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How To Track Your Golf Playing Stats & Use Them Effectively

After our data study showed that keeping regular playing stats was the most robust factor separating golfers who improved from those who didn’t, it seems only appropriate to follow up with an article on how to keep your play stats.

In this article, we’ll give you different options and ideas to help you track your playing stats. We’ll also throw in some nuggets of wisdom to help you make the most of using them to shoot lower scores.

First a quick recap.

What the data says about getting better at golf

Our data study looked at 257 golfers over 12 months and we’ll be honest, we expected practice time, golf lessons and number of rounds played to all be factors associated with handicap improvement…none of these were significant.

Our reason for the study, and our hunch, was that practice focus (having a practice plan and paying attention to practice scores) would also be a factor (which was correct) and that practice difficulty would be a factor in lower handicap golfers (there was a clear trend in golfers under a 5 handicap, but we didn’t have enough data to run stats).

The big surprise was that regularly keeping playing stats would be so strongly associated with golfers who lowered their handicaps.

Golfers who regularly kept playing stats showed an average handicap improvement of 3.38 shots, compared to an average improvement of 1.38 shots improvement for golfers who did not keep playing stats.

Playing stats and handicap change from data study

We must note here, that the analysis is not causal, you could argue golfers who are improving are more likely to keep stats…but interpreting the data in context does suggest that if you want to get better at golf you should be keeping regular playing stats.

Why?

Why are keeping playing stats important?

As we’ve thought through this finding it makes more and more sense why we see this trend. The hidden reason is feedback.

Feedback is a critical factor in learning, and yet few golfers or coaches talk about it.

Feedback relates to where the golf ball lands (knowledge of results), how your golf swing feels (knowledge of performance), your distribution of golf shots in practice and play and many more factors. We are essentially swimming in feedback, like fish in water, hence why we don’t pay much attention to it, but what feedback you have and how you use it is crucial for learning.

You can read more about feedback in motor learning here but the key message is without feedback, or clear feedback we don’t learn as humans.

Playing stats are the key source of feedback for understanding how you build your score, and if things are getting better over time.

Most golfers have little to no idea how they currently build their score on the golf course, where they miss fairways and greens, and how many putts they have. Furthermore, they don’t know how these variables are changing from round to round.

Sadly, we are very emotional and subjective beings when we reflect on our golf games. Even when we try to be objective, we are a long way off the reality of our playing stats for any given round.

Interpreting playing stats is a challenge for many golfers, we’ll help you later in this article, but playing stats are a key piece in understanding how practice will lower your scores.

Best ways to keep your playing stats

The trade-off in keeping playing stats is that they are boring and take time.

It is also easy to keep your playing stats when you play well and painful when you play badly. However, the latter is so important for understanding how your game changes between good and poor performances.

The change between your playing stats for your good golf rounds and poor golf rounds is called your performance gap – do you miss more fairways, miss greens left, or leave putts short – these pieces of information are super useful if you want to inform your practice and future games of golf.

When keeping playing stats you are looking for the maximum value output for the minimum input of time and effort.

If you are new to golf, basis stats (fairways hit, greens hit, ups and downs and putts) will be a great start. As you get to a teen’s handicap or single-figures I would highly recommend finding a stats programme with strokes gained data.

We’re not going to dive into explaining strokes gained here but click on this link for a full article.

Keeping playing stats is some extra work, but what I would like you to take away is that if you are planning to spend 2 or more hours a week trying to get better at golf, it is well worth spending 5 to 7 minutes entering stats to inform your practice.

Keeping playing stats is one of the best uses of time for any golfer, once they start practicing more than one hour a week.

Golf stats apps

The best solution is a golf stats app, you can check out this link for a detailed round-up article, but here are some quick options:

  • The Grint – Freemium version and simple to use.
  • UpGame – Paid, but best for serious golfers.
  • 18 Birdies – Freemium version and good GPS.

If you have the Arccos or ShotScope products they offer great systems for keeping playing stats.

ShotScope kindly give Golf Insider readers 10% off with the code: GOLFINSIDER

Other options

Historically, I built stats sheets for players, but I feel that tech and app solutions are best. If you do want a simple Excel download, feel free to click the button below.

It is crude but allows you to keep basic stats, understand where you miss fairways and greens and gives you some useful other insights, such as your 1st putt distance (another simple metric to help focus your practice).

Free excel stats download

If you’d like a journal approach, you can also check out the Performance Diary I created a few years ago, again it is a little out of date and I feel the value of stats apps are greater for most players.

Scorecard for your playing stats

No one wants to spend their time on the course entering 100s of numbers. You can just enter playing stats after your round, but it can be tough to remember certain aspects.

Below is how many elite amateur and minitour pros keep their stats if you want to keep track of your stats on a scorecard as you play.

Golf scorecard for keeping playing stats

The 1st column is very obvious, next we have fairways and greens, with a ✔ for a hit fairway and ‘L‘ and ‘R‘ for fairways missed left and right. Greens follow the same approach but with ‘S‘ and ‘Ln‘ for greens missed short and long.

We then have up and downs as ‘✔’ or ‘X’ for any time you managed to take one chip and one putt (or less) for completing the hole from inside 50 yards after missing the green.

This is followed by the number of putts taken on each hole and finally your 1st putt distance in each hole. First putt distance isn’t necessary for every golfer but is valuable as you get better and it is generally the hardest thing to remember once you’ve finished the round.

How to evaluate your playing stats

I’ve spent the past 11 years building practice plans for elite pros and amateurs and analysing their playing stats. I think I’m pretty good at it, but I’m still learning, here I’ll try to get you up and running with how to use your playing stats.

Strokes gained data

Strokes gained data are pretty easy to work with, just look at your numbers and choose the lowest number to work on. In the case below (left image), we should focus on approach play and putting, driving is then the 3rd worst and short game is the strongest area.

You can then dive into each area, such as approach play (right image) and see which distances are the ones where you are losing the most strokes and where you are hitting the most shots from.

These are the areas you should practice. If you want to learn more about this approach of critically evaluating your game check out this article on building a game improvement plan.

Based on how much time you have you should then choose 1-3 areas of work on (under 2 hours weekly practice choose 1 area, under 4 hours choose 2 areas…).

Traditional stats

Traditional stats are harder to work with and require more guessing. For example, if you start hitting more greens your putts are likely to go up. This doesn’t mean your putting has got worse.

If you start hitting the ball further, you’ll hit fewer fairways, but this might be a positive thing if you have much shorter approach shots and are just in the rough or semi-rough.

Below is a chart showing the best approach I’ve come up with for understanding your playing stats, it is far from perfect, but does a good 80:20 job of finding out what to work on.

Start in the top left on level 1 and check your stats against each box. If you have more than 36 putts, stop here and write this down as your biggest weakness to work on. If you have under 36 putts move right and check if your up and down percentage is lower than 30%…keep moving across to the right until you complete the 1st row, then move onto the second row…

Golf Insider playing stats checker chart
Golf Insider playing stats checker chart. Please note driving distances are in yards.

Depending on how much time you have to practice, work out the 1-3 areas you should spend the most time working on.

How to practice once you have analysed your playing stats

From my experience, you want to focus your practice efforts on the areas that are weakest and those that are easiest to improve, while continuing to practice core parts of the game (driving, approach play, chipping and putting).

I personally think a mix of technical practice (working on swing mechanics) and playing skills games is the best way to improve, the latter is more focused on problem-solving and not worrying about how you are swinging.

The final part is to make sure you get out onto the golf course to learn how to score, you can play normal rounds of golf, or games like ‘In Regulation’ and ‘Par’ or ‘Birdie challenges’ featured below.

Golf Insider skills games

Why most golfers practice but don’t improve

To finish with we’ll cover where I think most golfers go wrong, and wrap up everything we have covered in this article.

The left-hand diagram shows how most golfers practice and play. Compare this to the right-hand graphic that summarises what we have covered in this article and what I feel is optimal for shooting lower scores.

Based on this we can see why for golfers in the left-hand cycle the number of hours practiced a week isn’t the best predictor of whether golfers improved their handicap. The cycle is just not designed to target the right areas to shoot lower scores and practice them effectively.

Golf stats cycle for effective and less effective practice

The right-hand side shows what would be ideal, keeping practice stats and then using them to create a targeted practice with technical work, skills games and on-course challenges.

This diagram is the concept that we used to develop Break X Golf (I’ve co-founded this with a developer Adam) which builds personalised practice plans with all the above baked in for golfers who already keep playing stats.

It is a cool practice tool for golfers, but only check out Break X Golf if you:

  • Keep playing stats.
  • Practice 2 or more hours a week.
  • Want to get more serious about improving at golf.

It isn’t a magic bullet that will make you better without practice or keeping stats.

For those starting their journey of keeping playing stats, use the steps in this article, then use the links below for lots of free practice skills games and ideas.

Summary

This article has hopefully helped you understand how to keep your playing stats and how to use them effectively to shoot lower scores. Apologies it turned into a lengthy read, but I hope it has been helpful.

Go collect three to five rounds of playing stats and then sit down and look at the data. Revisit the charts and links here to work out how to use your playing stats to build an effective plan.

Feel free to leave any questions below.

Happy golfing and have a great season of golf – Will @ Golf Insider

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Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

2 thoughts on “How To Track Your Golf Playing Stats & Use Them Effectively”

  1. Cheers Will
    Love this article, love keeping stats!
    The Golfinsider stats checker chart will be used as well from now on.
    I keep basic stats on course and then log them after. Takes 5 minutes and has improved my game over the years.
    Positive tee shots (chance of GIR)
    Positive Driver (negative left, right, short)
    GIR (missed left, right, long, short)
    Penalties, Up/downs, bunker up/down
    1,2,3 putts
    Putts missed GIR
    Putts GIR
    Total putts
    You can really workout what hurts and helps your game.
    Then there’s practice stats…..!!!!

    Reply

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