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.
Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico
Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!
The Book That Almost Wasn’t a Book: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons”
“Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” written by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, continues to be the largest selling golf instructional book in history. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the book, which was first published in 1957.
The story of how the book was published revolves around Sports Illustrated, which was owned by Time Magazine. The weekly magazine launched in 1954 as an experiment to see if an all-sport publication could survive. In 1956, the publication was on the brink of disaster, having yet to find its audience.
This is the backdrop against which Sydney James, the magazine’s managing editor, received a call from Ben Hogan. Hogan had an idea for an article. Would Sports Illustrated be interested?
James promised to get back to him shortly with an answer. And he did, telling him that the magazine would be very interested in collaborating with him, and that he would begin making the necessary arrangements to get the project off the ground.
James explained his plan to Hogan, which was to arrange for the magazine’s most talented writer, Herbert Warren Wind, and top-rated freelance illustrator, Anthony Ravielle, to visit Hogan in Fort Worth to further discuss his idea.
“Would that be agreeable” he asked?
“Yes,” Hogan replied. He would make himself available as needed.
Writer and Illustrator
Herbert Warren Wind, a graduate of Yale University, was not just a writer, but a literary craftsman. He was without question the finest writer of his time, contributing regularly as a columnist for The New Yorker magazine from 1941-47.
For his part, Ravielle was quickly earning a reputation as one of the most talented illustrators in the country. His expertise was drawing the musculature of the human body in life-like detail. And then having the unique ability to convey a sense of motion with the human form.
A Single Idea
A few weeks later, the two met with Hogan at his office in Fort Worth, Texas. They then made their way to Colonial Country Club. And once there, they walked out to a part of the course where they would not be disturbed. And then Hogan began to explain to the two men what he had in mind.
As they listened to his ideas for the article, they suggested that he consider a five-part series. What they proposed was a sequential pattern of lessons beginning with the grip, the setup, the backswing, and the downswing. The fifth chapter would be a summary and review of what had been presented in the first four chapters.
Hogan liked the idea and agreed immediately.
As Hogan began to explain his thoughts on the swing, Wind began to scribble in his notebook, not wanting to miss a single word. (In later years, when interviewing a subject, modern-day reporters would use a tape recorder, but at that time it had not yet been invented.)
Wind would at times stop Hogan to ask a question or to clarify an important point. And when he reached the point at which he couldn’t possibly absorb another thought, Wind gave way to Ravielle, who armed with a still camera, snapped one photograph after another, capturing the various positions that would ultimately mirror Hogan’s thoughts.
During the next few days, Hogan continued to elaborate on his theories about the golf swing and the logic behind them. As they finished, the three men agreed that they would meet again, either at the end of 1956 or after the first of the year.
After returning to New York, Wind began writing a rough draft of the five-part series. At the same time, Ravielle started working from the photographs that he had taken earlier. He began by drawing pencil sketches that he would later show to Hogan for his approval before moving on to the final version.
The three gathered together again for a week-long session in January 1957. Hogan was extremely impressed with Ravielle’s sketches, believing that he had managed to capture the very essence of what he was attempting to covey to his would-be readers.
The pencil sketches would be transformed a final time using a “scratch-board” technique that Ravielle had mastered. The scratch-board technique created a uniquely vivid picture, which invited the reader to reach out and touch the seemingly life-like image on the page.
Wind’s spirits were buoyed after meeting with Hogan a second time as he wrote, “Hogan had gone into a much more detailed description of the workings of the golf swing then we had anticipated. Moreover, he had patently enjoyed the challenge and had given it everything he had.”
On returning to New York, Wind and Reveille begin working together, side by side, laying out the text, the illustrations, and captions in page form for each of the five chapters.
As Wind recounted, “When an installment was completed and had gone through the production department, we airmailed photostats of the pages to Hogan, who was in Palm Beach getting ready for the Masters. I would telephone Ben at his apartment at an appointed time each week, and we would go over each paragraph line by line. A session usually took between 45 minutes to an hour.”
During these sessions, as they reviewed the copy, Hogan was insistent that each word and phrase precisely communicate exactly what he intended to say. Wind recalls one example, when he had written “that at a certain stage of the swing the golfer’s weight had shifted to his left side.” Hogan corrected, “Let’s not say left side,” Adding “That isn’t accurate. In golf, there’s no such thing as a player’s left side. At this point in the swing most of the golfer’s weight is on his left foot and left leg.”
Wind found these discussions exhausting as Hogan worked his way through the copy with a “fine-tooth comb.” As wind wrote, “After these protracted checking sessions with Hogan, I did some deep-breathing exercises to relax myself, but I also had the bracing feeling that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be able to detect a smudged adjective or a mysterious verb in the text.”
As they were nearing completion of their work, Hogan asked Wind if he had any suggestions for the series name. As Wind recalls, “I thought for a long moment and then tossed up ‘The Fundamentals of Modern Golf?’”
Hogan mulled it over for a moment and then asked, “How about ‘The Modern Fundamentals of Golf?’” Wind agreed that the reversal in wording was a definite improvement. The series now, for the first time, had both a name and an identity.
The Magazine and the Book
The series was very successful, of course, boosting not only the sales of the magazine but also its circulation. The content of what would eventually become the book appeared in five installments beginning with the March 11, 1957 issue, which in Wind’s exact words, “sold like hotcakes.“
The book was released some five months later in September as a joint venture between Hogan and the magazine.
A Triple Play
Why has the book endured?
The first reason is because of the public’s fascinated with Hogan, not only as player, but as a man. He was a great ball-striker, maybe the best of all time, but there was more to the man than his ability to play golf. He is one of the more complex sports figures in the pantheon of great players. He was a man of secrets who preferred the shadows to the light.
The second reason is the wonderful prose of Herbert Warren Wind, which flows with ease from one paragraph to another, giving the reader at times the feeling of floating on air from one sentence to another.
The third reason is the illustrations of Anthony Ravielle, which describe in dramatic fashion the essence of what Hogan wanted to convey to the reader.
“Five Lessons” was then the collaboration of three men, each one of them the very best in their fields. They were, through luck and circumstance, thrown together in space and time. And maybe once joined together, they sensed the opportunity to create something very special with one purpose in mind — to write one of the best golf instruction books ever. And they succeed.
Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply
Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.
Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?
It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.
Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?
It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.
What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?
We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.
Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?
It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.
It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?
It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.
Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?
Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.
In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.
This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?
If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!
What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?
I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.
It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?
We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.
Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.
So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at email@example.com to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!
Spotted: A TaylorMade “M4” driver (via Instagram)
Tiger Woods WITB (2017 Hero World Challenge)
Match of the Ages: 30 Years of Tech Goes Head to Head
Hybrids or Long Irons? A Teacher’s Perspective
See what GolfWRX members are saying about Titleist’s new AVX golf balls
Spotted: Titleist’s new Vokey SM7 wedges
Callaway Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero drivers hit USGA conforming list
10 things you need to know about Cobra’s new King F8 lineup for 2018
The hottest blade irons in golf right now
Hello USGA, we need to talk….
Golf Gum: Could this chewing gum really lower your scores?
If Jordan Spieth’s gum chewing at the British Open inspired you to chomp a stick on course yourself, you might...
Bob Parsons, Paige Spiranac’s new video blog: “Why are PXG clubs so expensive?”
Golf’s favorite disruptive, ultra–premium golf brand is serving up a heaping portion of PXG brand red meat to its core...
PGA Tour suspends Mark Hensby for violation of Anti-Doping Policy (but that doesn’t mean he doped)
Mark Hensby joins the group of Doug Barron, Bhavik Patel, and Scott Stallings as the only players (we know of)...
Golf bids goodbye to viewer call-ins for rules violations. Should it?
The nearly 40-year era of viewer call-ins resulting in penalties being assessed to professional golfers will have come to an...
pga tour2 weeks ago
Tiger Woods WITB (2017 Hero World Challenge)
Equipment1 week ago
Callaway Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero drivers hit USGA conforming list
Opinion & Analysis5 days ago
Hello USGA, we need to talk….
pga tour1 week ago
Rickie Fowler’s Winning WITB: 2017 Hero World Challenge
Instruction7 days ago
Left Arm Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Tiger Woods driver swing video, on-site reports as he prepares for Hero World Challenge
Equipment2 weeks ago
TaylorMade is turning the tables, accuses PXG of patent infringement
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Tiger’s short game “a lil off” during Monday’s practice round (updated with video)