Many golfers track only one stat during a round: their score. Even golfers with low golf handicaps don’t regularly track shot statistics. That’s too bad. Keeping accurate statistics is the key to improving. Good statistics underpin most successful improvement plans. As we often tell students in our golf lessons, if you’re serious about improving, track your stats closely. And the one stat you need to track closer than any other—even closer than the number of putts you take—is greens in regulation (GIR).
Lucius Riccio, PH.D, who teaches at Columbia University and is on the USGA’s Handicap research team, thinks “the most significant determinate of score by far is greens in regulation.” He’s probably right. Think of players you know whose golf handicaps are really low. Chances are they hit greens with regularity. Hitting greens separates the great golfers from not-so-great golfers. If you look closely at your scores, chances are GIRs were the difference between your low rounds and your high ones. Riccio even provides a system for tracking GIRs, which we discuss below:
You’ve probably read golf tips on tracking GIRs. Some tracking systems are complicated. They may tell you a lot of information. But if they’re too complicated, you’ll probably abandon them. What you want is a system that’s easy to remember and record. Riccio’s system is both. With his system, you circle the hole’s number (or your hole score) when you hit a green in regulation. At the end of the round, you count the circles. This tells you in general how you did. But going a step or two further can tell you have to improve that number.
How do you improve greens in regulation? The studies are clear. Improved iron play is the to key hitting more greens in regulation, as we tell students in our golf instruction sessions. To get a read on your iron game, track your GIRs on par 3s. You have a clear shot on the hole and a good lie. Tracking par 3 GIRs tells you how good your iron play is. Mark on your scorecard par 3s hit. The pros hit par-3 greens 70 to 80 percent of the time. Your shots won’t hit that often. But if you hit 20 percent of these greens, chances are good you’ll break 100.
Taking It One Step Further
Tracking par-3 GIRs tells gives you a good “high view” of your iron play. Digging a little deeper unearths more valuable information. Record every time you hit a green from the fairway with an iron. Put a mark in any empty row on your scorecard. If you hit the green, circle the mark. Count the circles when you finish. Do this over 5 rounds, 10 rounds, the whole season. This information is helpful. It tells you how good you are with your irons from the fairway.
But are you better with your short or your long irons? You can tell that by using the first nine holes on a separate scorecard. Check off the holes that correspond with the iron you hit into the green. If you hit an 8, put a check by the 8th hole. If you hit the green, circle the check. Review this info after a while, maybe 10 rounds. It’ll tell you how well you’re hitting each iron type—long, middle, and short. (For comparisons, the pros hit the green with a 3-iron about half the time. They hit the green with a 9-iron about 90 percent of the time.)
Also Track Tee Shots
Also, track your tee shots. Everyone wants to hit it long and straight. People favor golf instruction sessions on driving more than any other type of golf lesson. But tee shots that land in the rough don’t hurt you anywhere near as badly as shots that go out of bounds. Those kill you. So you want to count the tee shots that leave you in a position where you can’t hit the green. Mark these with an “X” over the hole number. Total these up after the round. Are you missing greens because of bad tee shots or bad iron shots?
Hitting greens in regulation impacts scores and handicaps more than most golfers realize. If you record three GIRs, you’ll probably break 100. If you hit six, chances are good you’ll break 90. Hit 9 and you’ll probably break 80. Once you determine what’s preventing you from hitting greens in regulation—iron play or driving—you can develop a plan to address the problem—take golf lessons, read up on golf tips, go to the range, and so on. Improve GIRs and you’ll whittle strokes off your golf handicap.