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Review of Every Shot Counts – Mark Broadie

Mark Broadie’s Every Shot Counts: Using the Revolutionary Strokes Gained Approach to Improve Your Golf Performance and Strategy (2014) is the long-awaited full-length explanation of his strokes gained research. Broadie had published numerous academic papers discussing his strokes gained method and the PGA Tour has been showing the Strokes Gained Putting stat for a few years, so much of this material is merely rehashed from articles others have written or from his 2011 paper “Assessing Golfer Performance on the PGA Tour“. It’s well known that Broadie’s research has disproved putting as the most important part of the game and has elevated the long-game (driving and long approach shots) in its place, but where this book shines is in its lessons for applying this new knowledge to actually playing the game, whether you’re a pro, advising a pro, or an amateur.

Broadie spends the first six chapters basically explaining the strokes gained method. He covers why putting is overrated, why traditional putting statistics are worthless, and how the strokes gained method works. He then introduces strokes gained for the tee-to-green game. Broadie establishes that why the long-game is so important in separating elite pros from average pros, average pros from good amateurs, and good amateurs from 90 handicappers; in the process he shows why Tiger dominated golf so much in the last decade (he was good at everything, but the #GOAT at playing long approach shots). This part of the book is worthwhile for the more in-depth exploration of the strokes gained method, but if you’ve read his academic work feel free to skim it for the handful of insights.

Essentially, Broadie’s work is about how fractional strokes are so important in separating pro golfers. The best and worst golfers in a PGA Tour tournament are separated by 2.5 strokes/round. Most of that separation is manifested in things like hitting an extra green each round, driving the ball five yards further, leaving your shots from the sand a foot closer, and/or hitting a single approach shot within birdie range. His research argues for a strategy that considers all possible shots and outcomes of those shots, and selects the highest expected value play. In this recent interview, Broadie says that most golfers don’t play aggressively enough; they leave putts short of the hole, lay-up on par 5s, and hit woods/hybrids off the tee when they’d be better served hitting driver. Central to his work is the idea that being much closer to the hole is worth playing out of the rough/fairway bunker.

Broadie finally explores new ground the final three chapters, laying out how this new knowledge should be applied to all aspects of the game. In Chapter Seven, Broadie explores what the strokes gained analysis means for putting and how to figure out how aggressive to be on long putts. He explains that many PGA Tour golfers aren’t aggressive enough with their putting; they often purposefully don’t hit putts with enough force to get to the hole, ensuring that they miss the putt. There’s a lot of work in this chapter figuring out optimal aim points from different locations on the green; very interesting work for amateurs who are looking to improve their strategy on the green.

In Chapter Eight he explores how to optimize your long game to shave wasted strokes. Much of the chapter is spent on figuring out the proper way to target drives to ensure you miss the dangerous hazards (water, out of bounds), even if you are forced to play less from the fairway. This section would be very useful for amateurs who often find themselves wasting strokes off the tee by not being cognizant of where the dangerous areas of the course are. Broadie also spends this chapter detailing why lay-ups are typically a minus EV play – particularly notable this week after the way Patrick Reed laid-up so poorly down the stretch at Doral.

Chapter Nine is a detailed look at numerous different practice methods that use the ideas behind valuing each stroke and playing the highest EV game. I mainly skimmed these, but amateurs might find the lessons/games useful for improving their play.

I did pick up a few interesting lessons:

1. It’s well established that those who hit for more distance off the tee usually hit fewer than average fairways, but Broadie has actually found that longer players have a smaller degree of error in terms of how off-line they hit their shots. In fact, the only reason many long hitters hit fewer fairways is because when they do hit a shot with a larger than average degree of error, the increased distance cause it to fly/roll further off-line – into bunkers and the rough. Driving is basically a geometry problem where a smaller angle and larger hypotenuse can produce a larger miss.

2. Broadie introduces the concept of “median leave” in Chapter Five. The PGA Tour publishes stats showing the average proximity to the hole from approach shots, the rough, green-side bunkers, etc. However, Broadie argues we should use the median proximity instead because it’s not distorted by larger misses (like when you fly the green and leave it 50 yards from the hole). Median leave is simply the distance remaining to the pin after the shot divided by the distance to the pin before the shot. So a 150 yard approach to 18 feet would be a median leave of 4%. The best approach shot players have a median leave of 5.5% – equivalent to hitting it a median proximity of 29 feet from the average PGA approach shot (175 yards).

3. When discussing optimal driving strategy he explains the idea of “shot pattern”. Your shot pattern is all the possible results of each type of shot, considering the distance you can hit with a club, the degree of accuracy, and any spin/fade/draw/slice/etc. you can play. Golf is a game where each swing is essentially slightly random – a golfer might swing perfectly, contact the ball perfectly, judge the wind perfectly, and get the right amount of spin when he lands it on the green, but more likely his swing will be slightly off or he’ll mishit it slightly or the wind will push it offline a bit, or it will roll-out when it hits the green. The optimal golfer will know their 95% confidence interval for a 125 yard wedge shot, his average degree of miss when he hits driver, and all the possible results of an approach shot if the greens are firmer than expected. The optimal golfer will play their shots with all that understanding and avoid playing shots that are excessively conservative or needlessly risky.

All in all, it’s a worthwhile book if you’re interested in applying Broadie’s research to your golf game or at least interested in how a pro might apply it to how they work around a golf course. Broadie has plenty of evidence of some of the elite golf instructors already using this kind of stuff to help their clients excel. On the other hand if you’re just interested in the research itself, reading the literature I linked above is sufficient. His initial six chapters don’t provide a substantial amount of expansion on his earlier papers.