Golf by the numbers: Give analytics a shot at being part of your preparation

Image by Eric Frommelt for ESPN

Back when I was a teenager and still learning how to manage my game on the golf course, I wanted to have a better understanding of what I did well and what I needed to work on.

So I got an 8½ x 11-inch spiral notebook, carefully created columns with a ruler and put in these categories:

  • Date
  • Course
  • Eagles (probably a little optimistic at that time)
  • Birdies
  • Pars
  • Bogeys
  • Double bogeys
  • Triple bogeys and above (it was a sad day when that number was more than zero)
  • Fairways hit
  • Greens in regulation
  • Putts
  • Three-putts

Before long, it was amazing how much I could learn from that information.

I saw right away that when I hit at least eight or nine of the 14 fairways on par-4s and par-5s, I probably was going to have more greens in regulation and score better. The number of putts also was an important indicator although a low total there might mean that I missed a lot of greens and got up and down a few times.

Little did I know that I was way ahead of my time.

These days, analytics are all the rage among the golf pros, just as they are in other sports. Only now they dig much deeper, analyzing everything from exactly how far every shot goes to whether that shaft is right for the player. It’s not uncommon for a pro to say that his analytics advisor saves him a shot or two every round.

But the technology is available to you and me, too. Check out this passage from Golfweek:

Arccos 360 displays such things as relative strength and weakness of driving, short game and putting, left and right tendencies, and what trends develop over time. Game Golf’s Approach the Green tool displays miss tendencies when hitting into greens in both percentages and yards. This type of useful data is fairly new to most amateur players.

“Adoption of these systems is growing slowly, but partnerships such as Arccos’ with Cobra Golf should spur more interest. Several new Cobra drivers – including the King LTD BlackKing F7 and King F7+ – come standard with Cobra Connect, an Arccos-powered system embedded in the grip that syncs with a smartphone app and provides driving data.”

Phew! Talk about information we all could use. I haven’t kept my stats for years, but it got me thinking: When I go back to that (and I intend to), I’m going to need a lot more categories – some useful, some just for fun.

The most obvious place to start is the driver. I need to know how many times I hit it left and how many times I hit it right in every round – and, if possible, how far each drive went. That would tell me a lot right there. It would be especially useful once I buy the new driver I intend to get very soon.

How about percentage of greens hit – doesn’t matter whether it was in regulation or not – from 150 yards on in? I’d guess that I have at least 12-14 of those shots per round. If I’m not hitting the green on at least nine or 10 of them, I’m pretty disappointed. There should be a special category for when you miss the green with a wedge in your hand.

And putting – holy cow, talk about a game-changer. One of the things I like to do is total up the combined length of all the putts I made. Know that, and you get a pretty good idea of whether you rolled in a few putts outside two feet. But it would help to have some computerized, analytical way to determine what a good number in that category would be.

Just for fun, how about a “bozo golf” category? Every once in awhile, I hit one so bad, all I can say is “Oops!” It is the ultimate in wasted shots – such as in my last round, when I accidentally moved the ball forward an inch while addressing it in the rough. (That’s a stroke, folks – I count ’em all. You do, too, right? Right?)

The main purpose of all this, of course, is to know what we most need to work on, but we tend to have a pretty good idea about that anyway. What intrigues me is how it affects your decisions on the course – whether to go for a par-5 in two, whether to take the safe shot or go for broke, etc.

I wish I’d saved that spiral notebook I had so dutifully filled in way back when. It’s one of my treasured memories of our great game – and I think I still could learn from it today. But the learning continues. There are new analytical toys to explore.

The numbers don’t lie.


Leave a Reply