfers who wastes valuable time not improving…



When Emotions Screw With You


Relying on your emotions and that good old selective memory of yours to give you your performance analysis is a dangerous ploy…

Unfortunately, our memories tend to be very selective when we think about our performance and more often than not we get it pretty wrong.

As a general rule, we remember emotionally charged events over boring ones. Events which makes us feel particularly sad or happy will stick in our minds a lot more than just your average day sipping gallons of coffee at work.

And In golf, these emotionally charged events during a round can often skew your beliefs about your game.


Let me give you a little example…


Last week I played in a club competition at my home course and in the middle of the round I birdied holes 12 and 13. These holes are both par 3’s and both putts were holed from around 15-20 foot.

Now these birdies felt very, very good. They came after a particularly poor stretch in the round where I had just doubled the 10th (easiest hole on the course) and then failed to make birdie with an 9 iron (second shot) in my hand on the par 5, 11th.

So, they came at a great time and when I think about that round now, they are the holes that really stick out.

After that round – If you had asked me about my overall game (before I had written down my stats) I probably would have told you some misguided nonsense about my putting.

I would have told you that I putted pretty well.

I was wrong..

And it wasn’t until I jotted down my stats later that evening that I was struck with this glaring realization that my putting had been a lot worse than I thought. 

I had as many as 36 putts, which included 4 three putts from inside the 30 foot mark.

For a category one golfer – this is not acceptable.

So why on earth did I think it was good in the first place…?

Because of what I did on 12 & 13. 

The strongest memories of the round were those two 15-20 footers I holed for birdies.These putts gave me my strongest emotions and therefore skewed my belief about my performance on the greens.

All those other 3 putts were somewhat in the background.

This is one of the reasons why taking stats is so glaringly important. Without me taking 5 minutes after the round to jot a few numbers down, I would have come out of the round with a deluded belief that I was Jordan Spieth in disguise and may not have put the work in required to address my putting issues.


You’re Not as Bad as You Might Think


This can also happen on the opposite end up the spectrum. Golfers often believe they are worse than they are at something.

‘My driving was rubbish today’

Then when you look back on it, you only hit two poor tee shots which cost you.

But because they happen to really cost you and you attached lots of emotion to the poor result, they can stick out like a sore thumb and give you this belief that you are a worse driver of the ball than you actually are.


Cold hard stats over emotion will give you the truth about your game and therefore give you the direction you need to get the most out of each and every practice session.



What Should You Track?


This is level dependant, if you are currently around the breaking 90 mark or better, then delving deeper can be very beneficial. If you are a total beginner, then tracking stats is probably a bit further down the line.

If you are somewhere in between, then I think you would benefit from at least be tracking the basics.

From a recent question I asked on Facebook, it was clear a lot of players track the following:


– Greens In regulation

– Fairways Hit

– Putts Per Round


This is great to see, but I believe without delving a little deeper, stats like the above can be quite misleading and can often send you down the wrong path in improving your game.

So, let me elaborate on this and I will add in some extra stats I think it will be useful for you to start tracking.


Greens in Regulation


The number of greens in regulation you hit has a distinct correlation to your average score (see table below for GolfWRX), so it’s pretty obvious you want to track these and consequently start hitting more.



But what about the green’s you miss…?


Let’s assume you hit 6 greens in regulation. Do you know why you missed the other 12?


  • Was it because you hit five of your tee shots in positions where not even Phil Mickelson would be able to find the putting surface?



  • How many of your misses were due to mental errors? Did you lack commitment, wrong club, poor strategy (went for an impossible pin)?


All this information is valuable to track and after a few rounds will start to give you a clear picture of the things that are really lacking in your game…

So instead of just going to work on your ‘long game’…


  • If you’re driving the ball in trouble all the time, then you know this area needs extra attention.


  • If you are missing a high percentage short? You might need to work on bettering your strike pattern? Or start measuring your yardages to the back of the green instead of the middle.


  • If you are honest with yourself, a lot of your errors may have been mental errors…if so, you can put in some time on this aspect.


This micro management of your game can really start to pay dividends. You can start to make your practice sessions much more purposeful…no more just going down the range to hit balls.

Every session will have a clear goal. Setting your goals is easier as you’ll know exactly what you need to work on to improve your scores.


Your Coach Will Thank You


It’s also very helpful information for your coach. Tracking your data in this way will give him/her a far better understanding of your game.

Your coach may only see you hit a few balls on the range every so often, so it’s not always easy for them to understand your game fully.

I have had lessons where I was striping every shot in front of my coach and he was left mystified as to why I was struggling so much on the course.

Your course performance is often very different to how you play on the range, so getting the data down will enable your coach to be even more effective.

Here’s another little example from my own performance…


 Last week I hit 10 greens in regulation, which if my maths is correct, means I missed 8:


– 3 were down to poor tee shots (1 – wasn’t ready to commit, 2 – wrong club, 3 – wrong club)

– All the other 5 were missed when I was in between yardages and I had to take some club off.

– Out of the 8 poor swings – 7 were missed left.


So, this week I went and got my yardages checked out at my local indoor simulator to ensure I could fully commit to my ‘in between shots’.

I put in some work in on the technical aspect of this shot and I have also tried to iron out my misses to the left (I was getting sloppy at address)

You see how delving a little deeper can really start to give you a much better understanding of where your time needs to be spent and your improvement can become much more fluid.

Far too many golfers (who would benefit) either don’t take stats (which means they don’t have a great understanding about their game) or only take basic stats, which is okay, but will not give the insight you require to really streamline your improvement.



Fairways Hit


Tracking ‘fairways hit’ can be another very misleading stat…


  • Round 1 – You hit 10/14 fairways. The other 4 were hit into positions where you can’t hit the green in regulation. i.e hazard, thick rough, water, trees etc


  • Round 2 – Fairways hit 6/14. The other 8 balls were hit into the light rough and still gave you a good chance of hitting the green in regulation.


By only recording your ‘fairways hit’ number – round 1 gives you the assumption that you drove the ball much better than you did in round 2. When actually, it’s much more likely you would score better with round 2’s driving stats.

You have only got to look at Jordan Spieth’s driving stats in last week’s Open Championship. He only hit 30% of the fairways which is very for low considering he won the event. 

But the thing to note is for the other 70% that he failed to hit, he managed to avoid all the big trouble which enabled him to still be very high in GIR stats (the one that’s most relevant to your score)



And let’s be honest for the average golfer on a normal golf course, hitting fairways is at much less of a premium…

It’s only when you get to a very high standard that being able to spin it off tight fairways into glass table greens becomes much more relevant.

For most golfers, it’s all about keeping it in play. Avoiding hazards, trees, OB, thick rough etc. If you avoid these things, then whether you are in the fairway or not is secondary.

A much more relevant stat which I think would benefit you more…


‘How many tee shots gave you the opportunity to hit the green in regulation’


Going back to the above example, let’s see how the picture changes:


Round 1 – 10

Round 2 – 14


These results now give you a better and more accurate picture.



With the Flat Stick


Just counting the total number of putts doesn’t really tell you the whole story either.

There are too many influences from other parts of your game for the total number of putts to be totally relevant.

For example:


  • You may have a day where you were hitting a lot of your approach shots to 40/50 feet.


  • Or you may have a great chipping day and chipped everything within gimme range.


Factors like these will have a distinct effect on your putting stats.


So here’s a few other metrics that are really useful to track to understand your performance on the greens:


  • Number of three putts from inside 30 feet. If you are an average golfer, the goal should always be to two putt from this range.
  • Number of putts missed inside 5 feet.
  • Strokes gained putting (you can use this for all facets and we’ll come onto this next)


These will give you much more understanding than just tracking your total number of putts.


But if you are really serious about improving your game, you may want to read this next section. For stat geeks, this is where the real fun starts…

Strokes Gained (The most useful metric)


“Strokes gained recognizes that sinking a 20-foot putt represents a better performance than sinking a three-foot putt, even though they both count as a single stroke on the scorecard. Strokes gained assigns a number to this intuition.

Though strokes gained has roots in some fancy mathematics developed at the dawn of the computer age, there is an elegant simplicity to a stat that, at its core, merely involves subtracting two numbers.” – Mark Broadie


If you are an avid watcher of golf on TV, you may have heard the term ‘strokes gained’.

Strokes gained is starting to take over the golf statistical world and is currently the most useful metric to base you performance.


So what is it and how is it calculated?


In 2003 the PGA began to employ a new data collection system called ShotLink™. During this period, ShotLink™ has collected very accurate data of millions of golf shots from the worlds best players.

Using this data, they have been able to calculate on average, how many shots it takes PGA tour players to get the ball in the hole from anywhere on the course.

So for instance, from a bunker that is 20 yards from the flag, it takes a tour pro on average – 2.53 shots to get it in the hole. (Don’t worry you don’t need to learn all of these probabilities)

And the ‘strokes gained value’ you see on the TV, is the pro’s performance against these averages. So a + and they have performed better than the average tour pro and a -, worse.


Don’t Feel Alarmed About Comparing Yourself to the Pro’s


Comparing your performance against the best players in the world may seem pointless and counterproductive, but it’s really not.

Obviously if you are an average golfer, your results more than likely will have a minus in them, but the aim is to just improve these metrics and understand where your main weaknesses are. This is not about being as good as the pro’s.

Let’s say your driving is -2 strokes gained and your putting is -3, then you know you’re putting needs more attention than your driving for you to improve your scores.

It’s as simple as that.


‘But this seems a lot of work?’


Yes, there is a little more input of data needed, which I’ll show you now.


Although a website will work out your strokes gained values, I think it’s cool to know how they are calculated…


(Pre-shot strokes to hole value) – (Post-shot strokes to value) – 1 = strokes gained value.


So let’s go back to that 20 yard bunkers shot:


Pre shot strokes to hole value = 2.53

Let’s assume you hit the shot to 8 feet. The average amount of shots it takes a tour pro from 8 feet is, 1.52.

So your post shot strokes to value = 1.52

Strikes Gained Value for your bunker shot: (2.53 – 1.52 – 1 = +0.01)


This means for that bunker shot you were just above tour average.

Still with me?


Lets look another quick example…


Lets assume you are on a 425 yard par 4 and the average score for a tour pro on this length of hole is = 4.10 (this is an approximation)

And after your drive, you’re left with 155 yards to the pin from the middle of the fairway.

And lets also assume that the average number of shots it takes a tour pro to get it in the hole from this position is = 2.65


Pre shot strokes to value = 4.10

Post shot strokes to value = 2.65

Strokes gained for that tee shot: 4.10 – 2.65 – 1 = +0.45


To calculate your strokes gained value, you would need to input two pieces of data for each shot.


  • The lie
  • Distance to hole


That’s all.

I appreciate this won’t be for everyone but if you are really serious about taking your game much further, then this data is a no brainer and it is only a couple of inputs per shot.


The Best Resources to Use


Hole 19 – This is a FREE App I use. I use it mainly for the GPS function but it has a basic stats function which you may find useful.


Golf Stat Lab (US Based) (picture below) – This is a paid subscription website and will cover all of the aspects I have covered in this article.

It works out around £5 per month which is nothing for the value you will receive from using it. If you are unsure if it is right for you, they offer you a FREE demo in exchange for your email address.


Golf Data Lab (UK Based) – Very much the same as Golf Stat Lab, has all the same functionality and cost is around the same. It just comes down to your preference.

This is a picture from the site I use (Golf Stat Lab), showing the info you’ll need.



So let’s Summarize All This


  • Establishing an understanding of your game using real data is going to be a lot more beneficial to you than relying on your memory and emotions.


  • The normal GIR, FIR and putts are better than nothing but I believe what you learn from them is very limited and can be misleading.


  • Delving in a little deeper will give you a much better understanding of the state of game, which will enable you to set much better goals and have much more productive practice sessions (no more wasted hours beating balls into no man’s land)


  • If you want to become really serious about improving your game, then knowing your strokes gained value for all the different departments is invaluable.



So ask yourself this, how serious are you at becoming the best you can be?


I am a low handicap golfer and an absolute golf addict. I have a huge passion for helping golfers with what I believe is the most important aspect of their golf game - their mindset. I have completed my golf psychology coaching certificate and I continue to learn every single day, all so I can help golfers become better at this great game.