The Worst Statistic in Golf

The Worst Statistic In Golf

“Lies, damned lies…”

Mark Twain famously said that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  As an unabashed lover of data and analytics, you may think that I wouldn’t agree, but in this one case, you’d be wrong.  Whether you call it Fairway % or Driving Accuracy, I think it’s one of the worst, most misleading, and, potentially damaging stats you can keep.  Here’s why:

Would you rather be here

Why Driving Accuracy is a Stupid Statistic

Would you rather have a drive that leaves you in the light rough with 100 yards to the green and a great angle or one that’s in the fairway, 250 yards from the pin, with trees in the way?  The answer is obvious, yet one of those drives helps your stats and one hurts.

Fairways hit doesn’t differentiate between a drive that barely makes it to the fairway and one that nearly runs onto the green.  It doesn’t distinguish between a drive that rolls into the first cut of rough and one that’s slashed into the woods.

This is why fairways hit is worse than useless: it’s measuring something that isn’t necessarily tied to better scores.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t track your data – you just need a better stat.

Stop Light 2

A Better Way to Think About Driving

Forget about fairways and start thinking in terms of stoplights.

Green Light: You have an unobstructed shot to the flag.  A real opportunity for a green in regulation.

Yellow Light: You have a play to the green, but it’s not ideal.  This could be a drive that you mishit and is too far from the green.  It could also be a drive into a fairway bunker, thick rough, or near some trees.

Red Light: A drive that costs you strokes.  This could be a drive OB, in the water, into the trees, or into a place where you simply can’t play to the green.

You can keep this stat on your scorecard as easily as you can track fairways.  Give each type of drive a symbol – I like a check mark for green lights, a dash for yellow, and an X for red.  If you want to add more detail, you can note why the drive failed – mishit, hooked, etc.

Is this more subjective than fairways hit?  Sure.  There’s no clear line between green and yellow.  Those that love hero shots may rarely mark an X.  Even so, you’re giving yourself more useful information than you would with fairways hit because you aren’t labeling good drives as bad or vice versa.

Take Action

Of course tracking all this data is only the first step.  If you’re seeing too many X’s on your card, it’s time to see a club fitter or a teaching pro…or both.  Driving is the most important part of the game, and it can be the most fun when you’re doing it well.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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4 Comments

  1. I really really like this idea. I’ve always kept track of my real FW% for logging a round, but during the round I’ve been marking a check mark if I had an approach to GIR, or X if I didn’t. I never differentiated between hero shot and a shot that costs strokes, but I think I will this year.
    I know that in the last year my fw% went down about 10%, but I was driving the ball about 15 yards further and had a lot more opportunities for GIR. So I knew the stat was off, but I tracked it anyways and it always tainted the good feelings about how I’ve been driving the ball.
    This is the kind of outside the norm thinking that really pushes golf forwards.

  2. I stopped keeping FW stats a couple years ago, because I found myself having to “game” them, by not including some fairways if I had no intention of being there and marking some misses as FW hit, if I was aiming there. This is similar to (but not exactly like) the strokes gained methodology logic.

  3. How about a similar approach to putting stats?
    I had a putt so long this weekend I thought 3 putts was a good result! And, when I miss for birdie from two feet, that’s a bad two-putt, if you see what I mean…

    • Matt Saternus

      Jim,

      Absolutely. You could mark the length of your first putt and the number of strokes from there as one way to “equalize” the stats.

      Best,

      Matt

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