‘Stroke’ of Genius
When it comes to advanced analytics in sports, there’s a tendency for “average” or “amateur” players to dismiss the relevance of this depth of statistical analysis to their respective games.
“It’s too complicated,” many say.
“I’m not good enough for it to matter,” others conclude.
For years, that was the case with “strokes gained.” A quantitative measurement tool pioneered by Peter Sanders and further developed by Dr. Mark Broadie for the PGA Tour, strokes gained is to golf what Billy Beane and Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” is to baseball.
The PGA Tour partnered with Broadie, a Columbia University business professor and author of “Every Shot Counts,” in 2011 to help players improve their putting through this groundbreaking system. Strokes gained was expanded in 2016 to include driving, approach shots and shots around the green.
RELATED: Understand how strokes gained works
This summer, Arccos is bringing this level of analysis via a new personalized strokes gained feature to anyone using the Arccos Caddie app. And the implication for golfers of all skill levels is profound according to Arccos Ambassador Andrew Rice, Director of Instruction at The Club at Savannah Harbor, who Golf Digest ranks as one of America’s 25 best teachers.
“This is information that might seem like it is only for Tour players,” Rice said during a conversation with Broadie on his Lockdown Learning Instagram show. “No it is not; it is for you. It is something that I believe every golfer, once they gain the perspective what better stats and better decision making brings to the table, are going to use to play better golf.”
RELATED: Andrew Rice reviews Arccos Caddie
The PGA Tour uses the field average as the benchmark, which initially led many amateur golfers to question its applicability to mere mortals. Sanders and Broadie, however, use a scratch (zero handicap) golfer as a strokes gained yardstick for students, and then convert the different shot types to handicaps.
“I will give amateurs their strokes gained relative to a scratch golfer and I will also give them a putting handicap,” Broadie said in the interview with Rice. “That converts it into a language most amateurs are familiar with. So, we give handicaps for approach shots, bunkers shots and putting and driving. But underneath it all is the strokes gained calculation.”
WATCH: Andrew Rice's Lockdown Learning episode with Mark Broadie
The Arccos strokes gained feature, on the other hand, will take this method into entirely unprecedented territory. By tapping into its database of more than 300 million shots, Arccos has built a model for how any handicap golfer would hit every shot with every club. This, in effect, bridges the two massive gaps between the existing benchmarks: the PGA Tour field average and the scratch golfer.
“With data from more than 300,000 users to fuel an A.I. neural net, we have created a strokes gained engine that is more accurate and powerful than anything in golf,” says Arccos CEO and co-founder Syed says. “We’ve essentially designed a human brain that is solely focused on strokes gained and it will be learning all the time.”
Syed explains it like this:
“If you’re a 10 handicap player who wants to be a five this season, you are five shots worse than your target. Strokes gained will tell you where the five handicap is gaining those strokes versus the 10 handicap. And that can be broken down at the highest level in four components: driving, approach, short game and putting.”
According to both Syed and Rice, it’s all about measuring and improving upon “micro” elements of one’s game that, when taken collectively, create better overall golfers exponentially faster.
The Arccos Caddie app already assigns unique handicaps to five shot types: driving, approach, chipping, sand and putting. The new strokes gained feature will go even deeper into these categories to give golfers information they would otherwise not have been able to access.
“If you are losing four strokes on driving, we are going to be able to tell you the exact areas of your driving game that you are losing the strokes. It might be 2.5 strokes on driving distance, 0.5 on accuracy and 1.0 on penalties,” Syed says. “It is going to pinpoint what you need to work on.”
As for whether or not strokes gained will go mainstream, Syed has no doubt.
“If you think about it, golf gives you an Excel spreadsheet for a scorecard. No other sport does that,” he says. “It’s just numbers and a grid, and then you’re putting more numbers in. Golf is all math, and whoever makes the best mathematical decisions is going to have the advantage.”
Learn more about Strokes Gained by visiting our Tour Analytics section on Arccos Academy. Still aren't an Arccos Caddie member? Join today by purchasing a set of Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors or Arccos Caddie Smart Grips and start improving faster.