Has Driving Distance Changed on the PGA Tour Within the Last Decade?

Has Driving Distance Changed on the PGA Tour Within the Last Decade?
Brian Hughes, PGA Master Professional
Golf Program Director
Keiser University College of Golf

There has been considerable discussion recently regarding how far PGA Tour players are driving the golf ball. Observers of the game spot a player reaching a long par 5 with a driver and a short iron and claim the ball is going too far and the driver is too hot. What can we do?

The fact is that more players are hitting the ball farther today, although the actual increase is less than you would think. The leader on the PGA Tour in 2008 in driving distance was Bubba Watson, with an average drive of 315 yards. The leader in 2018 is Trey Mullinax, who is currently at 319 yards (Watson in 2018 is at 314 yards). Not a significant difference over 10 years and not completely unexpected, since the U.S.G.A. has set imposed distance limitations on equipment manufacturers for about the same length of time.

So why the uproar? In 2008, there were only 13 players who averaged over 300 yards per drive on the measured holes (2 per round). In 2018 that number is a whopping 61 players! In other words, more players are hitting it farther, not necessarily just the ball going farther.

So what difference does it make? Why is there talk of scaling back the distance a ball goes? The big concern is that the best players in the world are making the greatest courses seem too short, rendering them obsolete for today’s players. To keep up, courses would need to be lengthened, which may not be feasible, and if it is, costs more money to build and maintain.

While there is some merit to the concern, players will continue to develop their skills to hit the ball farther, just like athletes in other sports run faster and jump higher than in days past. Changing the way the game is played for everyone (my golf ball doesn’t go too far!) is an over-reaction to elite athletes’ improvement.

If we are concerned about premier players making courses play too easy, the best way to protect scoring is by slowing the courses down, making the fairways softer and narrower, and making the greens firmer for the best players. This could keep scoring at more customary levels for those who care about such things. Otherwise, sit back and admire the skill level of the greatest golfers in the world.

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