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Opinion & Analysis

The real numbers behind driving the ball on Tour



By Rich Hunt

GolfWRX Contributor

In the era of modern technology, advanced fitness regimens and long driving competitions, there has been a growing sentiment towards golf favoring the ‘bomb-n-gouge’ style of play.  However, we still see many shorter-hitting golfers like Zach Johnson who are successful in the game.  Most of the clients on Tour I work with have questioned the advantages that power can have on Tour versus hitting the ball the more accurately.  As a competitive amateur golfer myself, it was one of the first things I investigated from a statistical standpoint.

Part of the issue deals with the main metric designed to determine driving skill on Tour, called ‘Total Driving.” Total Driving utilizes a very simple formula by adding the rankings of a player’s Driving Distance and Fairway Percentage together.  The lower the combined ranking, the better the golfer will rank in Total Driving. But it’s metrics like Total Driving that have only produced more questions than answers for golfers.

The main issue with the Total Driving metric is that it is flawed from a statistical standpoint and it is a very incomplete formula. From a pure statistical standpoint, the addition of taking the rankings and adding them together is a bad idea in general.  Theoretically, a golfer on Tour could hit nothing but 4-irons off the tee and would likely lead the Tour in percentage of Fairways Hit. But, they would also likely be dead last in driving distance. And using the Total Driving formula of adding up the rankings would misrepresent how well the golfer hits the ball off the tee.

In that example, the golf would rank No. 1 in Fairway Percentage and No. 191 in Driving Distance.  That would combine for 192 Total Driving points, leaving this particular golfer ranked 100th out of 192 golfers on Tour in Total Driving.  However, the reality is that if a Tour golfer hit nothing but 4 irons off the tee, they would almost be guaranteed to be the least effective driver of the ball on Tour, if not in the history of the Tour.

And therein lies part of another issue with Total Driving — it assumes that driving distance is just as important as fairway percentage. When examining Driving Distance and Fairway Percentage to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages, the data shows that they are not of equal importance.

Not wanting to stop at just driving distance and fairway percentage, I examined other metrics as well.  The one metric that showed some statistical influence to par-4 and par-5 scoring averages is called “Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway.”  This metric is measured on shots by a Tour player when they miss the fairway.

It’s easy to understand why combining Driving Distance, Fairway Percentage and Distance To the Edge of the Fairway can show a strong correlation to par-4 and par-5 scoring average. Distance helps measure power, fairway percentage helps measure accuracy and distance to the edge of the fairway helps measure precision. Now the question becomes putting it in a formula to best represent its effect on Tour players and then examine the results.

Eventually I came up with my own metric that I call “Driving Effectiveness.”  It combines the metrics of Driving Distance, Fairway Percentage and Average Distance To the Edge of the Fairway. However, it utilizes the actual measurements instead of using the rankings.  Furthermore, it weighs those metrics differently to better represent its typical impact on Tour golfers on par-4s and par-5s.  Without giving the formula away, I will say that in the end that Driving Distance and Distance to the Edge of the Fairway have a larger impact on a golfer’s score than fairway percentage. But, do not let that fool you into believing that hitting fairways is unimportant.

Here is a table showing the top-10 and bottom-10 players in Driving Effectiveness and the Total Driving metric.

Top-10 in Driving Effectiveness

Bottom 10 in Driving Effectiveness

While there are some similarities between the rankings of the two metrics, there are plenty of players who are not accurately depicted in Total Driving.  Here’s a look at the top-10 players who had the largest improvement in Driving Effectiveness ranking from the Total Driving metric.

Here are the players with the largest decline in Driving Effectiveness ranking from the Total Driving metric.

In golfers who had a much better Driving Effectiveness ranking, we see that favoring shorter hitters a little. Conversely, with the golfers with a worse Driving Effectiveness ranking, that has a small bias towards longer hitters. The reason being has to do with the Average Distance To The Edge of the Fairway metric.

However, the bias is somewhat small. I believe the reason for that is regardless of their length off the tee, Tour players do not typically see a sizeable difference in where they rank on Tour between fairway percentage and Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway.

For example, KJ Choi saw the largest difference in Driving Effectiveness (67th) versus Total Driving (128th).  Choi was ranked 54th in fairway percentage, hitting 64.08 percent of his fairways. But, Choi was also 2nd in Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway, hitting it 18.7 feet from the edge on average. Thus, Choi was more effective than Total Driving indicates because when he did miss the fairway, he did not miss by much.

I think that amateurs can apply the general principles of Driving Effectiveness in their own game as well. If they are looking to become more effective off the tee, the ways to make the largest improvements would be to increase their driving distance (power) and their Distance to the Edge of the Fairway (precision).  If they are looking at swing changes or a new driver in order to increase distance, they should focus more on how that may possibly affect their Average Distance To The Edge of the Fairway.

However, if they gain power but lose too much precision they may end up being less effective in the long run. And if they do not believe they can gain any power, they should probably focus their efforts on Fairway percentage (accuracy) and Distance To The Edge of the Fairway (precision) in order become more effective off the tee.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10



  1. Philip

    Feb 8, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Great article. Recently, I’ve become intrigued by the statistics of the game of golf and other sports.

  2. be_right

    Jan 5, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Great article….Do you publish your driving effectiveness stats anywhere? I’d love to follow along throughout the season.

  3. stevielee

    Nov 29, 2012 at 12:50 am

    i disagree with The Pecker, this author somehow simply showed his approach and explained his findings without all the science behind it. now i can understand that even somedays that i couldnt hit single fairway and still had a decent day at the course. this is what you should get from an short online article.

  4. Richie Hunt

    Nov 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm


    I agree with many of your points, except for the last one stating that I am ‘fond of rendering the reader unable to form their own opinion.’

    The difficult part for me is that I utilize a proprietary statistical model that took time, effort and mathematical knowledge to create. Thus, giving it away for free is not something I am willing to do.

    This is not all that uncommon. I know the advanced metrics group for NFL research, Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, do not give away their models and algorithms either. But they present the information and their findings to their readers and then the readers decide how much sense it makes. This does typically lead to some debate as to how good certain players and teams are along with debating certain aspects and strategies of the game. But, they have obviously allowed their readers to render their own opinions because they have plenty of readers with plenty of opinions.

    I think in this article, the reader can render some opinion on the importance of the Avg. Distance to the Edge of the Fairway metric along with the flawed nature of Total Driving from a basic mathematical standpoint and whether or not the metrics should be weighted evenly or disproportionally. The reader could also discern if a players I listed like KJ Choi, Rory McIlroy and Robert Garrigus are better or worse than their Total Driving metric indicates. If you have further questions, please let me know.

  5. The Pecker

    Nov 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    While I think it is appropriate to incorporate more data into driving efficiency, I am unable to accept the author’s data for one simple reason. The author criticizes the PGA Tour for their “total driving” forumla, whereas, in the author’s analysis, they avoid mentioning any formula, rendering the reader unable to form their own opinion – something the author is clearly fond of doing.

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Opinion & Analysis

Bag Chatter: An Interview With 36 Golf Co.



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 for consideration. This interview is with Jay Vogler of 36 Golf Co (Pictured above caddying for business partner Chevy Mayne).

Talk to me about 36 Golf Co. What are you guys all about?

We’re all about getting people out to the course, having fun and not taking golf too seriously. We’re trying to create a brand for people who love the game, but aren’t necessarily trying to turn pro. The whole idea started when I was walking through a hockey shop and saw all these hockey lifestyle brands and I was like, “Why doesn’t this exist in golf?” We’re mainly targeting the 18-35 crowd; folks that kind of have a laid-back approach. We think it doesn’t matter if you wear cargo shorts and a T-shirt as long as you’re respecting the game and taking care of the course. It’s more important to replace your divots, repair your ball marks and keep up with the pace of play than it is to wear a collared shirt.

There are a lot of people launching brands in the soft goods world these days (clothing, towels, head covers, etc.). As a result, that world can be a little crowded. What makes 36 Golf Co. different from everyone else out there?

Our corner of the market, if you will, is trying to create a community of people who see the game the same way we do. We want to see the game grow, especially among the millennial age group. We think participation is lacking in that demographic, and we want to play a part in making the game a little more accessible for them. We want people to connect over our attitude toward golf. If you see a guy walking down the street wearing a 36 hat, we want you to think he’s approachable and he’s down to hang out and talk about golf and life without being pretentious. We’re out there to lower some of the barriers to entering the game.

Since I know you’re all about growing the game, what do you think it needs? What do you think is the biggest “problem” with golf that’s keeping people away from playing it or trying it?

I think perception is probably the biggest thing honestly. I picked up the game five years ago when I was 22 and I came from skateboarding and snowboarding. When I got into the game, a lot of people make a weird face and were like, “You play golf?!” It’s totally a perception thing, but once you get past that, it’s just such a fun game. From the first time I flushed a 7-iron at a driving range, I was hooked, but a lot of people don’t even get that far. We’re just trying to lower the barriers to the game and put a community out there.

36 Golf Co. “The Looper” Meshback Hat

If you could change one thing about the game of golf, what would you change? It doesn’t have to be something in the USGA rule book necessarily.

Obviously, I would get rid of dress codes. That’s my big bugaboo with the game. If I was just going about my daily life, I wouldn’t be wearing pants and a collared shirt and I think a lot of people would be in that same boat. If we let people come as they are, I bet participation would go way up. Appearance, respectfully, only matters so much. You can wear a collared shirt and still be a jerk and not repair your ball marks.

When you got the idea to start this company, how did you actually go about making that happen? Did you just google shirt suppliers or something? What was that process like?

Yeah, I pretty much spent the first month on Google looking for suppliers. I have a design background, so we did the design and the website ourselves, so that was good. Finding the right suppliers who were willing to work with us and had quality stuff was difficult.

What’s the biggest road block you’ve experienced with 36 Golf Co.? Launching it, marketing it, logistics, billing, whatever…

Starting a business in general was just…so much to take in. It’s overwhelming. Accounting, problems with suppliers… but if you don’t just start it then you’ll never know. I know it’s a cliché, but you gotta start somewhere. It’s not that any one thing was so difficult. It was just the amount of things that come your way.

36 Golf Co “The Sniper” Snap Back Hat and “Fleck” T Shirt

What are you most optimistic about with 36 Golf Co? What’s got you excited these days?

We just went to a show this past weekend in Toronto, and we just met a lot of people who really seemed to get what we were about and were excited to be a part of it themselves. That’s what gets you excited; when people really understand your vibe and want to be a part of that community and rep your brand for no other reason than it resonates with them. That’s what it’s all about.

Let’s play a game. Imagine golf was like baseball and you got to pick a “walk-up song” when you got to the first tee. What song are you going with?

Haha. I’ve been listening to a lot of Jurassic 5 lately, so we’ll go with “What’s Golden.” I feel like that’d be a pretty good hype song.

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, which one would it be? It has to be a course you have played before or have access to, though. Don’t just say Augusta.

There’s a little course called Bathurst Glen just north of Toronto. I used to work there, but it kicks my butt every time I go. It’s a friendly spot, which I enjoy. I struggle playing really nice golf courses. They kind of stress me out.

Chevy Mayne of 36 Golf Co. in the “OG” T Shirt and “Frost Delay” Snapback Hat

It’s kind of old news, but I’ll ask the following since it’s right up your alley. What was your take on the LPGA dress code announcement last year?

Oh man. I was like, “What the hell are you thinking?” You know, when they said that I was showing it to my girlfriend who’s a non-golfer and she was like, “I don’t understand what the problem is.” It’s not like they’re wearing thongs or something. Obviously, I think that golf needs to be tailored to welcome people into the game, and I think that sent the wrong message.

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Let us know what’s coming from 36 Golf Co.

We have limited resourced with just two people, but we have tons of plans. Our main products right now are our hats, which are mainly modern styles. You know, snapbacks and flat brims. We also have T-shirts and quarter zips available. All of that is on our website at We will be getting some golf shirts in soon, which we are calling our “collared T-shirt” this spring, so that’s going to be the most exciting launch for us in the near future. Follow us on Instagram @thirty6ix_golf_co and on twitter @Thirty6ix_golf to keep up with our brand and join our community.

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Opinion & Analysis

How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?



Hitting more than 50 percent of fairways has long been considered a good goal for amateur golfers. The winners on the PGA Tour tend to hit 70 percent. I have long maintained, however, that it is not the number of fairways HIT that matters. Instead, it is the relative severity of fairways MISSED.

Think about it. By the one-dimensional Fairways Hit stat, every miss is the same. A perfect lie in the first cut is exactly the same as a drive in a hazard… or even OB. There is nothing in the 650+ PGA Tour stats about this. In all, there are 60 stats in seven categories that relate to driving performance, but none about penalties! Like PGA Tour players don’t make any?

Let’s see exactly how important the old tried-and-true Driving Accuracy (Percentage of Fairways Hit) really is. To test it, I used two data clusters: the 2017 PGA Tour season (14,845 ShotLink rounds) and my database for the average male golfer (15 to 19 handicappers – 4,027 rounds).

For the graph below, I started with the No. 1-ranked player in the Driving Accuracy category: Ryan Armour. He certainly was accurate by this measure, but why did he only rank 100th in 2017 Strokes Gained Off the Tee with a barely positive 0.020?

Next I looked at the actual top-5 PGA Tour money winners (J. Thomas, J Spieth, D. Johnson, H. Matsuyama and J. Rohm), the 2017 PGA Tour average, and all PGA Tour players that missed the cut in 2017. We all know the significant scoring differences between these three categories of players, but it’s difficult to see a meaningful difference in the fairways hit. They’re not even separated by half a fairway. How important could this stat be?

For those that have not tried, our analysis includes Strokes Gained and Relative Handicap comparisons. That enables users to easily differentiate between FIVE MISS categories below based upon severity. The final three categories are what we consider to be Driving Errors:

  1. Good lie/Opportunity: One can easily accomplish their next goal of a GIR or advancement on a par-5.
  2. Poor Lie/Opportunity: One could accomplish the next goal, but it will require a very good shot.
  3. No Shot: Requires an advancement to return to normal play.
  4. Penalty-1: Penalty with a drop.
  5. OB/Lost: Stroke and distance penalty, or shot replayed with a stroke penalty.

As we are fortunate enough to work with several PGA Tour players at Shot by Shot, we have access to ShotLink data and can provide those clients with the same valuable insight.

Let’s see how the frequency and severity of driving errors relates to the above groups of players (removing Mr. Armour, as he simply helped us prove the irrelevance of Driving Accuracy). The graphs below display the number of Driving Errors per round and the Average Cost Per Error. Note the strong and consistent correlation between the number and the cost of errors at each of the four levels of performance.

Finally, the average cost of the errors is heavily driven by the three degrees of severity outlined above (No Shot, Penalty, OB/Lost). The graph below compares the relative number and cost of the three types of errors for the average golfer and PGA Tour players. The major difference is that PGA Tour players do not seem to have a proper share of OB/Lost penalties. I found only TWO in the 14,000+ ShotLink rounds. While I accept that the most severe faux pas are significantly less frequent on the PGA Tour, I also believe there must have been more than two.

Why so few? First and foremost, PGA Tour players REALLY ARE good. Next, the galleries stop a lot of the wayward shots. And finally, I believe that many of the ShotLink volunteer data collectors may not actually know or care about the difference between a Penalty and OB/Lost.

Author’s Note: If you want to know your Strokes Gained Off the Tee (Driving) and exactly how important your fairways and the misses are, log onto for a 1-Round FREE Trial.

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Opinion & Analysis

Yo GolfWRX: “Are you betting on Tiger Woods to win the Masters?” (Bonus: A March Madness-inspired shot attempt)



Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss a variety of topics including Tiger Woods being the favorite at The Masters. Also, a Fujikura Pro 2.0 shaft unboxing, Knudson paints the new TG2 studio, and Tursky tries to go viral during March Madness season.

Enjoy the video below!

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19th Hole