LONGER DRIVES?

Week after week we see it on TV, par­tic­u­larly the Amer­i­can tour­na­ments. Huge, bombed drives mak­ing 470 yard par fours into drive and wedge holes. Not even six hun­dred yard par fives are out of reach in two shots. Surely, we think, these guys are smash­ing

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS BY PETER WIL­LIAMS

Are golfers re­ally hit­ting the ball fur­ther?

De­spite what many old pros say, and the great Nick­laus has been among the most vo­cal about re­strict­ing equip­ment, the av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance on the ma­jor pro tours has in­creased by only 1.2 per­cent in the last fif­teen years!

Yep, that's right. Be­tween 2003 and 2016, statis­tics com­piled by the R&A and the USGA us­ing fig­ures from the PGA TOUR, Euro­pean Tour, Ja­pan Golf Tour, Web.com Tour, Cham­pi­ons Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies Euro­pean Tour show there's been vir­tu­ally no in­crease in driv­ing dis­tance.

In fact in Ja­pan and on the Ladies Euro­pean Tour, there's been a slight de­crease.

Golf's gov­ern­ing bod­ies are well aware of the im­pact tech­nol­ogy has had on the game, es­pe­cially since the ar­rival of me­tal woods in the 1980s. So in 2002 the R&A and the USGA agreed a 'Joint State­ment of Prin­ci­ples' to es­sen­tially mon­i­tor the im­pact that new equip­ment was hav­ing on the game. Where nec­es­sary they agreed they would make rules to en­sure that skill rather than tech­nol­ogy is the key el­e­ment of suc­cess at all lev­els of the game.

The pub­lished statis­tics make for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing. The PGA TOUR has been mea­sur­ing driv­ing dis­tance since 1980 us­ing num­bers col­lated from 2 holes every tour­na­ment. Back then the av­er­age drive was 256 yards.

Three and a half decades later, with the help of over­sized heads and ti­ta­nium driv­ers in the 1990s fol­lowed by the multi lay­ered balls -like the Titleist Pro V1 - early in the 2000s that num­ber had moved up to 291 yards.

Maybe it's no sur­prise that the long­est hit­ting tour is the sec­ond tier Web.com Tour - packed with strong young play­ers look­ing to make their mark - which at the end of 2016 had an av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance of 295 yards.

But here's the thing about re­cent times. There's been hardly any move­ment at all.

The av­er­age length of the mea­sured holes on the PGA TOUR in 2003 was 286 yards. In 2016 it was a mere five yards longer. The num­bers for the “All Drives” cat­e­gory as mea­sured by the TOUR's Shotlink GPS mea­sur­ing sys­tem are even flat­ter.

In 2003, all drives on the world's rich­est tour av­er­aged 278 yards. By 2016 that num­ber had creeped up to just 284 yards.

Most of the other tours tell a sim­i­lar tale.

The Web.com Tour moved from 291 to just over 295. The Euro­pean Tour went from 286 to 288 and the Cham­pi­ons Tour from 270 to 275.

They're ob­vi­ously not eat­ing enough beef in Ja­pan, be­cause the num­ber there dropped from 279 to 276 over fif­teen years.

Among, the fe­male tours, the LPGA in­creased from 250 to 254 while the Ladies Euro­pean Tour de­creased from 245 to 240.

Per­haps the key to these num­bers is the rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity of club­head speed num­bers in the past ten years. The PGA TOUR has been us­ing the Track­Man RADAR sys­tem - of­ten seen at up mar­ket golf shops in this coun­try in re­cent times - to mea­sure club­head speed, the launch an­gle and the spin rate of the ball leav­ing the club.

The re­al­ity is that the av­er­age club­head speed on the PGA TOUR in 2007 was 112.4 miles per hour. In 2016, that num­ber was a barely dis­cernible in­crease of 112.9 mph.

The R&A has also been col­lect­ing driv­ing dis­tance data from male club am­a­teur play­ers in the UK for the last twenty years and from women play­ers since 2013.

The data shows, per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, that the lower your hand­i­cap, the fur­ther you hit it. If you're a scratch to six hand­i­cap­per you're likely to hit it 245 yards, while if you're on 21 or more, your drive is only go­ing out, on av­er­age 182 yards.

Over time, the club am­a­teurs ap­pear to have benefitted from tech­nol­ogy about the same as the pros. Across all hand­i­cap groups, the av­er­age length of an am­a­teur male golfer's drive in the last twenty years in­creased from 200 to 213 yards - or 6.5 per­cent.

In the same time pe­riod on the PGA TOUR the av­er­age jumped from 266 to 291 - around 6.3 per­cent.

The av­er­age length of a fe­male am­a­teur golfer's drive is 146 yards, but as this data has only been col­lected in the last five years, no dis­cernible trends can be seen yet.

What these fig­ures show across both the am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional game is that no sig­nif­i­cant changes in equip­ment rules ap­pear to be needed in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture to stop tech­nol­ogy tak­ing over.

Both the R&A and the USGA have been pro-ac­tive to mon­i­tor and con­trol driver devel­op­ment this millenium. Since 2000 we've seen re­stric­tions on club head size (460cc), the length of the club (48 inches) and on the amount of spring-like or tram­po­line ef­fect on the face of the driv­ers.

For now those rules ap­pear to be do­ing the job of keep­ing dis­tance off the tee in check.

What these fig­ures show across both the am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional game is that no sig­nif­i­cant changes in equip­ment rules ap­pear to be needed in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture to stop tech­nol­ogy tak­ing over.

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