“Every Shot Counts will show you how you can shoot lower scores by making many better decisions on the golf course. It won’t teach you how to improve your swing, but it will explain how to lower your handicap with your current swing through smarter play. Learn the lessons in this book and you will find strokes falling off your score.”
My quest for truth runs through Mark Broadie.
Prior to the Shotlink era, golf statistics were fairly simplistic. Greens in regulation, fairways hit, and total putts seemed like perfectly acceptable measurements of performance. If you wanted to see lower scores, build a swing that allows you to hit more fairways, greens, and then have fewer putts per round.
Maybe you’re already aware of the issue with this kind of simplified data performance.
Take for example sinking a 20-foot putt compared to a 3-foot putt. Which one is a “better” putt (or luckier depending on your skill)? If we decide which is a tougher putt to make, it’s clear the 20-foot drop is the better putt. However, when we only count total putts, they are equal. One to one.
Let’s say both putts were for birdie, which approach shot was better? 3-feet is closer than 20-feet, but they both count equally as a green in regulation.
Broadie saw this gap in missing information and statistical performance. Luckily for us he had an active interest in golf and plenty of experience in dynamic programming as a professor at Columbia Business School. Also fortuitous is the PGA Tour started making ShotLink data available to academic institutions for research in 2007.
So in 2011, golf fans were introduced to a new world of statistics: strokes gained.
First it started with putting. Looking at our earlier example, making a 3-foot putt is worth .04 strokes on the field. Making a 20-foot putt? .87 strokes. To simplify what that means, the more strokes gained the better the shot. That made 20-foot putt is worth nearly a stroke compared to field, but sinking a 3-footer is almost the expectation.
As the stats grew in interest, so did additional categories. 2014 saw the introduction of strokes gained: tee-to-green. And by 2016 that data was expanded to include strokes gained: off-the-tee, approach-the-green, and around-the-green.
Besides making television a little more interesting by showing you the make percentage of putts and average proximity to the hole from distances, these new categories started helping professionals focus their efforts. This is a lesson we can learn, too.
Pros were no longer guessing about what they needed to work on. If they were losing strokes to the field in any category, those became the areas that were addressed first.
We don’t have the luxury of having every shot tracked like PGA players without some effort. In order to get our own strokes gained stats, we need to buy a system like GAME GOLF, or subscribe to a data-tracking app or website like GolfStatLab or GolfMetrics, the system developed by Broadie and his team.
No longer do you need to guess about where you stand to improve. Strokes gained sorts the signal from the noise.
In the meantime, let’s look at a few lessons from the book to make good on the promise from Broadie’s introduction.
One of the first messages in the book (which I mentioned in Jump-Starting Improvement) is the importance of ball-striking.
“Between the best pros and average pros, between pros and amateurs, and between good amateurs and poor amateurs, the numbers show that putting contributes about 15% to the difference in scores. Tee-to-green shots explain the remaining 85% of score differences.”
Later Broadie breaks it down further:
“Among the top 40 PGA Tour pros, approach shots accounted for 40% of their scoring advantage, driving accounted for 28%, the short game 17%, and putting 15%.”
Focusing on these areas, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to practice, may help you make larger improvements. Broadie doesn’t shy away from letting you know these aspects of the game take the longest to improve. In fact, he explicitly adds “that for almost everyone, the best and surest way to lower your score is to work on the short game, because rapid improvement is possible there, quickly. Making substantial improvements in the long game takes months and years of hard work. But that’s a different issue than where players actually lose the most strokes to par or to the field.”
Said another way: keep practicing your short game. You’ll improve there the fastest (so maybe you won’t need to spend as much time as you think), but it won’t lower your scores significantly the same way working on your long game will. Take a few chunky pitches and 3-putts off the scorecard and you’ll be happier; however, you won’t take ten strokes off your handicap.
Along with ball-striking, distance seems to be a big determining factor in scoring potential.
“This analysis showed that an extra 20 yards of driving distance is worth about three-quarters (0.75) of a stroke per round.”
At the PGA Tour level, that’s significant. In a four round tournament, an extra 20 yards in driving distance is essentially a 3-shot improvement. Broadie goes on to explain how this can be the difference in millions of dollars in winnings.
While the USGA has expressed concern about the increase in driving distance on tour, maybe Broadie is to blame. Since amateur golfers aren’t getting longer off the tee box, I like to imagine that pros with access to strokes gained and Every Shot Counts saw a chance to get bigger paychecks. Hit it longer, get paid (Brooks/Rory, I’m looking at you).
Does that distance benefit amateurs in the same way? Financially no, unless you’re betting your partners. On the course though, that same 20 yards for higher scoring golfers is worth even more! Amateurs shooting 100+ would benefit by two strokes a round. Across the board, more distance means lower scores.
Interestingly, the benefit of added distance also hints to change your course strategy.
Throughout the book, it becomes clear that the closer you are to the hole on any given shot is an advantage. Longer clubs off the tee are generally better. Having a shorter club in your hands, even if it’s not your favorite, for your approach is more likely to produce better scores. A shorter breaking putt is statistically easier than a two-foot longer straight putt (except on very fast, steep greens).
That being said, Broadie makes it clear that your strategy should fit your skill level. After all, he points out:
“Bad shots hurt scores far more than good shots help.”
Golf is designed to be risk-averse. You can put up a big number on any hole, but it doesn’t work the other way.
Your playing level also determines how aggressive you should allow yourself to be. The more developed your skill and consistent your play, the closer to danger your target can be. The more erratic your game, the more conservative you should play.
Training your mind to think differently on the tee box can be challenging. Especially if yesterday you piped it right down the middle of the fairway. Today is a different day, and the stats are telling you to aim a little further away from the OB stakes.
What Broadie is saying is that you can improve your scores without changing your game. You need to know your limitations and make better choices. You’ve probably heard that before and with reason. Let his explanation tell you how.
Although putting seems to be less important compared to other aspects, it still gets extensive coverage in the book.
An interesting spin on data collection for putting is that misses provide the best information. You would think tracking the makes would point you in the direction of what to do, but if the ball goes in the hole you lose out on where it would end up otherwise.
By measuring the misses of putts, Broadie gets an education on a player’s target speed. Without giving you too much information, the data make clear that:
“Better putters leave fewer putts short of the hole.”
On top of that, it’s critical to set realistic expectations when you get on the green. Even PGA Tour pros only make 50% of their putts from eight feet! Quit beating yourself up for missing a 10-footer (40% chance) and work on improving what you can.
There are so many tidbits of valuable info, the putting section could be its own book. Each snippet provides insight that can improve your game this weekend.
“For putts under 15 feet, focus on leaving few putts short of the hole, while not overdoing it by banging putts way beyond the hole. Poor putters leave more putts short of the hole.”
“For both pros and amateurs, three to seven feet is the distance range that most separates good putters from average putters.”
With observations about how much break to play depending on whether a putt is uphill or downhill, you’ll get your monies worth just learning about greens.
The absolute most important lesson in this book is Broadie’s closing message.
“Three key steps to lowering golf scores: measure, analyze, and improve.”
First we need to collect our own data. Download an app or take advantage of shot-tagging systems. Find something that works for you while giving the most detailed statistics you can afford. For less than the price of Netflix or Hulu, you can subscribe to your own improvement.
Most of the analysis will be done for you. All you have to do is pay attention to what the information is telling you to work on. Focus on your trouble areas and pick some low-hanging fruit. Make notes about where you started and check to see how stats change as you practice different areas of your game.
Improving will be your reward. Stick to a practice plan or commit to lessons to see how you can make weaknesses stronger. Having true statistics will provide you the roadmap to developing a better game and even help your coach set up specific programs.
Invest your time wisely on the range and changing your game will become inevitable.
Broadie even puts together a few practice games with real-world comparisons to see how you stack against people in your same skill level. The future may be strokes gained: practice.
“The pros I’ve talked to all practice with purpose. Improvement comes from deep practice, not just wishful thinking or beating balls on the range.”
Every Shot Counts covers everything left out of all the other golf books you’ve read. Pick smarter targets based on your skill. Have realistic expectations. Evaluate the advantages of each club and playing closer to the hole. Don’t leave putts short. Let strokes gained guide your practice.
Oh, and don’t forget: have fun!