Table of Contents
If I asked you to hit a 20-yard pitch shot from behind a bunker, do you think you would gain or lose an advantage over your playing competitors?
What if your short game is not actually as important as you think?
In this post, we're going to use the strokes gained around the green statistic to find out.
Strokes gained around the green measures all golf shots that are within 30 yards of the edge of the green.
The formula for strokes gained around the green (SGAG) is:
SGAG = Avg. Strokes to hole out (start) - Avg. Strokes to hole out (end) - 1
Where "Avg. Strokes" is a "benchmark" calculated from hundreds of thousands of shots from the tour's ShotLink system.
Yes, I recommend Arccos for tracking your strokes gained statistics.
An up and down, often referred to as "scrambling" is a traditional golf statistic known as "Scrambling Percentage". It tracks how often a player successfully chips ("up") onto the green and makes the putt ("down") in just 2 strokes.
The PGA Tour average for this statistic is generally around 59%, while amateurs are generally below 50%.
This statistic is a great simple measure of short game prowess, but has several limitations:
- It doesn't factor in the lie of the ball (i.e. fairway, sand, rough, hazard)
- It relies on the golfer making a putt, which makes it hard to tell whether the golfer is great at chipping, or great at putting
- For example, if a golfer chunks a chip to 50 feet and makes the putt, it counts as an "up and down". But it certainly doesn't tell us how bad at chipping the golfer is!
To better assess the short game of a golfer, we need something more objective. That's where strokes gained around the green comes in.
As mentioned above, strokes gained around the green measures all golf shots that are within 30 yards of the edge of the green.
Strokes gained around the green is one of several strokes gained statistics tracked by the ShotLink system on Tour. You can find the official statistics on the PGA Tour website. Amateur golfers can track this through systems like Arccos as I'll explain later in this post.
In the screenshot above, you can see that during the 2023 season, Jonathan Byrd led the tour in strokes gained around the green. On average, Byrd gained 0.527 strokes on the field per round, and during the 2023 season, gained 19.49 strokes on the field over all his rounds.
While the official stat measures strokes gained around the green by round, we can measure it in many different ways. Given the right data, we could measure strokes gained around the green:
- For a single golf hole
- For a round of golf
- For a full golf tournament
- For an entire golf career
- Between two golf courses
- Between two golf tournaments
In other words, we could say that Rory Mcilroy "gained 2.2 strokes on the field around the greens during the Players Championship".
We could also say, "Over his career, Rory Mcilroy has lost 0.2 strokes against his peers around the greens"
I know, I know, this is confusing! Let's take a look at some examples to better understand the elusive strokes gained approach metric.
Calculating strokes gained approach is simpler than you think! At its core, this metric revolves around comparing a player's approach shot performance to a benchmark, typically derived from data collected on professional tours like the PGA Tour. It's a great way to objectively assess ball striking ability of a golfer.
The basic formula for strokes gained around the green is:
SGAG = Avg. Strokes to hole out (start) - Avg. Strokes to hole out (end) - 1
For example, let's say a golfer hits an iron shot and misses the green to the right. His ball ends up in the greenside bunker, 10 yards from the hole.
He hits the bunker shot to 5 feet. On average, a 10-yard bunker shot takes a tour pro ~2.47 shots to hole out (aka 55% probability of getting up and down). And on average, a 5-foot putt takes a pro 1.23 strokes to hole out.
So our formula is:
SGAG = 2.47 - 1.23 - 1 = 0.24
In this example where a player hits a 10-yard bunker shot to 5 feet, they have gained 0.24 strokes on the field.
We also must subtract 1 at the end to account for the stroke taken.
As you can see, SGAG is a function of location (fairway, rough, sand, etc.) and proximity (how close the ball ended to hole). Furthermore, notice how I didn't consider whether the 5-foot putt was made because that's not part of this statistic (it's part of strokes gained putting). Our goal here is to independently assess each part of our game.
Let's walk through the in-depth methodology.
As with other strokes gained statistics, strokes gained approach is tracked using the following basic methodology:
- Establish a Baseline: The baseline is the average number of strokes a player takes to hole out from a given location and distance. For example, if a golfer is 10 yards from the fringe, the baseline might be ~2.17 strokes. If an amateur is calculating strokes gained, they will typically compare to players of similar handicaps (skill levels) through an ecosystem like Arccos.
- Compare Individual Performance: Next, we compare a player's performance to this baseline. If a golfer hits a 20-yard bunker shot to a few inches from the hole, this is clearly better than tour average (benchmark) and he will have "gained strokes on the field".
- Aggregate Data Over Rounds: This process is repeated for every shot in a round, and the values are aggregated. Positive values indicate better-than-average chipping and pitching, while negative values suggest there's room for improvement.
For our baseline, we'll look at a small sample of PGA Tour benchmarks. These numbers are not exactly what is used on tour (those numbers are constantly being updated), but are very close as they were sampled from Mark Broadie's book, Every Shot Counts.
The first table is for chipping and pitching, while the second table is for putting.
Again, this is just a small sample to use for our examples. To calculate official statistics, more data points are used.
For this example, let's take a look at Jordan Spieth getting up and down on the 16th hole at the 2015 Tour Championship:
Let me start with an important note—we're ONLY looking at strokes gained around the green here. Remember, strokes gained putting and strokes gained around the green are separate metrics, so the putt Jordan makes in the video above won't affect our statistic.
On this hole, Jordan has a 10-yard chip shot from the sand. He hits it to 8-feet and makes the putt. From 10 yards in the sand, based on our table above, the benchmark is 2.47. Likewise, the benchmark for an 8-foot putt is 1.50. So our strokes gained is:
SGAG = 2.47 - 1.50 - 1 = -0.03
In this scenario, by hitting it to 8 feet from this location (bunker) and distance (10 yards), Jordan actually lost 0.03 strokes to the field.
Now that you understand the individual calculation, we just need to go through this process for every hole during this round and sum them all up to get the official strokes gained approach metric that the PGA Tour tracks.
Finally, we can average it for all rounds of a season to get an annual metric. Below, you can see Jordan's strokes gained around the green stats for 2015. While he may have lost strokes on that bunker shot from above, he ranked 24th on tour for strokes gained around the greens and on average, gained 0.264 strokes per round on the field with his chipping and pitching alone!
At the time of writing, the golf industry has come a long way with consumer-grade technology. With the proliferation of shot trackers and personal launch monitors, it has become easier for amateur golfers to assess their games with real on-course data.
That said, tracking strokes gained around the green statistics still proves difficult for many golfers.
Because as we talked about earlier, strokes gained calculations require benchmark data.
This means that for a 15-handicap golfer to assess their game with strokes gained around the greens data, all of the following things must be tracked:
- Every chip/pitch shot must be tracked (location AND distance)
- Thousands of golfers who play to a 15 handicap must also track their chip/pitch shots
- All this data must be aggregated in one spot (ecosystem)
For the PGA Tour, this is easy. ShotLink tracks every golf shot from every tournament for every tour pro automatically.
For us amateurs, we don't have this luxury (and frankly, most of us probably don't want all of our shots tracked!)
There are a few options though and I'm excited to see how this evolves in the next decade!
In my opinion, automatic strokes gained tracking is the best option. Tracking every shot for every round you play is exhausting and most golfers do not have the discipline to keep this up over a long enough period for it to start helping their games.
At the time of writing, here are a few shot trackers that also have strokes gained statistics built-in to their ecosystems:
- Arccos Shot Trackers: The Arccos system has strokes gained calculations available to users (via the app) and thanks to all the amateur data they have collected, you can compare your rounds against golfers of similar skill levels. This is a huge benefit and allows for the most accurate strokes gained data.
- ShotScope Trackers: A close second to Arccos, ShotScope offers shot trackers and an app that calculates strokes gained data. From what I've seen, ShotScope does not have quite as many data points as Arccos, but is a great alternative.
Several apps allow you to track all of your shots manually and then review strokes gained data within the dashboard. While this can be cumbersome and exhausting to some golfers, it is a great option if you are highly disciplined and dedicated to improving your golf game.
Here are a few to check out:
- My Round Pro
- PinPoint Golf
- Decade Golf: This is more of a system than an app. While it does have an app, this is a premium service you pay for to help learn better golf strategy based on strokes gained data.
At this point, you might be thinking—"Zach, we've talked a lot about chip shots, but what about the rest of my game?"
And you would be correct.
- Strokes gained around the green (this article)
- Strokes gained putting
- Strokes gained approach
- Strokes gained off the tee (driving)
While measuring your scrambling percentage can be a great start to tracking stats, the only true way to measure your performance with chipping and pitching is proximity to the hole, which is what strokes gained around the greens tracks.