How Does Performance Change By Handicap Level? Shot Scope Data Provides Insights
Statistics can have a way of putting things quickly into perspective for golfers. For the most part, the golf world is used to seeing what players are doing at a professional level. Many times I like to use PGA Tour stats as a way of managing expectations for recreational golfers. In this article, I’d like to share some interesting data that Shot Scope, one of the leading shot-tracking companies, has compiled.
Over the last few years, they have amassed a database of more than 18 million shots from golfers all around the world. I’m going to review a few stats from tee shots and approach shots that I think you’ll find interesting. It will also give some insight into what you might need to do to reach the level of golf you’re looking to achieve.
How Far Are Normal Golfers Hitting The Ball?
All golfers want to know how to get more distance, especially off the tee. There’s no question that it’s easier to post lower scores when you can hit your tee shots farther, and have a shorter approach shot to the green.
Shot Scope compiled some data surrounding driving distance based on common handicap levels (8, 14, and 20), which you can see below. The green bar represents the average distance of all shots, the blue bar represents a well-struck shot, and the purple indicates the longest drive.
You can see that there is a clear correlation between handicap level and distance off the tee with either a driver or a 3-wood. I can speak from personal experience that being able to add yards off the tee is a strong component of lowering your handicap. I’ve also discussed some reasonable steps you can take to get a little longer off the tee.
If you’re looking for ways to keep an official handicap index, check out this guide.
How Important is Accuracy Off the Tee?
Shot Scope also has insights into what wayward tee shots will cost you. The image below shows how many shots it costs a typical golfer when they miss the fairway as well as laying back with a 3-wood.
Interestingly, a fairway bunker is even more penal than missing a drive into the trees. Additionally, laying back for accuracy with a 3-wood can cost you the equivalent amount of strokes for missing the fairway into the light rough.
I’ve written before about tee shot strategies, and essentially you want to hit the ball as far as possible while taking into account major trouble such as hazards or trees. There are some instances where it makes sense to take less club, and also times where it makes more sense to hit driver rather than being too conservative. For this reason, I always suggest golfers evaluate courses they play beforehand to come up with a tee shot strategy that takes into account smart target and club selection.
My Favorite Stat (the one that can save you a ton of shots)
Approach shot strategy is one of my favorite topics. It’s also been proven by leading statisticians like Mark Broadie to be where the majority of scoring takes place. Long story short, where you land your approach shot has a huge influence on what your score will be for any given hole.
I believe the following image is very powerful information:
According to Shot Scope’s database, 80% of golfers are missing their greens on the short side. It’s one of the reasons I suggest that most players should play to the back yardage. Also, when you keep track of your own shot data you can see where the majority of your misses occur. Taking that information and making smarter strategic decisions on the course is a way to hit more greens in regulation (and lower your scores).
GIR is King
Whenever golfers ask me what the secret is to lowering scores I often tell them that they have to build their game around hitting more greens, especially if you want to break into the single digit handicap range.
Currently, my handicap is a + .7. It took more than two decades to officially say I’m a scratch golfer. The cornerstone of my game is making sure I am giving myself an opportunity to hit as many greens as possible during a round. It took a combination of working on my ball striking, choosing an optimal strategy off the tee, and making sure I am choosing conservative targets on greens (no pin hunting!).
Let’s take a look at how golfers at various handicap levels are faring at hitting greens:
You can see that the gap between a 14 and 20 handicap is only seven percentage points, versus over 16 percent between an 8 and 14 handicap. I’ve noticed this trend before and it’s often why my advice changes when I’m talking to golfers who are looking to break 100, 90, and 80.
At higher handicap levels, lowering scores is often about eliminating mistakes such as three-putting, poor wedge play inside 100 yards, bad strategic decisions, and avoiding the chunks/skulls/mishits. A lot of them are low-hanging fruit that can be corrected to turn a 102 into a 95.
However, as you get down to golfers who want to shoot more in the 80s and 70s your progress can be impeded by ball striking. All of the aforementioned concepts for higher handicaps are still important, but you can’t get around the GIR statistic. Of all the statistics golfers can measure their progress by, I believe it’s the most important one to focus on. Hitting one or two more greens per round on average can make a huge difference in your scores, which you can see in these trends from Shot Scope.
The good news is you don’t need to be a PGA Tour player and hit 75% of your greens. You can post some really good scores while still missing the majority of your greens during a round, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Custom Data Works Better
Over the last several years, I’ve written numerous articles on how keeping track of your stats is a good idea. You can find out how far you are actually hitting each club, see your tendencies on various parts of your game, and use that information to optimize your decisions.
It’s easier than ever to record and analyze information with shot tracking systems. If you’re interested in learning more about Shot Scope you can visit their website here. I also wrote this review on their system, which I believe is one of the easiest to use on the marketplace.
Sean McCarthy says
As a person who is between a 14-20 handicap, I really appreciate your article. That is a lot of great information. As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve gotten smarter about accepting my golf limitations, which includes the fact that I don’t hit it as far as I think I do and in most situations it is better to club up when making an approach shot. Even with my better golfing friends, none are scratch, they struggle with the critical approach shot more than distance and accuracy out of the tee box. Good stuff.
thanks, Sean – glad you enjoyed the article!
Jon, do you know if the Shot Scope data take into account whether the shot is hit by a RH or LH golfer? The approach data makes sense for a RH golfer, since it shows the majority of shots short and right which make sense if you hit a little extra fade. Can I assume as a lefty that I can just flop the numbers when it comes to left/right?
Thanks for all the great content.
I don’t believe it takes into account if they are RH or LH since this is aggregate data. I think the main takeaway is that the majority of golfers are missing greens on the short side. Glad you enjoy the site, thanks for reading!
Would love to see the stats for 4 handicaps. As a 7 handicapper my stats are all just a bit better than Mr Average 8.
Strokes Gamed says
I started using Arrcos this year (I love the data I get to determine how to improve) I’m making an assumption that shot scope and arrcos work pretty similarly. One thing, I’ve found using it and reviewing my rounds afterwards is that it tends to “over count” short GIR approaches. I put that in quotes because there isn’t anything technically incorrect, it’s just unfortunately I don’t always have an option to hit a GIR. Either because of penalty or poorly struck tee shots mid to high hcps sometimes are short of a green in GIR stroke, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t taking enough club on approach. For instance, during my last round I was excellent (for me) with my irons, I hit 9 GIR but Arccos showed I was short on 5 approaches. Since I new I was striking my irons really well that day it seemed off. I had however struggled off the tee with 3 penalties, turns out I was only really short on “approach shots” twice but those 3 penalties gave me 3 additional holes where I was short on my “approach stroke”. When I review an individual round I can view the data with the proper context however, in aggregate for me individually and especially in aggregate of mid to high handicaps here, you can’t see that. I’m not saying landing short of greens isn’t an issue for many golfers, I’m just pointing out that this type of aggregate data can be a bit misleading.