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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 creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. 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 shot 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 helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players 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 – Millions of 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

From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Why we play golf

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I played golf the other day with friends. COVID-19 restrictions, but we got out. They will attest that I stunk, but that isn’t news or the basis for this piece.

Normally that kind of golfing experience has me in borderline depression searching for a swing change that I know will allow me to play at my fantasy level. What was remarkably different was the pleasure. Being outside, sunshine, fresh air, joking with friends, enduring the glares from my partner. It was four hours that were singular in their positivity made more so by the daily media barrage of doom and being essentially quarantined for all other activities.

To start, one of the great things about golf is when you play, it requires total concentration—world events, personal issues are put on hold. You see, golf isn’t fun, it’s hard and that element is what brings us joy no matter how small our victories.

I’ve played the game for some 70 years and studied it for 40, working in the industry. One of my favorite exercises over the years has been to ask someone who played recently to describe their best shot of their previous round. Immediate answers flow accompanied by a smile or whimsical expression. Whether it’s a tee shot, a chip, putt, it’s a moment of slaying the dragon. And this is golf. Not an 18 or even 9-hole score—one shot, immediate recall and the reason to play again.

We find ourselves today bordering on panic—daily feeds from the media, warning us, frightening us. For those who play the game, it is a needed respite. There have been some articles, and I’m sure more coming, about what will happen in the distant morning. Massive unemployment, lost wages, and crashing investment portfolios, a small sample. Sadly, the media is going to have bad news to emphasize for months to come and there is no question that some of the collateral damage will be human lives and financial well-being.

It’s easy to sit and critique humans making decisions. But when asked the question about affecting lives now or in the future, it’s way more complex. Political expediency focuses on the now knowing there will be a pivot down the road.

What does all this have to do with golf? The game provides an instant middle ground. People can have four hours in the sun and fresh air and the difficulty involved forces them to temporarily shelve daily tribulations. Even with reduced course services as a precaution, just the chance to go to bed at night knowing the weather looks great and you can escape to the course for a few hours…it’s something that brightens one’s outlook.

So, I’m championing the playing of golf, while accepting various related restrictions. I’m championing a few hours where we can forget the drama, the panic, and get our butts kicked by a little white ball. And when done, we’ll make arrangements to play again.

Oh yes, now that the internet is overflowing with tips from golf teaching experts, I really need to play, because I have this new move that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce 12 more yards off the tee. You see, it all has to do with the position of the shaft vs. the left knee and…

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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