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Understanding distance variance

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Sometimes it can be a blow to the ego to go to a new course where the ball seems to go nowhere and you just can’t bring yourself to hit 5-iron, for example, when you could normally hit 7-iron.

But if you want to score well, it’s something that can be important to understand and accept…that is, that distances can vary quite dramatically from course to course.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the average driving distances for the field in the following PGA Tour and European Tour events from 2012.

2013 Average PGA & European PGA Tour Driving Distances by Event

Event Distance
DP World Tour Championship 248.5
Volvo Golf Championships 252.1
Hyundai Tournament of Champions 270.4
Reale Seguros Open de Espana 270.4
RBC Heritage 277.8
The Irish Open 277.8
Omega Dubai Desert Classic 280.3
Ballantine’s Championship 281.3
Transitions Championship 281.5
Maybank Malaysian Open 281.6
Frys.com Open 281.8
UBS Hong Kong Open 282.3
Aberdeen Asset Management Open 282.9
Nordea Masters 283.2
Africa Open 283.4
BMW International Open 283.9
Omega European Masters 284.0
Barclays Singapore Open 284.5
Johnnie Walker Championship 284.9
Lyoness Open 285.0
Alstom Open de France 285.4
Valero Texas Open 285.9
KLM Open 286.1
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 286.8
ISPS Honda Wales Open 287.3
BMW Masters 287.9
BMW Championship 288.5
Commercialbank Qatar Masters 288.5
Volvo China Open 288.6
Zurich Classic of New Orleans 289.9
BMW Italian Open 290.3
Joburg Open 291.3
Open de Andalucia 291.4
Deutsche Bank Championship 292.6
Portugal Masters 293.3
Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial 294.2
Avantha Masters 295.5
John Deere Classic 295.7
Saint-Omer Open 295.9
Tour Championship 297.4
Sony Open in Hawaii 297.5
AT&T National 297.9
Sicilian Open 298.3
Wyndham Championship 299.1
HP Byron Nelson Championship 300.4
Justin Timberlak Shriners Hospital for Children Open 305.7
Reno-Tahoe Open 311.6
SA Open Championship 313.6
Madeira Islands Open 322.6


Average:  288.5 yards/drive

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

As you can see, despite more or less the same players playing each week, there’s a 74.1-yard variance between the tournaments with the shortest and longest average driving distance for the field.  That’s a huge difference!

It’s feasible that there were extenuating circumstances taking place during the events on the extreme ends causing such a broad gap.  There may have been severe weather, for example, or perhaps a certain course required the use of more woods, hybrids, or irons off the tee. But in general, to account for things like this, the driving distance averages for Tour events are generally taken on two holes where the wind blows in opposite directions and also where the players are likely to use driver.

Even still, let’s take out a few of the extremes on the short and long ends. When we do this, note that the bulk of the average driving distances range between 280 and 300 yards.  That’s still a 20-yard difference from event to event and course to course.  It’s not as much as 74.1-yards but it’s still worth noting.

I remember this was also the case when I used to compete in long drive. My longest drive in competition was a 421-yard drive in Warner Springs, Calif., to win a qualifier for the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships. Granted, it set the grid record but it was still on firm ground at an elevation of about 3,130 feet.  Conversely, the 381-yard ball I hit to win the Pinnacle Distance Challenge was actually a much better drive, despite being 40 yards shorter. However, the ground was a little softer and the elevation was much less — around 466 feet.

In general, Tour players and their caddies understand and are good at accepting that distances change based on conditions.  In fact, determining these distance variances are actually one thing that many of them are doing during practice rounds…and it’s also partially why they can subsequently go tear up the course in the tournament with a few as one practice round under their belts.

Different guys do it differently, but in the 30-or-so week-long professional tournaments I’ve played, one of the things I’ll do during my practice round is jot down in my course guide or on a scorecard how far my clubs are going on full swings. By the end of the round, I’ll approximate the percent difference from my normal distances and then make a new distance card that I keep with me for reference during the tournament.

For example, let’s say these are my average carry distances (pros are more concerned with carry than total distance) for my clubs on flat ground under normal conditions:

Club Carry
Driver 270
3-Wood 243
16* Hybrid 225
20* Hybrid 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

 

Then, over the course of my practice round, I find out that on average I’m about 3 percent longer with each club at this new course I’m playing.  So I get out my calculator, add 3 percent, and then make a small card like this to carry with me for reference during the rest of the tournament:  Personally, I like having a little card like this because it saves me both time in determining what shot I want to hit and also mental energy during the tournament rounds.

Club Carry
Driver 278
3-Wood 250
16* Hybrid 232
20* Hybrid 218
4-Iron 209
5-Iron 200
6-Iron 188
7-Iron 177
8-Iron 165
9-Iron 152
PW 140

 

Note that on the updated card it’s only about a 4-yard variation for the PW, but that could mean the difference between having a 3-footer for birdie or a 15-footer.  With the driver, the 8-yards of extra carry might give me the confidence to fly over a fairway bunker I normally wouldn’t otherwise try to carry.

You may not want to get in to this level of detail with your own game (or have the ball-striking skill to worry about it – hehe), but I guess the point I’m getting at is to keep in mind that depending on the course you play and the conditions involved, distances can and will vary.

Understanding and accepting this can help you make better club selections in general, which of course can also lead to lower scores.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jaacob Bowden

    Jan 7, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Ruddy – Haha, yeah, especially on new courses it helps to pay attention right away. :-p

    Hmmm, if I remember correctly, Advanced Golf Solutions also tested the balls by accuracy. So you could pick something out based on any number of variables…distance, accuracy, price, etc.

    I think the ProV1x was the most accurate…or at least in the top 3. But that was a few years ago. Ball models change as time passes.

    They must’ve gone out of business because I’m not finding their website…which is too bad because it was really cool software. They tested the top 50 or so new balls on the market each year for several years.

  2. Ruddy

    Jan 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Jacob, thanks for answering. I too noticed a big difference in distance between balls. 10 yards less with Titleist Velocity vs. ProV1x. Better scores with the expensive ball, also. I never seem to recognize the distance variation each round until around Hole#18!

  3. Jaacob Bowden

    Jan 4, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Ruddy – Yeah, using the same model ball can definitely help consistency. I remember one time I did some new ball testing using some independent testing software (I believe made by Advanced Golf Solutions) and there was literally a 50 yard difference between the longest ball and shortest ball for me (that variance will be more or less depending on swing speed and other factors).

    I just do it as a rough percentage because during a single practice round I may not get enough flat shots (no elevation changes) without wind to get an average for each club.

    In situations where I don’t get in a practice round, I just try to pay really close attention on the first few holes and adjust up or down accordingly as quickly as I can.

  4. Ruddy

    Jan 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Interesting article. Averages are greatly affected by extremes, so good move to eliminate extremely long and short distances. The mode is the distance most often achieved. The median is the distance exactly in the middle. Rather than a percentage change, why not just use actual distance achieved for each club in the practice round? If I can’t play a practice round, how can I make a distance adjustment using some other method? I suppose using the same ball brand helps consistency. Thanks.

  5. Jaacob Bowden

    Dec 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Al, Mark, Steve…thanks!

    Good suggestion, Steve. Those things definitely do have an effect on distance. I know I’ve seen studies that have covered this but I don’t recall specifics or where I saw them off the top of my head. I’ll put it on my list of article ideas for the future!

    Happy New Year!

  6. Steve

    Dec 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Jaacob, nice article. I wish you would have spent some time discussing temperature and it’s effect on distance. Don’t golf balls fly further in the heat vs. cold air? What about in high humidity/fog, vs. dry air? Thanks!

  7. Mark Bishop

    Dec 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Very interesting Jaacob and well put together. All the very best for the Hols mate. Mark in Oz!

  8. Al Dilz

    Dec 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Very informative, Jaacob. I have never seen distance variables covered with such precision and detail. Thank you!

  9. Jaacob Bowden

    Dec 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks gents!

  10. DJ Watts

    Dec 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Jaacob, I love your attention to numbers and stats, it’s right up my alley!

    Congrats on a solid first piece, and I’m looking forward to applying the playing and strategy knowledge that you relay.

  11. Brian Cass

    Dec 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Great article, a subject that is hardly covered

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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