Recently we have heard everyone discussing whether or not PGA Tour players hit the golf ball too far. Everyone from Tiger Woods to Brad Faxon, Brandel Chamblee, Mike Davis, and Wally Uihlein have weighed in with their thoughts. I myself have struggled with what side of the fence I should be on, so I wanted to learn more about it before I made a judgement.
Because I am a golf nerd, I decided to do a little digging.
My first question in all of this is, what is too far? How do we judge that the golf ball or distance has reached a point where it is diminishing the product for our viewing pleasure? How do we know if technology and distance have effected the integrity of the game? Too far is a statement of relativity. One-hundred years ago, it could have taken you 12 hours to travel 200 miles. Now you can fly Los Angeles to Sydney in that same amount of time.
When Harry Vardon was winning championships early in his career, he and every other competitor exclusively used the gutta percha golf ball with his name on it, “The Vardon Flyer.” The gutta percha was invented in 1848 and used until a new ball came into play in the early 1900’s. This new ball was the Haskell Rubber ball invented by Coburn Haskell and Betrum Work. It was the first rubber ball that was a complete game changer. Despite is obvious performance enhancements and distance gained, however, many of the top players were slow to begin to play the new ball. In fact, it took Harry Vardon almost 10 years to make the switch. I can imagine they were having the same conversations back then that we are having today.
There are tons of examples of this throughout golf history, and although there have been limitations on technology there has never been a roll back in the golf ball. The ball has always won out. So I ask myself and you why now are we claiming that the ball is going too far? I decided to compare scoring average on the PGA Tour to driving distance and golf course length. Below in the graphs you will see what I found.
First, I must say it is very difficult to find accurate data on driving distance and scoring average before 1980. From 1980 to present time, this information has been tracked by the PGA Tour, so I decided to only look at the past 37 years for an example. Since 1980, the PGA Tour median scoring average has gone from 72.3 to 70.995 in 2016. That is a difference of 1.305 shots or a change of 1.8 percent over 37 years. The lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour has gone from 69.73 to 69.17. That is a difference of o.56 strokes or an 0.8 percent of change. So yes, scoring average has gotten better. Is this because the golf ball is going farther?
Let’s now look at driving distance on the PGA Tour since 1980 in the chart below.
In 1980, the median driving distance on the PGA Tour was 256.7 yards. In 2016, it was 290.1 yards. That is a gain of 33.4 yards over 37 years, or about 1 yard per year. This is a percentage change of 13 percent. The longest hitter in 1980 averaged 274.3 yards. In 2016, the longest hitter averaged 314.5 yards, an improvement of 40.2 yards. That’s a percentage change of 14.6 percent. PGA Tour players in 2016 hit it a lot farther than they did in 1980, yet scoring averages haven’t changed much. Is this because golf course length has kept up with distance gained?
Finding course length information since 1980 was difficult. I decided to only look at the majors championships as examples, where data is more plentiful. From here, I made the decision to only use the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Unlike the Masters, they are played on a different course every year. As for The Open Championship, it’s generally a different kind of golf where distance and strategy can hinge on the elements. I felt as though this was the best representation for all courses on the PGA Tour. In the chart below, you will find the average course length of the U.S. Open and PGA Championship from 1980-2016.
As you can see, golf courses have absolutely gotten longer. For this chart, I will compare the shortest average length (1981) to the longest average course length (2015). I am doing this because of the smaller data sample size and I believe this would more correctly illustrate the average of all PGA Tour courses. From 1981 to 2015 the golf course length increased by 791 yards (6807 yards to 7598 yards). That’s an increase of 11.6 percent.
For review, we have seen scoring average decrease by 1.8 percent, driving distance increase by 13 percent and course length increase by 11.6 percent. The difficult part about looking at this much data is always trying to interpret it. How is the data helpful, and what story does it tell?
Let’s revisit the driving distance chart one more time with some timeline reference points to paint the picture in a clearer way. These are some of the biggest technological advances in golf since 1980, and they tell a fantastic story of why we saw certain leaps in distance over a short amount of time.
- From 1991 to 2000, the decade of the introduction of bigger metal woods from the 190-cubic-centimeter Big Bertha to the 300-cubic-centimeter Titleist 975D, there was median distance increase of 4.7 percent (12.3 yards).
- Just in the year from 2000–2001, which saw the solid-core Titleist Pro V1 introduced in October of 2000, there was a median distance increase in 2.3 percent (6.3 yards).
- From 2002–2003 (TaylorMade introduced the adjustable-weight R7 driver on Tour in 2004), there was a median distance increase of 2.4 percent (6.6 yards).
In just 4 short years (2000–2003), the median distance on the PGA Tour increased by a whopping 4.9 percent (13.4 yards). Of course, there was a necessary and actionable reaction to this by the USGA when it limited the driver to 460 cubic centimeters following the 2003 season and finalized the COR limit. Since 2003, we have only seen a change in median distance of 1.2 percent, or 3.5 yards. I believe this gain in distance can be explained by better fitting and the presence of launch monitors like TrackMan on tour. There has also been more adjustability added to drivers and several upgrades in shaft technology.
What I don’t understand when looking at this data is why are we just now saying the golf ball is going too far. It seems to me we are 15 years too late in noticing.
How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?
One of the great debates among junior golfers, parents and swing coaches is what is the most crucial factor in making the college decision. My experience tells me that many students would answer this question with a variation of coaching, facilities and of course academics (especially if their parents are present).
I would agree that all three are important, but I wanted to explore the data behind what I think is an often overlooked but critical part of the process; playing time. For this article, I examined players under 25 who made the PGA tour and played college golf to see what percent of events they participated in during their college career. In total I identified 27 players and through a combination of the internet, as well as conversations with their college coaches, here are the numbers which represent my best guess of their playing time in college:
Player Percent of Events
- Justin Thomas 100%
- Rickie Folwer 100%
- Xander Schauffele 100%
- Bryson DeChambeau 100%
- Jon Rahm 100%
- Patrick Reed 91%
- Jordan Speith 100%
- Beau Hossler 100%
- Billy Horschel 100%
- Aaron Wise 100%
- Daniel Berger 100%
- Thomas Pieters 95%
- Ryan Moore 100%
- Kevin Tway 98%
- Scott Langley 95%
- Russell Hendley 100%
- Kevin Chappell 96%
- Harris English 96%
- JB Holmes 100%
- Abraham Ancer 97%
- Kramer Hicock 65%
- Adam Svensson 100%
- Sam Burns 100%
- Cameron Champ 71%
- Wydham Clark 71%
- Hank Lebioda 100%
- Sebastian Munoz 66%
Please note that further research into the numbers demonstrate that players like Pieters, Munoz, Clark, Reed, Hicock, Langely, Reed and Champ all played virtually all events for their last two years.
This data clearly demonstrates that players likely to make a quick transition (less than 3 years) from college to the PGA tour are likely to play basically all the events in college. Not only are these players getting starts in college, but they are also learning how to win; the list includes 7 individual NCAA champions (Adam Svensson, Aaron Wise, Ryan Moore and Thomas Pieters, Scott Langley, Kevin Chappell, and Bryson DeChambeau), as well 5 NCAA team champion members (Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith, Beau Hossler, Patrick Reed, Abraham Ancer and Wydham Clack) and 2 US Amateur Champs (Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore).
As you dig further into the data, you will see something unique; while there are several elite junior golfers on the list, like Speith and Thomas who played in PGA tour events as teenagers, the list also has several players who were not necessarily highly recruited. For example, Abraham Ancer played a year of junior college before spending three years at the University of Oklahoma. Likewise, Aaron Wise, Kramer Hickok and JB Holmes may have been extremely talented and skillful, but they were not necessarily top prospects coming out of high school.
Does this mean that playing time must be a consideration? No, there are for sure players who have matriculated to the PGA Tour who have either not played much in college. However, it is likely that they will make the PGA tour closer to 30 years of age. Although the difference between making the tour at 25 and 30 is only 5 years, I must speculate that the margin for failure grows exponentially as players age, making the difference mathematically extremely significant.
For junior golfers looking at the college decision, I hope this data will help them understand the key role of playing time will have in their development if they want to chase their dream of playing on the PGA Tour. As always, I invite comments about your own experience and the data in this article!
Hidden Gem of the Day: Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas
These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!
Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member pdaero, who takes us to Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas. The course is situated just ten minutes from downtown San Antonio, and pdaero gives us some excellent insight into what you can expect should you make the trip here.
“My favorite golf course to play, it is always in really good shape. These pictures are from wintertime, which the greenness is still impressive. The course has a ton of fun holes and unique designs, and only houses visible on 4 tee and between 14 green and 15 tee.
The course rating is strong, with a 74.2 rating on a par 71 (7007 yards from the tips), and even from the second tee you get 1.3 strokes.”
According to Republic Golf Club’s website, the rate for 18 holes during the week ranges from $29 to $49, while the weekend rate ranges from $35 to $69.
An interview with State Apparel’s founder Jason Yip
For the past five years, Jason Yip has been building an apparel company that redefines the purpose of golf wear. With a strong background in innovation from his days in Silicone Valley, Yip wanted to reinvent golf apparel to be a functional tool for the golfer.
The other day, I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Jason Yip about State Apparel and a little about himself. It is not every day that you get to speak with someone who can exude passion through the phone. On this day, though, I could hear the passion Jason has for golf, California, and for State Apparel.
Yip said State Apparel has two major foundations
- Functional innovation
- Social responsibility
Jason loved talking about watching Tiger Woods. However, he watched for something I believe few ever have. How was Tiger wiping the dew and the grass off his clubs, hands, and ball? The answer that Jason observed was that Tiger and others are utilizing their clothing as wiping surfaces. The core of State Apparel is the functionally located wiping elements on your article of clothing. The staple of the brand is their Competition Pants which have wiping elements located on the cuffs, side pockets, and rear pockets.
State Apparel recognizes the need to be socially responsible as a company. This seems to be from Jason’s earlier days of playing golf behind a truck stop in Central Valley, California.
How is the State Apparel socially responsible? Yip identified three ways.
- Production is done in San Francisco.
- Most of their apparel utilizes sustainable fabric.
- Proud supporter of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.
Jason’s desire is to provide not only apparel that is golf specific but also the experience that we have on the golf course. A little over a year ago the State Apparel Store and Urban Clubhouse opened on Filmore Street in San Francisco, California.
“I wanted to provide the golfing experience closer to the home of many golfers in the area,” Yip told me.
Among the State Apparel clothing at the store, there is an indoor hitting by with launch monitor. And they have even hosted speaking events with local professionals and architects at the clubhouse.
At the end of our conversation I asked Jason, what would he say to someone who knows nothing about State Apparel, especially those of us not in California?
“State Apparel is a unique authentic brand that is designed specifically for golfers by a golfer. Look at the product because it is something you have never seen and absolutely communicate on what you see or what you have questions about.”
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Cobra launches new King F9 Speedback drivers and fairways
Bryson DeChambeau’s Winning WITB: 2018 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
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