Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Golf Stats. Life Stats.

All the golf books say to do it.  Entire websites are devoted to it.  In his book Breaking 90, Johnny Miller offers up this tidbit about the usefulness of golf statistics, even for the average golfer: "There are two steps in building the consistency required to shoot scores in the 80s.  First, you need to keep track of the parts of your game that work well and those with which you struggle."  He then goes into mind-numbing detail about his personal method of marking scorecards during his heyday in the 70s, even bragging about how elaborate his personal system was. 

So, I listened to Johnny Miller.  There are worse things a struggling golfer can do.

As the snow begins to melt in Indianapolis, I'm stuck staring at a database of golf statistics from last season, trying to decipher the data, obsessing about what I hope to accomplish in the coming golf season. 

A few highlights from my 2010 golf season:

1.  I played 658 holes of golf and finished the season at 904 strokes over par. Ouch.
2.  I walked no less than 111 miles over the course of the season.
3. I hit 42% of fairways.
4. I made 7 birdies, nearly all of them on par 4 holes and never on a par 5.
5. The stats say my putting is better than my driving.
6.  My best 18 hole score of the year was an 86. My worst? 115 (It was on a course I'd never played before, early in the year, I had a weird pain in my left hip, it was a little bit muggy outside, I think the hot dog I ate after the front 9 was bad, etc.)
7. I make a par every 5.88 holes I play.
8. My record in match play was 1-6.
9. I played 11 different golf courses.
10. One time, the gods were happy and I played 13 holes in 3 over par.

Miller says the whole point is to become more familiar with your game and how to plan practice time more effectively.  And what have I learned? Don't sweat the par 3s, because I play them much better than I thought I did.  Watch out for par 5s.  A bogey ain't so bad. Golf stats are boring.

So, I've been thinking... 

Let's assume athletes use statistics as a way to gauge improvement or decline.  What are the rest of us to do?  How do we know when we're on the road to self-improvement in our everyday lives? Should we be keeping life stats to see how we're doing?  What would make for a statistically pleasing existence?  To get us started, I've tracked some statistics from my own life over the past week:

1. Miles driven: 87
2. Papers graded: 96
3. Turkey sandwiches eaten: 4
4. Occasions on which I exchanged pleasantries with the Fed-Ex guy: 2
5. Trips to gym: 1
6. Times I stood in front of the bedroom mirror in my underwear and mimed a golf swing: 19.
7. Weird golf dreams where it's the first day of the golf season, I'm late to the course, and my golfing buddies are already there decked out in old fashioned golf knickers, linen caps, and matching vests: 1.

Ben Franklin was doing this sort of thing years ago, of course.  Franklin called it the Thirteen Virtues, a list of self-written rules he hoped to follow in order to arrive at what he called "moral perfection."  If followed closely, a person could expect to become sincere, industrious, frugal, humble, and chaste, among other noble qualities.  Franklin himself carried around a chart and marked when he broke a rule.  

After spending a week focusing on each virtue, Franklin offered these encouraging words to all would be stat trackers: "I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it."

No doubt I'll be a better golfer this season than last.   Better why? Because I understand where I'm going:  straight to the range to practice my driving.  The stats say it's the weakest part of my game.


  1. Loved the excuse for shooting 117. (and the picture)

  2. The 117 was a long day. It was punctuated by 3 balls in a lake on a 110 yard par 3 fronted by water. Plus, I was riding in a stupid golf cart, which never helps. I think I may have been dehydrated too. I was playing with my old clubs. The tree I was standing inside of on hole 3 as I hit my second shot scratched my back...

  3. Flew into Indy today and got picked up by my mom and dad. Somehow we got to talking about blogs. I was telling them about this blog and I told dad he played golf with you. He couldn't remember you until I said you were the guy who didn't pay up on his bet. Then he totally remembered you. He said, "That guy owes me 50 cents."

    I defended you by saying that you just started playing and you probably thought, it's just 50 cents. Perhaps now you know when you hand over your quarter, it's the equivalent of saying, "You beat me. You were the better golfer today."

  4. That's hilarious. I don't even remember a bet from that day. Nonetheless, thanks for defending me, but sadly...you know I'd been playing for years by then. Just not very well.