Unified Theory Of Golf

Here is a fun thought experiment / mental model for thinking about your game. I call it Papageorgio’s Unified Theory of Scoring. This is loosely based on LSW as well as an interview I heard Will Robins give about the Scoring Method (I have not read, but I think I get the gist of it). Basically, I am regurgitating a bunch of stuff I have read in my own rambling, PapaG style and really none of this is original. I am just very underemployed.

The assumptions:

You have 4 categories of results after hitting your approach in regulation. That is it. This encompasses every golf hole you play. They are as follows:

  • The highly touted GIR…you think you hit a lot of these but you don’t… you think when you hit a 7 iron 5 yards off the green that you have not made a good shot… but you have

  • The lesser tracked, but maybe more important for anyone north of 5 handicap, the nGIR (see example above about the 7 iron)

  • A special subsegment of GIR, that we will call nGIR+1…for the most part this will be 1-2 easy par 5’s on your course that you can reasonably get within 25 yards of the green after 2 shots

    • Note: You will need to think about your average GIR’s and subtract out GIR’s that come from nGIR+1 in this model
    • This is where almost all your birdies come from… once in a blue moon you hit it tight on a non par 5 or sink a long putt… these are great but they generally do not contribute much to lowering your index
  • The last category could be called “X”, “botched”, “you suck at golf” holes…. if we are being kind to ourselves we could say that we “failed to get inside the scoring zone within regulation” :blush:

    • These holes are extremely important to analyze… did you hit driver into a penalty area? Did you shank a layup on a par 5? Did you get overly aggressive on a par 5 and hit into a penalty area?
    • This is double bogey land…we don’t want to live here…it is not a good place

Given these categories above, I believe there is one fundamental way to get better at golf (I am talking about giving yourself a chance at the vaunted “scratch” label)
You must radically increase your nGIR per round… this is the scoring zone… you will make lots of pars and bogeys from the nGIR zone. If you make lots of pars and bogey’s you will suddenly find yourself shooting in the high 70’s.

“But papageorgio, one time I got up and down 15 times and shot a good score”… good for you… I wish you luck in maintaining a short game above the level of a median tour player.

Here is a numerical representation of the model below. As you can see, I am trying to do a few simple things in my game. I list them below in order of importance:

  • Turn 2-3 of my “out of the scoring zone” results into nGIR per round. You could also call this category double bogey reduction…this is the number one thing that gets you a single digit handicap. I suck at it and I still have a 6-8 index. Seriously go look at my stats. I hit in trouble off the tee about 5 times per round. No bueno but luckily a pretty low bar to improve on!! Do I need to hit the middle of the fairway with a striped 275 drive!!! NO!!! Just don’t hit it in the junk and get within 20 yards of the green on the next shot!.. I find this perspective very empowering. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself… Don’t “Should” all over yourself as the gurus say

  • Turn two of my nGIR into GIR per round… the unfortunate thing is that I actually have to get better at hitting the golf ball to do this as I play with fairly solid strategy today (back of green yardage, center of green or fat side depending on trouble)… it is a bitter pill to swallow but you have to work on ball striking to become good… been chasing this dragon for about 3 years now…one bonus though is that if I quit hitting it into the junk 5 times per round I will have more looks at the green….ARE WE STARTING TO SEE CORRELATION BETWEEN THE FULL SWING MOTION AND SCORING!!!

  • Trying to get marginally better at putting and chipping… almost all of this will come from
    -Not making big mistakes from off the green (double chips)
    -Improve putting inside 10 ft


This isn’t rocket science. If you get near the green A LOT and have a B or B- short game, you can score just fine.

Most of this is tongue and cheek as I know many of you know this and are on the same page. The main thing I am trying to convey is that nGIR is where it is at. Keep it in play and get near the green. Don’t freak out when you chip and two putt for bogey. You are doing just fine : )

Volume II will be notes on how to manage marital and work expectations while chasing an arbitrary goal in a game that is expensive to play and takes up large chunks of what could otherwise be productive days.


Last thing:

For anyone below a 5 handicap, I just want to remind you that I hate you



Ha, as someone who was just above a 5 last season pre injury, I’m glad I made the cut!

I think is a good break down of a simple concept and something I’ve struggled with (And I’ve seen other struggle with)… Good golf isn’t about making more GOOD scores, it’s about avoiding more BAD scores… (I’ve kept terminology simple so that it applies across handicap levels).

In my experience, my best scoring rounds are relatively boring, Lots of easy pars, hopefully an easy birdie or two, and no real big mistakes.

Where I get into trouble is when I don’t “take my medicine” and try to rescue a hole with an amazing recovery shot… If I instead just took the easy route, and didn’t fight the course, I’d probably walk away with a lower score the majority of the time and importantly, I’m eliminating the chance of making a big number.

I think of the nGIR stat in different terms… if I have a par putt on every hole, my score can’t be THAT bad. I just need to progress the ball forward, avoid big mistakes, and give myself the opportunity to score when possible.

I think the interesting flip side of this is that we try to minimize risk in the wrong places (and do it poorly)… As Jon has written, taking three wood off the tee doesn’t improve dispersion… Committing to driver (And making sure your driver is working for you) is going to lower your score by putting you closer to the hole… it’s worth the risk of losing strokes on the occasional penalty, and if you want to improve your numbers off the tee box, the answer isn’t clubbing down, it’s getting better with the driver.

It is a paradox…

You do have to get better at ballstriking to score… but maybe not as good as you think :slight_smile:

The game is primarily about one or two full swings per hole

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A big driver for my improvement was confidence with the driver… I didn’t improve a ton, but I was swinging more confidently, which improved my dispersion, which improved my confidence… Also built up memories of GOOD drives and allowed to quickly forget bad drives.

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Just thought of this and figured I’d share:

Good shots are additive, bad shots are multiplicative.

That’s probably not friendly to say out loud, but it’s a concept I am still trying to bring to my game… A good shot is great, but still requires more good shots to get you home… A bad shot can very easily destroy your round if you follow it with another bad shot. It’s best to just try to reset and recover and then make good shots from there.

Maybe negative skew and some kurtosis if we are talking distributions

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I’m a 12, so take this within that grain…I’ve found that when I hit my driver “good” (for me…not mediocre or below average) my rounds are more stress free and I score well (again…for me) without having to be “above average” on my pitching. It’s not because I hit more GIR, but because my nGIR’s seem to be so much closer and in better spots.
Conversely, when I am below average with my driver…my short game needs to be lights out good and it’s a very stressful scoring day.
When both driver and short game are in sync?..well I hope to run into more of that soon…


This is exactly it, and I think why so many modern teaching pros are more focused on driving than short game.

You have to find a way to hit the ball as far as you can most of the time and keep it in play most of the time… There are exceptions and such, but generically, if a good drive doesn’t get you through the fairway or introduce NEW trouble, you should be hitting driver.

Personally, I think committing to SENDING it has a couple of positive impacts on my game.

  1. I’m never worried I’m hitting the wrong club on the tee box.
  2. It forces me to practice my driver because I know I’m going to hit it alot.
  3. It builds up memories of GOOD swings, which can then be used to make more good swings.

I think it’s an overlooked part of the amateur game, and there are guys who are wizards around the green… but they work hard every hole and if they stop making putts, their score is destroyed. That is not to devalue short game, but driver confidence is what lets you have those stress free good rounds.

This just doesn’t happen, we think it can and theoretically it should but it is the unicorn. IMO short game and putting are driven by the previous shot more than any aspect of the game.

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We all have such a limited amount of time to invest in our hobby. Drilling down and finding the most efficient way to improve is different for everybody but super important vs just spinning our wheels.

You are correct GIR is the key. Truly the only way to have sustained improvement. Almost impossible to improve your percentage and have your index go up.

I have always focused on 2 things. Driver in play and hitting the green. If I do those well score will take care of itself regardless of how I putt or how my short game is.


Much more succinct than my rant :slight_smile:

It is also periodization. You have to put in hard work to improve the full swing. It sucks. It usually takes time to really see results.

But once you make that improvement you enjoy some compound interest. Get your short game sharp and have some good variance and you may shoot some low scores.


I think I have said a couple times in these forums, especially about my current imperfect game, I do my best to get a 42* to a 51* in my hand as quickly possible and as often as possible because I am really solid with those clubs at a specific distance and a putter. The rest of my clubs and game I would say are slightly above average. I track GIR, Recovery, Putts, Scrambling. I know I’m focused currently on gaining a bit more length off the tee just to gain a bit more of an advantage I mean I’d rather hit a 7i instead or a 4 or 5i, but being honest, I cannot hit 270-300 yds and I really dont have the ability to hit 60-80 yd wedge shots from 3"-4" ruff…which on my home course, the ruff is increasingly more penal the closer you get to the green. It’s the biggest and only defense our course has at only 6200 yds from 270-300yd bombers. So papaG, I’m on your page completely. If you want to score you have to be as deft as possible from like 90-125 yds, be a reasonable chipper of the ball and really eliminate the 3jack from your game. I will say, I only average 6-8 GIR currently, of those I can usually convert 1-2 for subtractions, I can usually get 7-8 or more within 10yds of a green, but I only save par maybe 40% of the time, the other 1 or 2 could be from a penalty area or back in plays (really want to eliminate those guys) and although I can get out of bunkers fairly easily, my save % last year was 27%. Not exactly tour material. I’m not good enuff to break par anymore, I could have a fluke round, my best score last year was 72, my high round was 88. I avg 78 and currently play to a 9.2. I guess you could say that’s boring golf. However, focusing on what you posted as a Unified Theory I would not call it Golf, I would agree with you and call it the Unified Theory of Scoring is a solid observation for us mortals…Let me pose this question…would you rather hit the 46* out of like 1.5 to 2 inch ruff from 110 or hit the 60* from 60 yds out of 3"-4" thick ruff that they water often in the summer? I just don’t see bashing it 40yds past me into severely tapered down fairways and rolling or worse,bouncing into really deep salad as a scoring advantage…

I would take either… currently i am punching those out from the trees 20 yards left of the positions you mention !

Again, I was very fortunate with how I learned to play the game. I am not the straightest or longest off the tee, but most of the time I’m not off the grid either. However, i was taught to think rather differently than most. Lets say we are on a Par 70 course, I lose one off the grid…I’m now playing a Par 71 course. Put my next shot into the best position I can score from. If there is an opening, great…if not put it back on the grid. The absolute best example of that was was the final group, 4th hole, Sawgrass. That one hole cost those guys the tournament. Unless I’m in the 95% mode that I CAN execute the hero shot, I’m playing to save a shot and looking for the easiest way to have the opportunity to make no more than the +1. Like I said boring golf…but I get into alot of people’s pockets and have won a fair share of trophies and passed a PAT in the mid '80s playing really boring golf.

A couple things here, papa.

  • Thanks for including the table. It looks eerily like my efforts. We are not alone.
  • On 5 hdcp golfers - do they even exist? OK, I’ve played with one scratch golfer - once.
  • I absolutely agree with you on your nGIR approach (so to speak). Any approach shot that gets me in a “down in two” situation, I consider a good shot. Pars are our friends.

Very nice lead off comment, thank you.

BTW, I reviewed your chart about scratch players avg 7.5 GIR…more like closer to 60%. 2-7 like 50%, 7-10 like 38%. BUT, understand this if you are breaking 85 legit consistently, you are in like the top 2% of players in the world! Something like that. It’s just us chasing Nirvana after that. It’s alot work to go into 10 more yards or 2 more GIR…so very minute improvements, and nutz like us celebrate this!

Love this @papageorgio - PUTS. Looking forward to Vol II :sob:. I’m in that boat buddy

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How was Ure experience with the low hdcp player. It’s fun to observe right? BUT they play a different game, they get pissed off about stuff we only dream of executing consistently and I’ve said this before, boring golf. It’s like you being paired with someone that is learning to break 90, right,? So relative to the sitch.

Plenty of scratch guys are out there. I was always between 0 and +2 until I had kids and then the number started to creep up. Last year, I went from 3 back to +2 and, for the first time, religiously kept my stats. The thing I found interesting was how routine all the rounds were along the way. I had few runs where I would birdie 5 out of 6 or something like that but, for the most part, it was just a lot of pars and a handful of bogies. The key to getting better is to avoid compounding your mistakes. You can be a very low handicap and still make a bunch of bogies. The big difference between me and the guys I would play with (most of whom were between 5-15) was that I rarely made a big mistake, Part of that is because I’m a better ball striker so my dispersion is tighter but most is because I just made better choices along the way. I am convinced that I could cut all of their handicaps in half if I could coach them along the round. Making better choices is such a low hanging fruit but nobody ever seems to realize it.