In golf, there are more statistics available than perhaps any other sport on the planet.  Players and fans alike agonize on their stats trying to get an edge on the competition and to see truly where their game’s strengths and weaknesses lie.  Like data in any field however, statistics can tell a story but not all statistics tell the correct story, that is anyways, up until strokes gained came along. 


Developed by Columbia University professor Mark Broadie, Strokes Gained represents a seismic shift in how we analyze the intricacies of the sport. Gone are the days of merely counting fairways hit, greens in regulation or putts per round. Instead, Strokes Gained delves into the granular details of each shot, providing a comprehensive assessment of a player’s strengths and weaknesses across various facets of the game.


In this comprehensive review of strokes gained you will learn of the potential pitfalls of traditional golf statistics, how strokes gained works, and finally how you can calculate your own strokes gained data.  Knowing your strokes gained data can help you be precise in practice and stop any guessing of where your strengths and weaknesses lie.  If you are serious about getting better in 2024, strokes gained is the beginning of this journey. 

What is Strokes Gained?

Strokes gained is a statistical method used in golf to measure a player’s performance on each aspect of the game relative to an average PGA Tour player. It provides a comprehensive and unbiased way to assess a golfer’s strengths and weaknesses across various aspects of the game including driving, approach, around-the-green, and putting. 

The concept behind strokes gained is relatively straightforward: it compares a player’s performance on a particular shot up against the average benchmark from the same location on the course. By analyzing the outcome of each shot in this way, strokes gained quantifies how many strokes a player gains or loses relative to the average PGA Tour player in each statistical category. 

Calculating Strokes Gained

Let’s play the famed 540 yard par 5 thirteenth hole at Augusta National Golf Club and figure out our strokes gained as we go.  For this example let’s assume we start out by hitting our drive in the fairway leaving us 220 yards into the green for our second shot.  For our approach we decide to roll the dice and take on Ray’s creek by going for the green in two.  We successfully keep our ball dry but miss a little bit left of the green in the bunker.  

On our third shot out of the bunker from 20 yards, we run our ball down the slope within 8 feet of the front right hole location.  From there we confidently sink the putt for birdie. An extremely well played hole but let’s break it down and use strokes gained data to really see how we did compared to the average PGA Tour player. 

According to thousands of balls hit in PGA Tour events captured by Shot-Link data, creator of strokes gained, Mark Broadie, put together some tables to make calculating strokes gained accessible for anyone.  

Broadie, M. (2014). Table 5.2, Average PGA Tour Benchmarks from Varying Distances and Lies [Photograph]. Every Shot Counts.


Tee Shot: From the chart above we can see that on a 540 yard hole it takes an average PGA Tour player 4.65 shots to get their ball into the hole.  

In our example we hit our tee shot in the fairway 220 yards from the hole where the average to hole out is now 3.32. 

To determine how many strokes we gained or lost by our tee shot we use the following calucation:

4.65 (starting expected strokes) – 3.32 (new expected strokes) – 1 (factoring in the stroke we took off the tee) = 0.33 Strokes Gained

Approach Shot: As mentioned above the average PGA Tour player from 220 yards in the fairway is expected to take 3.32 shots to hole out.  

In the hole we played we hit our second shot into the left greenside bunker 20 yards away from the pin.  As you can see in the chart, the expected shots from 20 yards in a bunker is 2.53.  Let’s do the calculation again to see how we did on the approach:

3.32 (starting expected strokes) – 2.53 (new expected strokes) -1 (the stroke we took) = -0.21 Strokes Gained

Bunker Shot: Hopefully you are starting to get the idea of how this works now.  

We hit our bunker shot eight feet away from the hole where the average PGA Tour Player typically takes 1.5 strokes to hole out.  Let’s see how we did compared to the benchmarks:

2.53 (starting expected strokes) – 1.5 (new expected strokes) -1 (the stroke we took) = 0.03 strokes gained

Putt: Fortunately we sunk the putt for birdie so this is what the calculation for it would look like:

1.5 (starting expected strokes) – 0 (new expected strokes) -1 (the stroke we took) = 0.50 strokes gained


In total, we gained 0.65 strokes (0.33 – 0.21 + 0.03 + 0.50) on this hole compared to the benchmarks which is great but the best part about strokes gained is we can see exactly where things went well and where they could have gone better in a complete unbiased way.  

In our example, our drive and putt helped us the most while our bunker shot was still very solid considering we are comparing things to the average of the best players in the world. 

Even though we made birdie, we can see that our approach shot could have been better and did cost us a fraction of a shot.  

Fortunately, players on the PGA Tour have the luxury of their strokes gained being calculated automatically for them after every round, but us mere mortals have to calculate ours for ourselves. 

To do this, you could use the above chart and sit down for a few hours after every round, working the math, or you could use one of the many available online calculators such as the couple that we have linked below.

Golf Stats Lab Calculator – All Shots

Golf Ranking Calculator – Putting

Pitfalls of Traditional Golf Statistics

After completing a round, it’s common to tally up the number of greens and fairways hit, count total putts, and assess how frequently we managed to get up-and-down. While these statistics offer some insight, they often fall short of providing a fully objective assessment of our performance in each category.


To begin with, the greens-in-regulation statistic can be significantly biased and, aside from offering a rough estimate, fails to provide an accurate reflection of a player’s ball-striking performance. The distance the ball ends from the hole and the starting point of the approach shot are not factored into the final tally of greens in regulation.

Consider a scenario where a player hits all eighteen greens but consistently leaves themselves with fifty-foot putts throughout the round. This player’s scoring prospects are not significantly enhanced compared to another player who hits nine greens but leaves themselves with relatively straightforward up-and-down opportunities for the remaining nine holes.

Furthermore, a player experiencing a challenging day off the tee, navigating rough, trees, and bunkers, will likely struggle to hit many greens in regulation. However, this doesn’t necessarily indicate poor iron play; rather, it reflects the difficulties encountered due to errant tee shots. Thus, while the greens in regulation stat alone might suggest a subpar iron game, it fails to account for external factors influencing a player’s ability to reach the green.

Fairways Hit

Looking at fairways hit alone may not provide the most accurate assessment, especially when viewed through the lens of strokes gained analysis.

One major issue is that fairways hit fails to consider distance. For instance, on a 450-yard par four, a drive of 310 yards into the rough might actually result in a better outcome in terms of strokes gained compared to a shorter 250-yard drive that landed safely in the fairway. 

Moreover, fairways hit treats all misses equally. Consider a player who only misses two fairways per round; from a fairways hit perspective, they might appear to excel at driving the ball accurately. However, if those two misses result in shots going out of bounds or finding water hazards, fairways hit fails to distinguish between these costly errors and shots that merely find the rough. 

Strokes gained, on the other hand, provides a more nuanced understanding of a player’s overall performance by accounting for the true impact of each shot on their score.


Perhaps the worst statistic for people to keep in golf is putts per round.  This stat tells absolutely no story other than simply how many times a player putts during a round.

To show this, let’s look at two players, compare their putts per round and then look at their strokes gained stats.  

Player A 

Player A hits all eighteen greens in regulation, he hits nine approach shots to 30 feet and nine approach shots to fifteen feet. 

Player A has a great day on the greens making 5 of the fifteen footers and one of the thirty footers. 

He ends his day with thirty total putts and a strokes-gained-putting total of +3.84 which is an unbelievable day. 

Player B

Player B does not have his swing on this day and only hits six greens in regulation.  On the six greens he does hit, all of them were to twenty feet which he managed to successfully two-putt. 

On the twelve greens he missed he chipped six balls to six feet and six balls to two feet. 

Player B managed to make three of the six footers and all of his two footers. 

This left him with 27 putts and a strokes gained total of -1.68, not very good.

As you can see from this example, external factors can have a huge impact on the number of putts a player has in a round.  Strictly going by putts-per-round, it would appear that player B had a better day on the greens when in reality player A putted 5.52 strokes better.


Up-and-Down Percentage

Apart from indicating a player’s proficiency in chipping and putting, this statistic fails to provide a comprehensive overview of their performance around the green. The percentage doesn’t consider the starting position of the shot relative to the hole, and it conflates two distinct aspects of the game: chipping and putting. 

While it may be enjoyable to track how often a player successfully gets up-and-down after missing a green, a more accurate evaluation requires analyzing the starting and ending positions of their shots, highlighting the essence of strokes gained analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • Strokes Gained represents a revolutionary shift in golf analytics, providing a nuanced and comprehensive evaluation of a player’s performance across various aspects of the game.
  • Traditional golf statistics such as fairways hit, greens in regulation, and putts per round often fall short in offering a fully objective assessment of a player’s performance due to their inherent limitations and biases.
  • Strokes Gained methodology, developed by Columbia University professor Mark Broadie, compares a player’s performance on each shot to the average PGA Tour player, offering a more accurate and unbiased measure of a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Understanding your Strokes Gained data can provide invaluable insights into your game, allowing you to focus your practice efforts effectively and make informed decisions to improve your performance on the course.

Use Data Carefully

At Tracer Golf, our mission is to help golfers improve faster. By focusing on the right parts of your game we hope you will see real gains in your scores. Always keep learning and don’t let the wrong data sabotage your golf game.