Understanding distance variance
By Jaacob Bowden
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
Average: 288.5 yards/drive
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:
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.
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.