Magic numbers

Tour caddy Sean Russell discusses the power of statistics and how keeping track of your round can make a big difference to your scores

Stats are fast becoming the most important currency on tour. Ryder Cup captains like Paul McGinley have talked at length about their use, while players have been discussing the DECADE system and Eduardo Molinari’s stats programme a lot in recent years.

But what can club golfers take from this, and how can we use statistics to improve without shelling out thousands?

On tour, players and caddies discuss exactly where they’re going to hit a tee shot. This has been worked out in practice rounds, with different lines and club selections based on the possible wind direction and strength, turf conditions, and the player’s strengths and weaknesses to leave the ball where they want it for the next shot.

What you’ll never hear is: “Hit three-wood off here as that’ll leave a 10-20-yard pitch, because that’s the worst part of your game.” Instead, they’ll already know a long iron leaves a nice wedge number and a better scoring opportunity.

We all face the same questions on the course. Take my home course, Gosforth, for example. The par four sixth is less than 300 yards and is a potential birdie hole. Yet so many players hit driver to the narrowest part of the fairway where there’s a bunker and trees on the left, and more trees on the right. The sensible play is a long iron short of all the trouble, leaving at most an eight iron for the second shot. The result – fewer card-wreckers.

As well as tee shot strategy, analysing your putting can be a game-changer. This is where some rudimentary analysis – and practising your weaknesses – can reduce your handicap with very little effort.

All tour caddies will tell you that most amateurs underestimate the number of putts they actually have, and that it’s not the condition of the greens at fault.

I play off a handicap of four, and I average 32 putts per round. It’s too many – the tour average is 28. While there is a great deal more detail you can get into around putting, even a basic understanding of when and why you’re three-putting, or where you’re missing short putts, can give you areas to focus on. 

As I have identified a weakness by looking at the simplest stat, I can practise. 

I use a drill which Chris Paisley did every week for the four-and-a-half years I worked for him, which involves putting through a gate (use two tees just a smidge wider than a ball) to a hole about 6ft away. If the putt hits the gate, it has not started on line. This is a great drill for me as it’s the range of putts which can improve my scores by a couple of shots. 

If you look back at a round and identify something like this and work on it, then add in some better lines and plays off the tees, I have no doubt you’ll see your handicap coming down by the couple of shots. Not a bad return for a little bit of numbers work.