Distance Not A Problem in Professional Golf?

(Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire)

Last week, the USGA and R&A jointly published the results of research on driving distance in pro golf based on data from seven worldwide tours, including the PGA Tour, that goes back as far as 1968. And their conclusion? The pros really aren’t all that much longer. While that might go against everything we think we see from the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, JD Holmes, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day—you get the idea—golf’s two governing bodies are sticking by their findings. Which are, according to their announcement:

  • Between 2003 and the end of the 2015 season, average driving distance on four of the seven tours increased about 1%, or 0.2 yards per year.
  • For the same period, average driving distance on the other three of the seven tours studied decreased about 1%.
  • Looking at all of the players who are ranked for distance on the PGA Tout and PGA European Tour, the amount by which players are “long” or “short” is virtually the same—for instance, the 10 shortest players in that group are about 6% shorter than average, while the 10 longest players in the group are about 7% longer than average. The statistics are not skewed toward added distance.
  • The average launch conditions on the PGA Tour—clubhead speed, launch angle, ball speed and ball backspin—have been relatively stable since 2007. The 90th-percentile clubhead speed coupled with the average launch angle and spin rate are very close to the conditions that the USGA and The R&A, golf’s governing bodies, use to test golf balls under the Overall Distance Standard.

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A, said “it is important in terms of good governance and healthy for the sport to achieve greater transparency on key issues such as driving distance.” Mike Davis, Executive Director/CEO of the USGA said, “Hitting distance is, and has long been, a constant subject of healthy and spirited debate in golf. We want every0ne in the game to have access to the facts… to ensure that our game is both enjoyable and sustainable for future generations.” The entire report is available from the USGA or The R&A.