Why do you play golf? To get better, right?

Of course it’s not so simple…. To say “I am going to shoot a 45 today in my league” could be setting yourself up for failure. First, you gave yourself a hard and fast number to achieve that may or may not be attainable. If you really want to improve your game focus on those numbers that most contribute to what you shoot on a given day. That way you can drill down on what’s holding you back and take this knowledge back with you to the range.

Here are five stats that the pros are measured by and you should pay attention to also. You won’t have pro level numbers, of course, but they give you alternatives to “shoot for” other than just score score score. Plus we all know, you can get lucky (or unlucky) and the score doesn’t always reveal how well you really played. Go a bit deeper and track, very simply on your scorecard:

GIRs – Greens in Regulation, or GIRs. This refers to the number of holes in which you are able to get the ball on the green “in regulation” play. Getting the ball on the green with your second shot on a par 4 is considered a Green in Regulation; and this is the goal as you commonly hear people say “get on in two”. On a par 5 getting on in 3 shots is a GIR as is getting on with one shot on a par 3. This is commonly represented in percentages; for example Golfermom Nicole Castrale has a GIR of 67% across all of her 2013 tournament rounds. This means she gets on the green 2/3rds of the time; in 12 of the 18 holes in a tournament round.

In my opinion this is THE MOST IMPORTANT STAT of all time. Why? Because if you get on the green in two you at least have a chance of making a birdie and will most likely make par. But if you get off the green with your second shot and have to pitch or chip on, i.e. scramble, you have a strong change of making a bogey.

Putts – How many putts do you make in a round? I am not talking about how many times you three putt or one-putt but what counts over all are the total number of putts you make in a round. If you two-putted every hole you would have a total of 36 putts. Nothing contributes to your total score more so than putting. A three-putt is not the end of the world if you make up for it by keeping your total putt count low. Furthermore, it might take you two green-side shots to get on after you duff your first chip but if you one-putt that is no worse than bogey. The best putters in the world average less than 30 putts per round. Golfermom Catriona Matthew has averaged 29.89 putts per round in 2013 and she is ranked number 55 on the LPGA tour in total putting.

Putts per GIR – This one is a bit tricky but if you can keep this number low then you will be making more birdies than those you play with. Putts per GIR refers to the average number of putts after getting on the green in regulation. This is important for two very good reasons: (1) Overall it is a better predictor of your overall putting skill because when you make it on to a green with a full swing, i.e. in regulation, you’re less likely to be closer to the hole as compared to chipping or pitching from green-side. In essence, a two-putt from 60 feet is a lot more remarkable than a two-putt from 6 feet. (2) It can also indicate how far off line you are with your full shots. If you never “stick it close” getting yourself to one-putt range you will almost never one putt and make only pars or bogeys every time you get on the green. However, if your irons can give you kick in birdies then your Putts per GIR will be quite low. Golfermom Juli Inkster’s Putts per GIR are 1.826. This means that when she gets on the green she averages 1.8 putts, or, many two-putts and some one-putts.

Fairways Does your tee shot go way off line or does it land in the fairway? This is important because when you land in the fairway and aren’t dealing with rough and/or trees, you have a better chance of controlling how well you can hit the ball on your approach shot. However, I also find stat this can be a confidence booster. Occasionally my tee shots go wildly off-line and I find myself in another fairway or, worse still, out of bounds. This affects my score tremendously not only because I waste shots getting back to where I should have been in the fairway but also because I may be mentally too rattled to properly concentrate on just taking the next shot. In frustration I counted the number of fairways I missed recently and found that I actually made the fairway with my Driver 2/3 of the time. It just felt like my percentage was worse because the result would be so bad. Again, this is not the most important stat. Tiger still made it onto the green more than 50% of the time when he did NOT hit the fairway (2012 stats, tigerwoods.com).

Scrambling – How often do you get “up and down” when your approach shot (regulation shot) doesn’t make it on to the green? Up and down means you get the ball up onto the green and down into the hole in two shots. Therefore you would save par if your regulation shot didn’t make it onto the green. To scramble means to get the ball up and down and thus saving par. The only way to make a birdie without getting a GIR is to pitch or chip the ball into the hole. Some good scrambling can make up for a whole host of sins. I once shot a 37 in a Tournament on the front nine of my home golf course (my best 9-hole score so far) while making only a single GIR. I was lucky that my touch around the green was on that day and I kept downing putts even when I left myself 8 footers. The good news is that this seems to get better, at least for me, more so by lots of playing rather than lots of practicing.

You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you only track your full score. Pay attention to the other numbers that contribute and you can get a full picture. This will tell you what you actually need to work on. Also, you can go to the course with several different goals, other than just the total score, making you that much more likely to reach one or two of them and succeed.♣