USGA Distance Myths, Vol. 4

USGA Distance Myth #3:

Driving distance on Tour is increasing rapidly
False.  While average PGA Tour driving distance significantly increased over the past 10 years, it has leveled off during the past three.  The average increase since the level of 2003 to the current level in 2006 is only about 1 yard per year.

What is conveniently missing here tells a far different story.

In May 2002 the USGA and R&A issued a "Joint Statement of Principles," a year that USGA Executive Director David Fay described as the "benchmark" year for gauging distance increases.

The 2002 PGA Tour Driving Distance average was 279.8 yards. In 2005 it was 288.9 yards, and in 2006 it is currently at 288.3 (8 yards ahead of the average last year at this time when Golf World's E. Michael Johnson mocked "distance ranting killjoys").

So while distance myth memo author Dick Rugge accurately cites small increases since 2003 (admittedly ignoring a mention of last year's 18-rain delayed PGA Tour events), why wouldn't he include the "benchmark" year for their distance study?

Perhaps because that would have revealed a significant increase?

Which brings us to the dreaded significant word. The Joint Statement says:

The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.

For a breakdown of some significant increases, you can refer back to this post, where the climb among the top 50 in driving distance is really significant.

And also keep in mind how vital the 2002 Joint Statement is. Here is what the PGA Tour said about it on May 9, 2002:

The TOUR is pleased that the principles stress that the general philosophy governing rulemaking is that skill rather than technology shall be the most critical element in performance by a golfer and that golf balls, when hit by highly skilled golfers, should not fly significantly further than they do today as a result of technological advances. Further, the TOUR also fully supports the USGA and R&A's plan to modernize its equipment testing methods.

The TOUR has previously discussed with both the USGA and R&A its opinion that the distance high performance golf balls travel when struck at swing speeds of today's most elite players, using today's most advanced equipment, should be the maximum distance allowable. Given the USGA and R&A's agreement on maximum allowable COR and their commitment to modernized testing procedures, the TOUR is hopeful that the USGA and R&A will be successful in capping allowable golf ball distance at current levels.