Strokes Gained Scrambling helps separate the wedge wizards and putting aces

September 27, 2017

In last month’s column I introduced a new stat I call strokes gained scrambling and outlined how it determines which players are best at saving strokes around the green with their wedge play and putting. It’s a penetrating analytic measure, so let’s explore it more deeply.

Strokes gained scrambling allows us to gauge with great clarity whether a pro’s wedge wizardry or putting prowess contributes most to his short-game magic. As we know, every stroke can be assigned a strokes-gained value. This becomes nuanced when measuring strokes gained scrambling. For example, suppose a player starts from a position where the field averages 2.5 strokes to hole out. A successful up-and-down gains a total of 0.5 strokes (two strokes for the up-and-down versus the 2.5 average to hole out). A wedge to a foot gains 0.5 strokes while sinking the tap-in gains zero, so all of the credit would go to the wedge shot. If, instead, the player wedges it to eight feet (zero gain) and holes the putt (gain of 0.5 strokes), the putt gets all of the credit.

The PGA Tour’s ShotLink data allows us to tally the individual contributions of each stroke for every scrambling opportunity attempted by every player at (almost) every event. The results show that about 70 percent of the gains by the top pro scramblers comes from wedge shots that beat what the field produces. Better-than-the-field putting contributes the remaining 30 percent. As the list of the Tour’s current top players in strokes gained scrambling shows, relative wedge-putter contributions vary. Included is an effective save rate (ESR), which adds the 2017 Tour average save rate of 59.5 percent to each player’s stroke gained scrambling number. Why? Because whether you’re money with the putter or with the wedge, “effective” is really what it’s all about.