Want to get better? Be prepared to inspect your game in the cold light of day.
After a slight hesitation, probably due to vanity, that’s the process I’ve begun to undertake when I recently downloaded V1 Sports’ Game app for my iPhone.
I’ve long been fascinated by the Strokes Gained statistic that has revolutionized the way we look at pro-golf performance. No longer do fans and analysts have to wonder how much value a player added by hitting 70 percent of fairways, or how much a player hurt the cause by three-putting twice.
Thanks to Strokes Gained, developed several years ago by Columbia professor Mark Broadie, we can put a much finer point on the pluses and minuses.
But forget about the Tigers and Rorys of the world. What about us, the humble rec golfers who really need all the help we can get? Thanks to an app like V1’s Game, we can put Strokes Gained — and many other metrics — to use for our own benefit.
Don’t know about you, but often I get lost in the ‘feel’ aspects of practice and finding that one swing key that’ll carry me through the next big tournament … or even just a couple more solid rounds in order to shave my handicap.
Not that technique isn’t important, but focused practice is paramount to shore up the weaknesses in your game.
I started July with a new swing concept — namely, trying to make my backswing plane more upright — so I only measured my shot data since then. Let’s see how the changes are taking, right? Also, it would be quite the pain to retroactively log every shot from this year’s 20-plus rounds.
After entering the results of my past five rounds into the round-tracking function of the app, including club selection and shot location for every swing, I have an idea of where I stand in the four main building blocks of golf scores: Driving, approach, short game and putting.
(I also realized that a golfer’s memory can be quite sensational. No room upstairs for any of the works of Shakespeare, but apparently there’s a spot for what club I hit from the third fairway at Murrysville GC three weeks ago. It was a 5-iron.)
Here’s what my Strokes Gained profile looks like on the V1 Game app:
As you can see on the bottom-right, I chose to compare my game to a theoretical scratch golfer, since that’s my long-term goal. There are options for a five handicap, a 10 handicap, and so on.
And as you can also see, the big stick has been holding me back lately. Actually, my full swing is what’s dragging me down at the moment — nearly 1 1/2 strokes per 18 holes to the negative when driving and approach are combined.
I wouldn’t have expected to be nearly a full stroke better than scratch in scrambling, but that’s why I wanted to try this app. The emotions and memories accrued over the course of nine or 18 holes can often get in the way of accurately analyzing what the real issues are.
While I’m definitely in stat-nerd heaven analyzing the state of my game, there are a couple of drawbacks to the app, which was developed less than a year ago.
Although I gradually got the hang of it as my Tuesday nine at North Park moved along, the in-round interface was a little confusing and cumbersome at first, to the point that it was interfering with my pre-shot routine on a couple of holes. I’ll blame that for the sloppy double bogey on No. 2.
But once I got to the final few holes, I had settled into the routine of marking each shot and the club used, even if it took a few too many taps for those of you who might like maximum efficiency.
Also, the infographics and charts that the app produces aren’t always intuitive. Here’s an example of one:
Each of the bars represent a single round, sure, but why would this be a bar graph anyway? I eventually understood what was going on here but this seems like an awkward choice to show direction.
On the other hand, there were many helpful charts in V1 Game’s analysis function, including plot-point graphs like this one, which shows the aspect of my game that’s most correlated with lower scores:
Hitting more greens seems obviously important, but the 0.89 correlation between that and my past few scores reiterates just how important it is. For what it’s worth, Strokes Gained driving was the second-highest correlation, at 0.86. (For stats newbies, 1.00 is a perfect correlation.)
My least-telling scoring indicator provided by V1 Game for this small sample size? Strokes Gained putting, which yielded a horizontal line and a correlation of 0.0. Wouldn’t have guessed that, even over this short span of performance.
Not like I’m going to stop practicing putting, but it’s a good reminder where a golfer’s bread is really buttered — on the shots that get you to the green, not the ones that occur on it. Certainly you can make great gains in the short game, but you can’t score consistently well by leaning on it too much.
Yes, there are some head-scratching inconsistencies with V1 Game — for instance, it doesn’t prorate nine-hole rounds to match up with full rounds in terms of score trends — but overall I learned quite a bit about the state of my game by using it.
In fact, I sense I’m just scratching the surface of what this app can do. Fortunately there’s a robust help menu featuring YouTube tutorials, should the shot-tracking features bog you down like they did me the first time through, or if you’re searching for a particular set of data.
Also, as a welcome analog side effect, I find that logging each shot live with the GPS reinforces them in my memory and makes me more accountable for the result. Bonus: A simple tap gives the player yardages to any landmark on a given hole, helping eliminate uncertainty as well as any course map or caddy.
At $6 per month, you have to be an avid golfer pushing to improve in order to get full value, but there are discounts to be had for one-year subscriptions, and there’s a lower-level option as well.
PGN Grade: B