USGA and R&A study claims driving distance not increasing significantly
By Stephanie Wei under R&A

The USGA and The R&A have published a research paper that reports important facts on driving distance in professional golf. Supporting data comes from seven major tours around the globe (PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Web.com tour, PGA Champions Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour), including PGA Tour data beginning in 1968. More detailed data is provided with regard to distance since 2003 on the PGA Tour (thanks to ShotLink, additional info is given) and the European Tour.

One of the key findings was that between 2003 and the end of the 2015 season, the average driving distance on four of the seven tours increased about 1%, or 0.2 yards per year.

Hmmm… Now that’s not what the equipment companies have been telling consumers!

For the same period, three of the tours (Japan Golf Tour, LPGA and Ladies’ European Tour) actually saw driving distance decrease slightly.

I’m not sure how good I feel about the accuracy of those stats, but numbers have never been my forte (despite stereotypes!).

Now, here’s the issue: The PGA Tour and European Tour data came from the “measured” driving holes, which usually are two holes per round. The study showed that the majority of players used drivers on those holes — 97% on the European Tour and 94% on the PGA Tour. This makes sense because the “measured” holes are generally the ones that players would take driver on, which is why they are chosen for the stat. However, the long hitters are taking 2-irons, fairway woods or hybrids off the tee on many occasions, which they hit over 300 yards.

The study adds that when considering “all” drives on the PGA Tour, nearly 72% of tee shots were with driver (where the club used was positively identified). However, the report also found that average driving distance when considering only shots hit using a driver is similar whether considering driving holes or non-driving holes.

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The study found that 28.94% of PGA Tour drives went longer than 300 yards in 2015 and this was similar on the European Tour at 28.42%. In comparison, the percentage of 300-plus yard drives in 2003 was 26.56% on the PGA Tour and 26.14% on the European Tour.

The governing bodies also state that the distribution of driving distances on the PGA Tour and European Tour have continued to be proportional. Looking at all of the players who are ranked for distance on the PGA Tour and European Tour, the amount by which players are “long” or “short” is virtually the same — 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 study also showed that 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.

OK. Like I said, I’m not a big numbers person (I probably should’ve gone to Harvard instead of Yale), so I need to research and talk to the experts for a better comprehension of these findings. I think it’s safe to assume that golf’s governing bodies commissioned this study as an effort to quiet the critics, who repeatedly believe that the USGA and R&A have not done enough to reel back the golf ball. Jack Nicklaus has continuously been one of the loudest to voice his concerns.

“Hitting distance is, and has long been, a constant subject of healthy and spirited debate in golf,” said Mike Davis, executive director/CEO of the USGA. “We want everyone in the game to have access to the facts, to better understand the decision-making process and the research we use to ensure that our game is both enjoyable and sustainable for future generations.”

Added Chief Executive of the R&A Martin Slumbers: “I believe it is important in terms of good governance and healthy for the sport to achieve greater transparency on key issues such as driving distance. We have decided to publish this report on distance data and will do so each year in the future. This is clearly a frequently debated topic in golf which elicits strong views. By publishing the data we can help to inform the debate and ensure reliable information is available.”

Go HERE to check out the full report.