2006: Track stats for useful data

All golfers should keep personal statistics.

This advice applies to every player, regardless of ability, although it can be particularly important to low handicappers.

However, let’s be honest about the interpretation of stats: Each golfer needs to organize this information in some meaningful fashion.

The best example of selective interpretation is driving accuracy (or percentage of fairways hit). Even after his straight-arrow performance in the British Open, where he led the field by hitting 48 of 56 fairways, Tiger Woods still ranked 157th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy (58.3 percent) for 2006.

How significant is driving accuracy to Woods? It was huge in the British Open, but it rarely achieves such magnitude in week-to-week play.

Of the top 10 money leaders on the 2006 PGA Tour through the British Open, only one (Jim Furyk) ranked in the top 80 in driving accuracy. Only two of the top 10 on the money list could be found in the top 100 on the accuracy list.

Five (Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Chad Campbell and Rory Sabbatini) ranked worse than 145th in driving accuracy.

Lesson to be learned: If your home course has little rough or offers no major punishment for crooked drives, driving accuracy can be discounted or even disregarded.

Driving distance, a popular topic among golf fans, is another stat that amateurs probably should avoid. First, driving distance is difficult to compute accurately. Second, depending on weather and turf conditions, it can vary tremendously from course to course.

So, if we eliminate driving accuracy and driving distance, we are left with the No. 1 overlooked stat in golf – scoring average.

In many cases, scoring average is more accurate than a golfer’s handicap as a predictor of performance. Golfers who want to candidly evaluate their games should know their scoring averages.

Scoring averages are greatly affected by where golfers play. Most golfers, though, stick to the same courses – so a scoring average from any given year has tangible significance when compared with averages of other years.

The PGA Tour, which is largely responsible for increasing interest in statistics, plays one trick on all of us. In every tournament, scores are artificially adjusted from round to round depending on the difficulty of the course and the field scoring average.

After the British Open, Woods found himself ranked No. 1 in scoring average at 69.14 strokes per round. This sounded great, but his actual scoring average was 70.03, third behind Steve Stricker and Mickelson.

Steve Stricker?

Absolutely. Through the British Open, Stricker’s actual average score was 69.79 strokes per round. Without mathematical fudging, he was No. 1.

With the adjustment, however, Stricker fell to No. 7. Think that’s bad? After the British Open, Jerry Smith found himself 32nd in actual average but 91st in adjusted average.

The Tour started doing it this way in 1988. Why? Because the three winners of the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average in 1985, 1986 and 1987 were Don Pooley, Scott Hoch and David Frost, respectively.

No disrespect intended to Pooley, Hoch and Frost, but some people felt that major championship winners such as Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Nick Price were being penalized in the Vardon Trophy race because they tended to play events on the Tour’s toughest courses.

In 2000, 55 years after Byron Nelson averaged 68.33 strokes per round, somebody finally set a new scoring record. It was Woods, with an actual average of 68.17 and an adjusted average of 67.79.

Here is a simplified list of stats that might be helpful in evaluating everyday play:

Actual scoring average. Keep it for the year, and perhaps subdivide it into seasons – spring, summer and fall. Keep separate categories for tournament and nontournament play.

Greens in regulation. Either poor driving or poor iron play can trigger a GIR breakdown. Any avid player should be able to recognize whether more work is needed for metalwoods or irons.

Please, do not copy the PGA Tour’s GIR formula, which says a ball on the fringe counts as a missed green. If the ball can be putted, figure it as a green in regulation.

Putts. Our revised GIR formula means, of course, that a putt from the fringe must be counted as a putt. No problem. Hammering the ball with a putter from far off the green, though, is not a putt.

Proximity. OK, this is a different stat category category. Still, it provides valuable information about anyone’s golf game. A stat proximity is when a green is hit in regulation, or when the ball finishes within 20 yards of the flagstick.

A solid player often will finish with 18 of these. With a decent short game, the result should be a low score.

Shorties. Divide the short game into chips, pitches and sand shots. Keep track of up-and-downs in each category. Use only those shots that qualify as thereabouts (within 60 feet of the hole).

Will stat keeping result in improvement? Not always, although focusing attention on scoring average and greens in regulation will provide a plain and accurate analysis of where any golfer stands.

For the record, the 125th player on the money list, Mark Calcavecchia, had a scoring average of 71.73 and a GIR percentage of 61.6 through the British Open. That’s clearly less than two-thirds of the greens in regulation for a player who would be exempt at the end of the year if he remained in the top 125.

If Calcavecchia hits just 11 greens but averages around par, you can be sure he has a fabulous short game. Stats should help all golfers understand their strengths and weaknesses.



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