The Meaning of the Numbers?

 The USGA and R&A have published their annual review of driving distances. Introduced last year, the review examines driving distance data from seven of the major professional golf tours, based on approximately 285,000 drives per year. Data from studies of male and female amateur golfers has also been included for the first time.

Key facts noted in the paper include:

 ·         Between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, average driving distance on five of the seven tours has increased by approximately 1.2%, around 0.2 yards per year.

·         For the same time period, average driving distance on the other two tours studied decreased by approximately 1.5%.

·         Looking at all of the players who are ranked for distance on the PGA TOUR and PGA European Tour, the amount by which players are “long” or “short” has not changed – for instance, since 2003 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 either longer or shorter players.

·         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 R&A and the USGA, golf’s governing bodies, use to test golf balls under the Overall Distance Standard.

 To get a deeper understanding of the findings an interview took place with the USGA’s managing director of equipment standards John Spitzer.


John Spitzer

John Spitzer (Photo Courtesy of USGA)

MATT WARD: The annual review of distance was just made public by both the USGA and R&A — what is significant about its findings?

JOHN SPITZER: Since 2003, which was the first full year after adoption of the Joint Statement of Principles, has remained stable, only increasing a fraction of a yard per year on average.

MW: The report is 100% funded by the USGA and R&A — correct?

JS: Funded is the wrong word.  All of the data was collected by the individual tours.  The USGA and R&A gathered the data from these tours and analyzed them to create the report.

MW: There seems to be a “distance creep” over the last several years — when does such a “distance creep” become cumulatively significant?

JS: There is no “trigger” for when, as it states in the Joint Statement of Principles, The R&A and the USGA would feel it immediately necessary to seek ways of protecting the game due to meaningful increases in distances.

MW: What did the new study show regarding the distances average players achieve?

JS: The amateur data shows that there isn’t an ever increasing difference between the average driving distance of amateurs and professionals as some assert.

MW: What role did the leading equipment manufacturers play in the report’s creation?

JS: None

MW: Given the separation between elite players and those playing the game recreationally — might there be a possibility that different equipment rules need to be created for those playing at the highest of levels versus all other players?

JS: That’s always a topic of discussion, but having one set of rules for all players of the game, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths.

MW: If you can put your speculation hat on for a moment — is there a general reluctance among the USGA and R&A to do something significant on distance gains because of the fear of litigation from the equipment companies — something Karsten Solheim from Ping did years ago?

JS: No. It is the responsibility of The USGA and R&A to protect the game and we are committed to do that.

MW: Is there a tipping point when the rules makers — the USGA and R&A — opt to do something more proactive in the area of technology regarding clubs and balls?

JS: No — see my earlier answer from question number three.

MW: Is there a provable correlation between distance gained and lower scores? I say that simply because when someone sees a world class player like Jordan Spieth shoot low numbers much of that is because of his putting prowess — statistically ranked number one in making over 25% of his putts in the 20-25 foot range compared to the tour average of 15%. His overall tee distance is not the main reason for his success. Comments?

JS: Distance is one of the contributing factors to lower scores but not the only one.  Putting, as you mention, is a very strong contributor, but Greens-in-Regulation, Driving Accuracy and Scrambling also have an effect.

MW: Given the findings — what are areas of concern do you believe bear watching when the next report is brought forward?

JS: The light upward slopes of the PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR – Champions and Web.com tours is one area we are watching closely.  We’re also looking at the number of players who average more than 300 yards in driving distance.

The full report can be read using the following link: