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Plateauing Distance And The 2012 PGA Tour Average

The NY Times' Karen Crouse takes on the delicate subject of technology and tradition and I got very excited to read that the R&A's driving distance plateau talk was debunked using a little different method than the governing bodies use: the average of the 50th ranked player.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, said his organization and the U.S.G.A. issued a joint statement a decade ago saying they were prepared to take action if distances increased any more. “Distances have actually plateaued since then,” he said in the same conference call.

The PGA Tour statistics tell another story. In 1997, the 50th-ranked player averaged 272.3 yards. By 2002, the distance had risen to 285.0. In 2012, it was 294.7.

Typically the governing bodies will point out that in 2002 the average was 279.8 and in the case of the most recent year, the PGA Tour driving distance average was 289.1.

Because a 9.8 yard discrepancy is much more palatable than a 22.4 yard increase!

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Reader Comments (24)

Has anyone seen the average driving distance for tournament winners during that week only over the course of the year as compared to other years
That may be a meaningful piece of data
12.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMJN
Everyone is hitting it a gazillion yards on ridiculously lengthened golf courses, and the powers that be identify the true culprit. The putting.

You can't make this stuff up.
12.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRDC5
I hope this type of article keeps getting written and published around the world. Eventually the wheel sleepers will have to wake up before their courtesy car crashes!
12.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
I like these figures.Anyone thinking distances have plateaued just isn't watching
12.2.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
It's 'technically' not a plateau if the game's ruling bodies have been tilting their average driving distance graphs ever more to the right over the past 10 years.

I believe shrinks call it"willful dissonance" unwillingness to objectively look at relevant facts. (AKA: Head in the sand defense mechanisms).
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
*Oops: Meant to type: It's 'technically' a plateau if the....

my bad...a tad early for me. Snow's on the ground today more sweeping dew till April...D'OH!
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
Regarding distance and its non-increase, has anyone ever pointed out that the only previous second shot from where Bubba hit his miraculous hook in the Masters Playoff was actually a third shot played by someone who shanked his second? Yeah, Bubba is an outlier, but I'd like to see him it there off the tee with a 300-cc non-trampoline driver and a ball that spins even more off his clubs.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Using the total number of published distances for the entire memberships of both PGA Tour and European Tour since 1998, here are the yearly averages (about 370 to 390 total player averages per year). Huge gains early, but not much change for the last nine or ten years. Last two years have gained a couple yards over the previous 7 or 8.

1998 269.0
1999 271.2
2000 273.3
2001 280.0
2002 280.8
2003 286.6
2004 287.2
2005 287.0
2006 287.0
2007 285.8
2008 286.1
2009 287.1
2010 286.6
2011 289.2
2012 288.7
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGarrett
Average distance tells us something, but hides more. The average net worth 10 men in a bar that includes Bill Gates and 9 winos is $6.6 billion. It's still just Bill Gates with his $66 billion and 9 drunks, though. The median yardage would be more informative. And especially the distribution. Then there is the fact that these numbers come from only a couple of holes per round. There is also the 200+-yard 7-iron to take into consideration...
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Ky-I think the distances are also skewed somewhat by the fact that as distances increased then fairways were narrowed and a lot of 3 woods and now hybrids are being hit off the tee.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
chico I think that you are exactly right; I just wish I knew how we could quantify it better. For instance, in agreeing with you, I also wonder whether all years have been using the same Shotlink methodology. I'd like to know if now more holes are being measured for distance calculations. Including (now) more shorter holes where current players don't feel the need to hit driver.

And yes; is there a single course on the PGA Tour which has been in continuous use or near-continuous use since 1998, where there has not been a measurable reduction width and less-forgiving landing areas?
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
Whats wrong with the distances, I cant, really, find a reason why they have been changed
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterfila golf
The distance gain since 2003 has been tiny-2 yards or so as S Garrett's numbers above show. The golf industry wants us to believe that, year upon year, the consumer is going to be able to get their hands on clubs and balls that are going to go further but the reality is that just isn't possible. The Prov1 ( over 10 years old now with little change) and all the other premium balls are at the limits allowed. They've started painting drivers white, pink e.t.c., given us adjustability-why? because they can no longer claim that the reason for you to part with £300 every year is because their latest driver goes x yards further than your old obsolete one. I've hit lots of different drivers on Trackman and Flightscope over the years but there's still a Callaway FT3 Tour (circa 2004 )in my bag because I've yet to find anything significantly better.

The tour guys do hit it a long way and the young guys coming through are nearly all very athletic. There's still plenty top players, Donald, Furyk, Zach Johnson to name a few, very competitive despite certainly not being long.

And the 200+ 7 irons KLG sees-firstly there's an athlete with great technique hitting that shot hard for sure, but realise that the number on the bottom of the club may say 7, but modern lofts are 3 to 4 degrees stronger than 20 years ago, the player may well have had them cranked a little more too, and the club maybe 0.5" or so longer-effectively it's a closer to a 6 or even a 5 iron.
Let's get this issue in perspective. .
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterandrew coop
@Andrew-my perspective on this is that the 50th ranked player stat is much closer to the truth than the one they would like us to believe. I've worked part-time on tour for over 15 yrs and I can assure you that the ball is being hit miles further than when I started.
I agree with you on equipment-we have nearly reached the max with the driver and ball under the present regs.My point would be that we should have arrived at this many years and many yards ago!
Skill-give a talented player a sweet-spot the size of a hens egg and he/she will hardly ever miss it.All the players on Tour now are good so miss hits are quite rare(not all go straight though)Hugely gifted drivers like Greg Norman had a distinct advantage over not so good ones (like me!) I think its a great shame that that difference has been eroded so.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
Andrew; if they didn't need to continue to make radical changes to classic championship golf courses, and even to abandon some of them, I might find more room to agree with you. I don't think anyone (certainly not me) is opposed to technology in general. But as long as radical changes are being made to what Geoff Shackelford has rightly called the most important and fragile venues in sport, there is a problem.

I also agree with you that since the Pro V's introduction, after huge distance gains, there have been only incremental moves upward to more distance. There have only been incremental distance increases becasue, as you rightly point out, there have been only incremental changes in multilayer urethane balls and 460cc titanium alloy drivers during that same time.

But the Joint Statement of Principles that we can sometimes force Dawson and Davis to recognize didn't allow for "incremental distance increases." The Joint Statement mentioned ANY significant upward change in driving distance. And that, we have seen. We've seen enough to know that the problem isn't agronomy or player fitness or player size or anything else. The problem is the equipment used to drive the golf ball.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
Chico, I absolutely agree with you that the governing bodies took their eye off the ball, so to speak, about a decade or so ago. The skill required in driving reduced hugely when the Callaway GBB era drivers came out and the spin rates on the balls came down with the early solid core tour balls. In my opinion, as much as distance, the ProV1 generation of balls fly so straight, especiallly in wind, compared to the old tour balatas. I think that, and the 460cc heads, have fundamentally changed the way the younger players swing with the driver-they all go at 100%, where as before only the truly great drives, like Norman, Love III, Couples could do this and still have some control of where it was going. But since 2003 little has changed. I think we just have to accept that this is where we are and be vigilant that such a sudden change doesn't happen again.
Chuck, I agree that the trend of radical changes to our courses is worrying. That said I worry that over egging the distant gains only encourages this. I see this at famous courses but also at lots of wonderful members clubs, where committees make ill considered changes to "keep pace", even though for 99% of their members the courses are perfectly challenging, and long, enough.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterandrew coop
There are easy solutions to this. At 300yds, make the fairway skinnier and the rough longer. If they're good enough to hit it long AND straight, more power to them. But that gives the shorter hitters the advantage of hitting from a fairway lie. Also, irons should only be blades with specific lofts. Lastly, golf is a sport. If you want to hit it long, get in the gym. I'm tired of watching non athletes play a sport I love.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDr Rho
Chico, while I agree with your assertion that driving distance measurements may be somewhat skewed over time by the possible use of fewer drivers on the measured holes, I disagree with your suggestion that comparisons based on the 50th ranked player will produce different results than comparisons based on the average or the median (which has also been mentioned in this thread).

The article Geoff posted contained this quote: "The PGA Tour statistics tell another story. In 1997, the 50th-ranked player averaged 272.3 yards. By 2002, the distance had risen to 285.0. In 2012, it was 294.7." That statement makes comparisons of 1997, 2002 and 2012 using ONLY PGATour data.

The following posted in the next comment box uses both PGA Tour and European Tour data for every year since 1998 - the year that ET stats begin on their website.

Notice the two comparisons: 2012 vs '02 and 2012 vs '03. The first comparison - whether for average, median or 50th on the lists distances shows increases of between 7.9 and 8.6 yards - not a lot different than the author's numbers which suggest a 9.7 yard increase over that time period based solely on the difference calculated for the 50 ranked player on PT in those two years.

However, when you move forward and base the change from 2003 to 12 instead of 2002 to 12, my three comparisons drop to only a 2.1 to 2.3 yard increase. In other words - the vast majority of what the author made look like a 10 year gain - actually occurred in a single year from 2002 to 2003. Since then all three data series have essentially plateaued - exactly as claimed by USGA and R&A.

As you suggested, some of that plateau may have to do with hitting less club on measured driving holes, but the difference in what I see AS A PLATEAU in distance and what the author and Geoff attempt to portray a "10 year uptrend" is simply the statistical difference in picking 2002 vs 2003 as the base for the comparison. I view 2003 as the last big jump in a shift that occurred from the late 90's to that date. Not as part of a continued shift that has continued since that time.
12.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGarrett
Year Ave Median 50th

1998 269.0 268.8 272.7
1999 271.2 270.4 275.0
2000 273.3 273.2 277.6
2001 280.0 279.7 284.2
2002 280.8 280.5 285.9
2003 286.6 286.5 291.8

2004 287.2 287.3 292.1
2005 287.0 286.5 291.7
2006 287.0 286.3 292.8
2007 285.8 285.6 291.5
2008 286.1 285.9 291.4
2009 287.1 286.4 292.3
2010 286.6 286.5 291.5
2011 289.2 289.0 294.6
2012 288.7 289.1 294.2

'12vs'02 7.9 8.6 8.3
'12vs'03 2.1 2.6 2.4
12.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGarrett
"2.1 to 2.3" in next to last paragraph two posts above should read "2.1 to 2.6" - sorry
12.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGarrett
SGarrett, Thanks for posting a full set of stats that show the reality of what's happened, or indeed hasn't happened, in the last 10 years with driving distance.
These numbers show that, despite all the flak aimed at Mr Dawson and the R & A by the author and others, essentially he's correct-distances have plateaued over the last 10 years.
12.4.2012 | Unregistered Commenterandrew coop
Andrew-not trying to be a Smart A, but do you ever watch golf, or go to a tournament? The ''statistics'' are meaningless. They reflect 2 holes, one ''downwind'', and one ''into the wind'' a day......

What you don't see is how many ''drives' are with a 3 or 4 wood, a hybrid., or a long iron, thus lowering the distance on MANY players, and making the completely BOGUS stats.

Actually WATCH how far a drive with a driver goes today compared to 10 years ago. Get real.
12.4.2012 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth

While I agree that hitting less club over time "could" distort average distance data, do you have any stats that suggest that players are actually hitting less club off the tee year after year? I was disappointed when the players complained and the tour dropped a plan many years ago to add club selection to their shot link data. I'd like to know how far a typical driver, vs 3 wood, vs hybrid traveled in 2012 vs each of the past 10-15 years. I think it would help us all to understand how distances are changing.

It would help if the tours simply asked each player to report his club selection on the two measured holes during each round. But, I don't know of any broad survey source for that type of data - do you?

And, without it, don't we have to ask why - with typical course lengths for the pros slowly growing over time as they build new tees, etc. - that players are "choosing" (your basic argument) to only hit the ball the same distance as they did about nine years ago? Why, with typical course lengths slowly expanding, would they "choose" to only hit it about the same distance as they did nine years ago?

If a typical 380 or so ranked ET and PT pros play an average of around 80 measured rounds per year and two measured drives per round, that totals around 60,000 measured drives per year - a very large sample which very likely measures (quite accurately) almost exactly how long these two memberships ARE ACTUALLY hitting the ball.

Why wouldn't they air out what you assume to be continued improvements in technology that gives them much greater potential length?

Is it all about fear of narrower fairways and more risk in hitting it long? It might be, but is it?

Whatever the reason, typical distances off the tee on those roughly 60,000 measured drives per year have barely increased over the past nine years or so. Why are they giving up on bomb and gouge - if indeed they are?
12.5.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGarrett
Digsouth, I agree stats don't tell everything, but they are not "meaningless"
I don't know if the tour methodology for driving stat is different from 10 years ago? and I've not seen evidence that more players are leavening their driver in the bag. If anyone knows otherwise please let us know.
The ball is limited and has changed little since the original ProV1 came out in early 2000s and the driver is more or less at a limit now too. Manufacturers would love to claim their latest driver/ball goes x yards further, but they can't. They sell adjustability, pretty colours but the performance improvements have been marginial in the last 10 years.
Distance gains in the last 10 years, and we can go round in circles on how much this has been in reality, I'd suggest are as much to do with improving and changing techniques, with more emphasis on power, which goes along with improved fitness and better understanding of golf specific training among the new generation of players.
SGarrett, thanks for adding some rational analysis to this debate
12.5.2012 | Unregistered Commenterandrew coop

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