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Opinion & Analysis

Do longer hitters really earn more money on the PGA Tour?

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If you have been hiding in the woods for the past 15 years, let me bring you up to speed: the great debate in golf is over distance. Are players hitting the ball further…and maybe even too far? Are working out and better athletes changing the game? In 2001, Hank Keuhne averaged 321 yards off the tee, compared to 318 yards in 2018 for PGA Tour Leader Rory McIlroy.

One should expect changes in distance between 2001-2006-ish, as players adopted better technology in balls and larger head drivers. But since those changes, what does the data say? Here is a chart with the data for players from 2007-2015, which shows year, average driving distance, the leader on the PGA Tour, their driving distance, and the number of players who averaged over 300 yards.

Year PGA Tour avg. driving distance PGA Tour leader (yards) Players avg. over 300 yards
2015 289.7 Dustin Johnson (317.7) 26
2014 288.8 Bubba Watson (314.3) 25
2013 287.2 Luke List (306.8) 13
2012 289.1 Bubba Watson (315.5) 21
2011 290.9 J.B Holmes (318.4) 21
2010 287.3 Robert Garrigus (315.5) 12
2009 287.3 Robert Garrigus (312) 13
2008 287.3 Bubba Watson (315.1) 13
2007 288.6 Bubba Watson (315.2) 18

These numbers suggest that players are not hitting it any further but do not answer the question does distance matter? To answer this question, I looked closer at the numbers to examine the relationship between distance and earnings. When looking at the top 15 longest players over the past 3 years with at least 20 events played, here is the data

Average Earnings / year (for all 15 players) $52,000,000
Average earnings per player/year $3,500,000
Top ten finish on money list 4.3/15 (29%)
Number which maintained their PGA tour card for following year 13.3/15 (89%)
3 Year Total Earnings $157,582,450
3 Year Driving Average 310.2 yards
Average Dollars per yard (longest 15) $508,002
Average Dollars per yard (each player – longest 15) $33,866

Now, let’s compare the top 15 longest players to the shortest 15 players with a minimum of 20 events

Average Earnings / year (for all 15 players) $13,600,000
Average earnings per player/year $910,000
Top ten finish on money list 0/15 (0%)
Number which maintained their PGA tour card for following year 6/15  (40%)
3 Year Total Earnings $41,095,786
3 Year Driving Average 278.6 yards
Average Earnings / Yard (shortest 15 players) $147,508
Average Dollars per Yard (each player – shortest 15) $9,833

In this data set the 15 shortest hitters are averaging 278.6yards/drive (over 3 year period 2016-2018), while the 15 longest hitters are averaging 310.2 yards/drive (over 3 year period 2016-2018). This means each yard to the player at the bottom is worth approximately $9,833, while each drive for the top 15 players yields approximately $33,866.

Based on this simple information it tells us a couple things inherently

1) the players who are on the bottom of the list for driving distance have a distinct motivator for getting all areas covered in their coaching profiles, which includes fitness. Money tends to speak loudly and in this case we believe the trend on tour is showing this.

2) Peak physical conditioning for these golfers is a part of the pie that yields these staggering numbers with respect to earnings. Ignoring that piece of the pie is a very big gamble to the bottom line of the players. It is of our opinion that the reason you see less of the buffet line being utilized and more of the Whole Foods consumption, is that health and wellness matter to these players. The proof is in the numbers and in the last 3-5 years those numbers are speaking very loudly.

 

 

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I am the Co-Director of the Titleist Performance Institute Fitness Advisory Board. I share duties with Jason Glass on establishing protocols for player development in the fields of functional movement restoration, physical screening, strength and power screening and development and for player development globally. I also serve as Lead Instructor for TPI Level 1 and Level 2 Fitness Seminars globally. I have personally taught over 10,000 experts in the fields of; Golf Fitness, Golf Instruction, Medicine, Junior and Biomechanical proficiencies. Serving as lead instructor has taken me all over the world learning from the best fitness, medical and golf instructors that are currently in the industry. I have served the TPI brand loyally for more than 13 years and am actively functioning as the Performance Director at the Institute, overseeing many projects including the development of; PGA, LPGA, EPGA, Web.com, Symetra, Challenge Tour, KPGA, JPGA, KLPGA, JLPGA, and LatinAmerica Tour players, as well as multiple National Federation Teams. My duties include Biomechanical Evaluations, Physical Screening, Program Development, Practice Schedule Development, Periodization of Programs, Coach Education, Trainer Education and Medical Education of player staff. With the comprehensive approach via the TPI methodology, I have helped countless tour players reach and move towards their personal goals and at the same time gain worldwide recognition for the TPI, Titleist and Acushnet brands. I am the President of LG Performance, a private Golf Performance based company specializing in the betterment of golfers in the areas of; Fitness, Screening, Biomechanics, Instruction, Mental, Nutritional, Programming, and Life Coaching. My role expands from touring professionals all the way down to the earliest of Junior Development in 3 to 4 year olds.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Dec 4, 2018 at 1:51 am

    A better correlation would be to compare the 15 longest hitters to the 15 closest to the tour median. It seems obvious the the 15 shortest are at a disadvantage, but the question is really whether the extra distance is a big advantage over tour average distance.

  2. Gregg

    Dec 3, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Distance is king for off course revenue, that OR boyish good looks and killer style. I’ll take distance!

  3. Louie

    Dec 3, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Your article is interesting but the conclusions do not necessarily fit the data. From my perspective distance does make a significant difference but course design matters. I would also look at the general stature of today’s golfer. Would be interesting to see how tall and muscular the top 15 are as compared to the lesser group. There are exceptions, like Justin Thomas.

  4. Scrappy

    Dec 3, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Totally jumped,from driving distance to fitness, without any correlation. Did you intend to prove a connection between strength or fitness with distance or earnings? Because you totally entered a third variable without any data behind it. Shank

  5. TONEY P

    Dec 3, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Longer hitters should make more on average. If a good golfer is hitting short irons and his competition is having to use middle irons then what is the likely result over a period of time. Even longer average golfers have a distinctive average on weekend rounds over their peers. The ability to hit irons into par 5’s and shorter clubs into par3’s give a great advantage over time in scoring, ie money. Now as far as course management , the advantage goes to the longer player. A

  6. TONEY P

    Dec 3, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Longer hitters should make more on average. If a good golfer is hitting short irons and his competition is having to use middle irons then what is the likely result over a period of time. Even longer average golfers have a distinctive average on weekend rounds over their peers. The ability to hit irons into par 5’s and shorter clubs into par3’s give a great advantage over time in scoring, ie money. Now as far as course management , the advantage goes to the longer player.

  7. Raven

    Dec 3, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    It’s not that easy to find a simple stat to prove that distance is king as there will always be a flaw in the figures. I could plot all player finishes and distance together for each year then look to see if there is a consistent correlation over the years. But what if, for example, many of the long hitters do so because they are just better golfers? The distance figures then become irrelevant. Maybe a better method could be to find groups of players with similar playing stats (like putts gained etc.) and see if there is a distance/earnings relationship within those groups.

  8. Rich Douglas

    Dec 3, 2018 at 11:57 am

    So I ran the correlation between 2017 money rankings and 2017 driving distance. The result: -0.044494783.

    This says that there is literally no correlation between rankings among the top 50 drivers of the ball. Driving distance, it is very safe to say, is NOT a predictor of earnings.

    Two caveats: First, correlation does not mean cause-and-effect. There may be some other, underlying cause to all of this, but it doesn’t seem likely since there is no statistically significant correlation. Second, I used the money rankings. This is a list of gross creditable earnings, not earnings-per event. This means European players who get to the PGA tour for a minimum number of events are somewhat under-represented. But there aren’t that many and the effect isn’t that big.

    Longer driving does NOT predict higher earnings. I wonder what does…?

  9. Vas

    Dec 3, 2018 at 11:52 am

    I think this is a very well done piece of work, but the variables don’t really match. A better correlation would be looking at the stats available for driving distance and money earned. This would be daunting because most long hitters use 3Ws or driving irons quite often… but if you wanted it enough, you could flesh out the necessary data. My hypothesis would be that pros who can carry drivers (and only looking at drivers) over 300y make significantly more money over the year compared to those who don’t. I think golf is going to see way more Koepka’s in the future, but the average career is going to be far shorter as a result. The new model will be to sacrifice everything for speed, and the one’s that excel will make their living between 25-35, before slowly fading away.

    • Gregg

      Dec 3, 2018 at 7:38 pm

      I like that analysis, but you got a bunch of 40 somethings now who have and continue to bomb it. Some bodies withstand time, some don’t.

  10. Rich Douglas

    Dec 3, 2018 at 11:18 am

    A more reliable analysis would be a correlation between driving distance ranking and money ranking.

    • Rich Douglas

      Dec 3, 2018 at 11:36 am

      Just ran the numbers. There is NO correlation between driving distance and money winnings for the top 10 drivers of the ball. There was a slightly negative correlation (-0.019848574), but that’s not statistically significant.

      Now, this was just with the top 10 in driving distance, not the whole list. Also, the data are slightly skewed because I used the money list instead of winnings per event. (For example, McIlroy is 39th on the 2017 money list, but he played only 14 events.)

      You know what they now say….drive for show, hit accurate mid-irons for dough (Strokes Gained).

  11. CrashTestDummy

    Dec 2, 2018 at 3:40 am

    Of course distance matters. The fact is that it is such a big advantage to hitting shorter clubs into greens. Also, one thing to note is that guys are still longer today even though the data doesn’t show it. The longest guys on PGA tour don’t always use the driver off the tee and use fairway woods or irons off the tee. The course management is better today.

  12. Caroline

    Dec 1, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    We would have had a diffident answer to the long drive making money back when Daly was in his prime had it not been for Alcohol and wife’s.

  13. Tommy

    Dec 1, 2018 at 1:09 am

    You say that today’s players are in peak condition? They are in very good specific condition for playing golf but they are far from peak. I’m watching Marc Leischman and Cameron Smith as I write….peak condition? They look more like a couple of bartenders rather than pro athletes from any sport. We have naturals like DJ, Tony Finau, Brooks, et al, but even the “15” are nowhere near peak. With the amount of time it takes to practice and play, professional golfers don’t even have the time to get in peak condition. Soon though, now that the conditioning has started even in many HS programs, the new crop will bring us some players in true peak condition. High intensity training for strength, flexibility, and speed will change the game again in ten years but it’s still a game of skill more than power and always will be. One day, another complete package like Tiger will show up….in PEAK condition.

    • Patricknorm

      Dec 2, 2018 at 11:03 am

      I’ll mildly disagree with your post. Yes Marc Leishman doesn’t look fit for a middle distance runner, whereas Cameron Smith does. What’s the ideal fitness level for a world class golfer? I said ideal, meaning a player that can earn say, top 25 status in money and rankings, play 25 tournaments a season , remain injury free, and travel multiple times across times zones. The ideal golf profile is ecto/ meso like Tiger, Cameron Champ, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose.
      I don’t how many tournaments you’ve played where they go 4 rounds 25 times a season. If you’re 20 years old and you’ve been playing tournaments at a high level since you were 12 it’s not a big ask. But if you’ve been on tour for 12 years , your Marc Lesihman body type has made you a very good living. What I’m saying is that appearances can be deceiving . Golf is one of those sports where skill, and strength and endurance are important. In that order too.

  14. Adam

    Nov 30, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Would like to see how the top 15 hitters from early/mid 2000’s during 3 year stretch compared to 2016-18. Then we could see if it was more important now than it was back then. You probably have to adjust the earnings piece as a percentage of the total purse payouts to compare the time periods but am curious what it would show.

  15. Gunter Eisenberg

    Nov 30, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Of course longer players make more money! What a stupid question. Have you not seen Happy Gilmore?!!?

  16. Greg V

    Nov 30, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    You have your statistics mixed up in the chart above.

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Opinion & Analysis

How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?

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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%

Average: 94%

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!

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas

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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.

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

An interview with State Apparel’s founder Jason Yip

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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

  1. Functional innovation
  2. 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?

His answer

“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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