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2016-17 PGA Tour Distance Average Up 2.5 Yards To 292.5

One key crime of the wraparound: not getting to disgest, analyze and celebrate the many fun stats produced by the players and documented by the ShotLink system.

Thanks to the crack crew at ShotLink I just started looking over the 2016-17 stats as we roll into week two of 2017-18. Naturally, I went to the distance numbers first and the overall average spiked from last year's 290.0 number.

I'm fairly certain the 292.5 yard average for 2016-17 makes it a record year, proving yet again that core work and heavy use of foam rollers can pay dividends.

All drives in '16-17 averaged 285.1, but the records do not go back as far to put that number into perspective.

(Just a reminder here that the USGA and R&A Joint Statement of Principles was issued in 2002 suggesting  significant increases would set off alarm bells. The PGA Tour Driving Distance average in 2002 was 279.5 yards, meaning a 13-yard increase since then.)

As for 2016-17...check out the interval chart:

Note that 43 players averaged over 300 yards, compared to 27 in 2015-16. That's also a new high mark for 300+ average. Just one player (John Daly) averaged over 300 yards in 2002 when the Statement of Principles was issued.

Do I need to keep going?

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Reader Comments (95)

The guys who play in the big tournaments especially the majors at classic courses, which are jeopardized by long drives, are not average drivers of the ball. They are longer than average. The figures should be about the top 50 drivers.
No, please, don't go on. We get it, you don't like distance in golf. Check.

(insert Simpsons gif of old man shaking fist at clouds)

The real issue to me is what has all this distance done to the scoring average. I guess I just don't care at all about people hitting the ball off the planet, no one seems to be shooting 58s on a regular basis.

2017 - 68.84 - Jordan

2002 - 68.56 - Tiger

So - big deal. Who cares if golfers are hitting it farther if its not having a noticeable affect on scoring? Seriously why is this never an issue that people in the media bring up? People are so hyper focused on that distance number that they don't stop to say oh yeah, well, average scoring hasn't moved at all, so who cares. I'm open to debate though.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterMC

It's not about the scores - which can always be manipulated with narrower fairways, more rough,faster greens, longer courses - but how the great old courses play and the clubs players are hitting into the greens.
It's about the intent of the great old architects and how they saw their amazing courses playing. They'd be shocked now to see it all.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike Clayton
I'm just sick of hearing all of these "ideas" to dial back distance to bring the field closer together - this is specifically what the Golf Channel seems to focus on. So when you dial back the equipment, do you think that's going to make DJ and the like any less athletic - the gaps are still going to be there.

And lets say you do dial back the equipment for the sake of these "great old courses" - which I personally don't agree with - but lets say you do. What becomes of all the 7500-7800 yard monsters that people are building now. Those courses would become obsolete.

I'd be interested to see a survey chart that graphs the age of the respondent against how much they really care about distance increases in golf.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterMC
I am a "roll back the ball" guy. But don't trivialize improved "athleticism" as part of the equation. For comparison look at basketball, if you compare overall athleticism, at any level, between today and 20 years ago you would see a huge difference. The percentage of high school (I go to a lot of HS games) kids that can dunk is way higher than it used to be, not just the taller kids either. Increase swing speeds across the board is a legitimate factor.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterConvert
You can always move up tees, it's a lot harder to move back/create new tees. It would be interesting to see not just driving distance numbers but is there a distance difference in the second shots like say on par 5s? Are today's pro golfers able to reach from further back on average more often?
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlyn
MC- I'm with Clayts. I'm not anti long hitting-but I see no merit in constantly stretching courses. No other sport does this. Restricting equipment to make our best courses the challenge they were meant to be is by far the best way forward in my view. Long hitters will still be long but we will be playing better courses instead of contrived monsters.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterchico
@ Mike Clayton +10

It's not the scores it's how they are posting them. Stretching out the courses make it a long hitters game now. It's become a one dimensional game. No need for tactics and imagination. The soul of golf is being eroded. Tournaments are in danger of being as exciting as long drive contests. Ok for 30 minutes but soon becomes bland and repetitive.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterEasingwold
So Gil Hanse puts a fairway bunker on a hole he redesigned in Boston (hole 12 I think) and the players are challenged to think their way around the hole, specifically off the tee. Can't just hammer a driver off the tee and let it roll out if I recall correctly. And the tour players whined like crazy about driver being taken out of their hands.

I recall from the telecast that driver wasn't really taken out of their hands, they just had to be careful where they hit their tee shot, but driver was still an option. That seems to be a reasonable course design. It will be interesting to see if the tour makes any changes (they own the course I think) so the players stop complaining, or if they make the best players in the world just play the hole as one of the top architects today challenged them to play it.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJasper
Always appreciate reading comments from Mike Clayton and Chico and Easingworld. They clearly demonstrate that some people have the ability to see the big picture and some don't. IMO, both the USGA and R&A have failed the game of golf in this regard when it comes to the ball and driver.

And I'm with Convert as athleticism certainly has played a role. The problem is that equipment, both the ball and driver, has played a far greater role and it should have been the other way around.
The umpteenth article on this with the same, thoughtful arguments about limiting equipment. But nothing happens. And, in a few months, we'll have yet another discussion.

Chico, you're an R&A guy, what will it take for one or both of the "ruling bodies" to do something?
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPops
These stats are meaningless without noting what club is being hit... Those of us who play with top amateurs, or pros realize that the young guys are very capable of hitting it 290 with their three wood off the tee... Yes the ball has allowed this! By reducing spin to the point that the harder you hit the new ball, the straighter it flies due to lower spin, the young guys have learned to maximize speed of the clubhead, and those who can reproduce face position can play at a high level, all the while hitting wedges into 500 yard par fours... The US open at Erin Hills illustrated this perfectly with players reaching for 3 wood on a 630 yard hole, then hotting it again, or less into the green...Yes, the ball is changing the game the same way steroids changed baseball....Power and speed vs knowledge, skill, and technique.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterKim Russell
Out of curiosty, do we think Lucas Glover and Marc Leishman should hit the ball further than Paul Azinger?
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJS
" they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game."

It has come to pass. Everything in the 2002 prediction has happened. For some like MC it does not matter. For others who remember a player, no matter how good, having to deal with fear as part of the equation in a shot, the game is no longer the same.

While some say it is inevitable like other sports they forget many other sports have defense to offset the superior athletics. The golf course is the defense in golf. For all but a few weeks a year when wind and weather combine the weekly monotony of bomb and gouge is on display. At least NASCAR has crashes to entertain the masses- Golf has Kevin Na lost in a mesquite nightmare or Spieth chunking a wedge on 12 at ANGC. Otherwise the game for the top tour has degraded to a human video contest that happens to be outside.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commentermunihack
Comparing prior scoring averages and using that as a defense that the increased distance a ball is going isn't having an impact is just silly. In 1998 Duval won with an average of 69.13. There is no way that if you took that same Duval with the same equipment in 1998 and had him play the same courses used 2016-17 that his scoring average would be 69.17. It would be higher because the courses are longer, fairways are narrower, rough is thicker, greens are faster and pins are cut 2 or 3 paces from edges.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJT
Pops-I'm a club pro-not anR and A man-although I have reffed with many of their refs. I n my view if we see the kind of scoring we saw at the Dunhill in an Open at the Old Course then I think we will see change. I dont think they are keen on bifurcation or taking on Titleist-but I do genuinely believe they will bite the bullet one day.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterchico
I hear a lot about how golf risks becoming the way of tennis, given the technology of tennis racquets, ruined the fun of the game (i.e. - volleys). I am all for reducing the ball trajectory at the professional level. However,I think golf, from a TV viewing aspect, gets the benefits from the fact, television does a horrible job in terms of providing context as to distance, shot shape etc.

I agree, it would be nice to see more guys have to take out the 3-4-5 irons for second shots, and have to shape more shots. But the fact is, most people watching on the television do not have any sense as to these nuances. They just see a guy take a swing, a shot of the ball in the sky, and then a view of the green as the ball lands.

It is why I think current coverage needs to provide less of the viewpoint from the golfer on the second shot, and more a look from the green back to the golfer taking the shot. Watch the replay of the 1974 PGA Championship. It is awesome, as they used a lot of long-distance camera angles, which game a much greater appreciation for distance and shot shape.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

A couple of retorts:

A) What you could do is shorten those 7,500 - 8,000 yard behemoths and maybe, use the extra space for something useful instead of unused fair way. Maybe even through in a new Par-3 course at Erin Hills!.

B) No question, DJ would still hit the revamped, Variable Distance ball farther than say, Brandon Grace. That is not where things get evened out. What would happen is instead of DJ taking out a edge on a second shot, he would have to use maybe his 6 or 7 iron to get to the green. Grace maybe a 4 - 5 iron. The way those clubs work in terms of trajectory towards the green are much different from when DJ hit PW and Grace is hitting 7 iron.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad
I guess I never understood on what grounds an equipment manufacturer could sue. If someone could give a quick and dirty on it I'd appreciate it.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon

anyone can sue for anything. Could they win? My guess is they would sue on various grounds that the R&A and USGA have no grounds, based on years of precedent, lack of warning etc.. to suddenly change rules regarding how balls behave, and therefore, are causing undue economic damages to their business, as well as all of the lost return on investment or the R&D they put into all of their current ball offerings. I am not sure

An interesting parallel is the anchored putter. It is a smaller industry (the anchored putter manufacturers), and at the end of the day, few people adopted that style, and therefore, economics are different. In addition, there is not much in the way of R&D necessary to change a regular putters to an anchored putter.

I am not a lawyer, so if someone can chime in. I am not 100% sure they would win, but I think they would have a case that a sudden change in rules without giving industry time to adapt (i.e. - time to continue to market to the public these fancy, long-distance balls the Pros use), the governing bodies are responsible for economic losses.

Another aspect of this entire situation is the $$$$ ball manufacturers put into advertising their offerings. All Titleist has to do is threaten to pull all ad dollars from magazines, television, tournaments and players, and suddenly, this will send shivers down the backs of all whose livelihoods are threatened by such a move. So there is more than just the legal matter at hand. I could see suddenly a lot of conflicts of interest from industry players turning against those rulings, and getting an ignorant public to support the ball manufacturers and against the ruling bodies.

Which is why, I think there needs to be more ground roots efforts to make the public aware as to how all of this technology is ruining the game. But it is a tough sell to someone hitting current balls 220 yards being asked to play a ball that suddenly causes them to drive it sub-200.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad
"But it is a tough sell to someone hitting current balls 220 yards being asked to play a ball that suddenly causes them to drive it sub-200"

I really think it's possible to make a ball that the 220 hitter will still hit 220 but the 320 will hit sub-300. Just food for thought.
Colin Mc~~

You make a GREAT point. the average should be on a narrower group of golfers, not the whole shebang. These are the players who are winning- the top 50? No! How about the top 10 or top 25 of all the tournaments from the previous year, or YTD?

that would indicate what is winning, not the ''average'', but the average of the winners and top 10/25, a more realistic vieof where the game is actually at.

Some stat guy could do this, not me. Who was it that always brought the stats a couple years ago? Brain fog....
10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
N.Texas G--

''I really think it's possible''

Certainly , anything is ''possible'', but is it possibable? :) i don't know that it doesn't open a door for a cheater to switch balls.

I do agree it's worth a shot, but the company doing the r&d seems to need a reason to spend the $

10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
Based on your snark. Do you really feel the workout and training methods have little effect?
Or that the understanding that the higher launch/spin optimization is completely different than the years
In comparison? The "ideal" tee shot has changed dramatically fro 1990-2000-2010-now. Yes, some of it
Is the ability to make a Pinnacle that can spin, but the knowledge of how to max out is completely different than
The "old days.

I understand you're concern on courses being left behind, and that you're a historian, but every single time you get on
Your rant about distance and the ball, you always seem to have a need to dismiss the work, adjustments,
And learning curve (that the players you are most distance obsessed with) those players put in to crate these distances,
I've been involved in it as a player, now a coach, and to me, which I'm sure means little, you always seem petty while trying to simply make a point that you believe distance is a problem, but dismissing the amount of work the players do to create it and take advantage of it.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterP Thomas
Ultimately does it matter if it's the ball or the athlete? I think it doesn't. It's going way too far for historic courses either way.

Thanks for the response. Interesting situation.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
The scores at the Dunhill were proof enough imo. Imagine if it was 10-15deg warmer and sunny? There will be a sub60 round on TOC in the near future...I'm sure of it. No matter how many tees are relocated off the property.

Bifurcate already. It's time to join the other big boy leagues. Amateurs can use any bloody tech they want. Pay for play guys/gals use equipment that doesn't cover up mistakes so effectively. (Max cc <250)
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohnnnycz
Those two Callaway golf balls splashed on the banner of this website as paid advertising... do those balls go too far? I guess not as long as the payloa keeps flowing into Shackle's pockets, lol.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commentersnark
the editorial content of GS has not bee ncompromised, as much as i have seen. Yes there are ''commercial threads'', but they are obvious, unapologetic, not subversive efforts to have an actor drinking a Bud, and always holding the can( drinks suck out of cans- just taste the difference) toward the camera.

So the ability to post your snarky remark, snark, is partially made possible by the very Callaway you mention in a diss, and will be so, unless Geoff removes the post.

A guy has to eat, and GS has done a good job of using his nerdability to become a minor TV person- a minion of sorts- one in a minion? Sorry Geoff- there's a word waiting to be created, but not by me right this minute.

10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
Just chiming in late to reiterate my agreement with Brad about Tennis and Johnnycz about bifurcation.

Long that long ago, to "play what the pros played" we used blades and balata, and had better be good enough to try. There was de facto bifurcation.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBjorn Haagen
People will buy the same number of golf balls regardless of whether or not there is bifurcation. There is no good reason not to do it anymore.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterTremendous Slouch
But maybe not from the same manufacturers...hence the risk of suit. Change a rule that costs Acushnet a few hundred million in sales and look out.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJS
I don't see why most folk here and elsewhere are wound up about what happens on professional golf tours. That game is far different game from what most play and can even imagine. Essentially, it is only entertainment for those who care to spectate. These criers have no business trying to alter tour performance. Tee it high and let it fly.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterFC
I'm tired of par 5's where the shortest hitters in the field are hitting irons into. Those are par 4's.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPerkins
FC, respectfully disagree from the perspective of someone who plays amateur events. My feeling is that the technology is better exploited by the high swing speed player ie those guys seem to have gained almost exponential jumps in distance versus the average player. I don't mind the long hitter having an advantage - golf has always been thus - but it "seems": (and admit this is just anecdotal to me) that the advantage has grown way too big.....

I would prefer to go back to persimmon, lose 15 yards, but only have the longest hitters 20 or 30 ahead of opposed to 60.....
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul W
I like the idea of 9k yard courses for majors and other high-end events (e.g. WGCs). The ball would have to be rolled back 15-20% for these long hitters to start hitting 2i and 3/5w into par 5's - it ain't happening folks.
Let's just show the Wizard of Oz without Oz while we're at it.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
JS: why would Acushnet sell fewer balls? With a uniform rollback, where’s the advantage in switching?
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterRgw
Saw your post just now. Top level players are certainly hitting it unprecedented distances.
Unfortunately as all too often happens, while looking for an easy fix, the preachers must
Denigrate or dismiss anything that doesn't fit the mantra.
Geoff will regularly dismiss the players abilities and efforts in frenzy to roll back distances.
All while hawking the same equipment that is allegedly ruining things.

Is the Old Course becoming irrelevant for Open Championships? Pretty damned close, if you watch tee shots
Flying previously dangerous bunkers. So as things have gotten here, let's make fun of work out routines, mechanic changes and equipment optimization that so many work tremendously hard on to score snark points. Go callaway!!
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterP Thomas
I've said it before and I will repeat it.

There is ONE simple way to make this happen and it shouldn't cost anyone anything.

Make the maximum weight of the ball less than 1.60 ounces... but more than 1.55.

The 1.55-ounce ball was tried a long time ago when all balls had balata covers and everyone hated it. But with today's lowers spin balls there's be virtually no effect on seniors, women and juniors because their ball speed is low. The probably would gain some carry distance, and they'd find it easier to hit a fairway wood because the ball would sit up better.

At the top end, high ball-speed players would need to tunk hard about using a driver into the wind, unless they had a "stinger."

The few pros left who love to shape shots would be in heaven because this ball would actually curve.

Make the new balls mandatory on Tour and top am events, stop making heavy balls immediately, give everyone else a few years to use up their old balls, and let the guys playing in their foursome on Sunday morning use whatever they want.

10.12.2017 | Unregistered Commenterkenoneputt
Somehow John Daly hits it much farther at 50 than 25 so I do think you can cross fitness training off the Who Done It? but I could be wrong.
10.12.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon

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