Cover storyAugust 21, 2008

'How Good Can You Get?'

Use the 4 stats that really matter to diagnose and treat your game

Do you know why you shoot the scores you do? Thanks to the PGA Tour's ShotLink--which measures every shot hit week in and week out--tour players know. When they see where their shots are going, they know which parts of their games need improvement. Nobody is charting every ball you hit, but you can still use statistics to improve.

I believe you can take the true temperature of any player's game by looking at four stats: total driving, greens in regulation, scrambling and three-putt avoidance. I'll show you some average-golfer stats and compare them to the best pros (keep in mind, they play tougher courses). You'll see where you need to be to reach the next level, and how to do it.

Hank Haney

*Percent fairways hit/average drive in yards amateur stats provided by shotbyshot.com, except driving distance, which is provided by golfsmith international.

> DRIVING

Will you get better if you hit more fairways? Yes, but I'll qualify that. Accuracy without distance isn't going to help you. The 20-handicapper needs "usable accuracy." Instead of backing off using the driver, be more conscious about your target. Thinking positively -- hit the fairway -- is nice, but that's not how people play golf. A tour player will visualize where he wants his tee shot to go, but his next thought is about where he doesn't want it to go. Anthony Kim (above) is having a great season because when he makes mistakes with the driver he has plenty of distance, and they're in the right place. He might miss fairways, but he's missing them 300 yards out, on the side that has the easier approach -- not out-of-bounds. Compare driving stats at various levels below.

Do you know why you shoot the scores you do? Thanks to the PGA Tour's ShotLink--which measures every shot hit week in and week out--tour players know. When they see where their shots are going, they know which parts of their games need improvement. Nobody is charting every ball you hit, but you can still use statistics to improve.

Hank Haney

*Percent greens hit in two less than par

> IRON PLAY

This year, Tiger Woods (above) played mostly on the hardest courses on the PGA Tour schedule, and he hit 71 percent of his greens -- best on tour. Why? Because he sees the shape and trajectory of every shot and what the ball will do when it lands. He also hits the ball solidly almost every time. When you can control your trajectory, you can control distance. Power certainly helps--he's hitting more lofted clubs into the green than a player who is 20 yards shorter off the tee.

You might not be able to copy Tiger's length or ball-striking, but I'll bet you can give yourself a much better chance to hit greens. First, figure out how far you hit every club -- and not just under perfect range conditions. Wind, temperature, elevation and stress level all change your distances. Once you have those numbers throughout your set, pay closer attention to how far you have to your targets on the course. Even if you aren't totally consistent with how far you hit it, your misses will be better if you know your distance.

The better the player, the more information he wants before he hits the shot. And your target? Unless you're a scratch player and the flag location fits your shot shape, aim for the middle of the green. The hole shouldn't even enter into your thinking. You'll make more pars that way -- and more surprise birdies, too.

Hank Haney

*percent time saving par after missing green

__ > CHIPPING__

Two pieces of the scoring puzzle go hand-in-hand for tour players and 20-handicappers alike: You have to get good at the most straightforward short-game shots, and you should try to give yourself more of those shots when you miss the green. Padraig Harrington (above) is so good in the scrambling stat--getting up and down from 30 yards and in--because he's rock solid on this bread-and-butter chip, and he's a terrific course manager. The rough around the greens on tour is really difficult, but he misses in places that make for easier up-and-downs--the wide side versus the narrow side.

The most damaging thing for a 20-handicapper is the two-chip: When you duff one or hit it over the green, then hit a mediocre second chip, you're looking at double bogey. For 10-handicappers or better, the next stage is getting the tough ones up and down. That comes from learning different kinds of shots. The best short-game guys have precise control over trajectory and spin.

Hank Haney

*percent time three-putting

> PUTTING

Amateurs have more misconceptions about the state of their putting than any other part of their game. I've played with plenty of 10-handicappers who finish the day having made a bunch of five-footers and tell me they had a great putting day. That's sort of true, but if most of those five-footers resulted from bad first putts, the music is going to stop at some point. Even the best players in the world don't make every five-footer--even on perfect tour greens.

Guys like Daniel Chopra putt with great distance control on the 20-, 30- and 40-footers. They don't miss a lot of five-footers--and they hardly ever three-putt--because they're hitting most of those 20-footers to tap-in range.

Another underrated skill is knowing where you should leave your lag putt. If every second putt you have is a downhiller with six inches of break, you're going to struggle, no matter how good your stroke is technically. Any tour player would rather have a five-footer straight up the hill than one of those little sliders. The three-putt stat is also an indicator of how good your iron play and short game are. If you're missing greens and chipping poorly, you're going to have longer approach putts.


      • HOW YOU STACK UP

Use the Golf Digest Challenge, our online game-improvement program, to track and analyze your stats. To join the Challenge, click golfdigest.com/challenge. For a more complete analysis, click shotbyshot.com.