Since the Ryder Cup will distract us from the final tallies post-Tour Championship, I thought I’d offer a refresher course for those interested in the distance debate.
To recap: the triathletes of the PGA Tour head to the 2018 finish line with their foam rollers and four-hour workouts fueling distance gains. However, as any player paid by Titleist will tell you, it’s not the amazing equipment advances made by engineers and coaches cleverly using launch monitors to improve their students, but instead the purity of athletes who may get called at any time by NFL teams looking for mid-season injury replacements.
In May 2002, the USGA and R&A drew a line in the sand and said any distance increases, no matter the cause, were not sustainable.
The PGA Tour driving distance average in 2002 was 279.84 yards.
Since then, the governing bodies have eroded their credibility by claiming their rules have capped distance and things have flatlined.
The 2018 PGA Tour Driving Distance average heading to East Lake is at 296.0 yards, up over three yards from the 2017 numbers and over 16 yards from the sand-line drawing.
More impressive is Rory McIlroy’s shot at history, with a current driving distance average of 320.0 yards heading to East Lake. The previous high for a season was by Dustin Johnson in 2015: 317.7 yards.
Back in March I noted this year’s spike and if we use the 295 barrier as another high water mark, we see another big leap in 2018.
Honda: 45 players averaging 295 or higher
End of season: 49 averaging 295 or higher
Honda: 50 players averaging 295 or higher
End of season: 53 averaging 295 or higher
Honda: 65 players averaging 295 or higher
End of season: 55 averaging 295 or higher
Honda: 63 players averaging 295 or higher
End of season: 77 averaging 295 or higher
Honda: 111 players averaging 295 or higher
Heading to the last tournament: 108 averaging 295 or higher
So since 2014, we will have doubled the number of players averaging over 295 yards off the tee. Averaging.
While these numbers would be relevant if anyone actually believed in the governing bodies or had faith their ability to act in a credible way, we know the ship has sailed. The USGA and R&A can’t overcome years of saying things have flatlined when the numbers (and eyeballs) say otherwise.
More interesting to me, as a longtime distance student, is that eye-test element and just how many people continue to realize how distance does not make professional golf more entertaining.
Look at poor, defenseless Aronimink last week or even Bellerive. No one watching felt like the courses could pose the questions and strategic dilemmas intended by their designers, even after both layouts had received updates to address the changes that aren’t happening. The question before the PGA Tour and PGA of America, supporters of distance gains to “grow the game,” is whether such a brand of golf is interesting to watch and will captivate the younger audiences they obsess over. They’ll point to 2018’s ratings as evidence, but we all know that’s largely Tiger-driven.
And in case you don’t know, Tiger supports an end to the distance chase madness via bifurcation, just as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones have before him.
Happy (long) driving boys! I have full faith you can keep the average over 296 yards next week.