Golf Statistics – Driving on Professional Tours
For amateurs, one of the most impressive parts of the professional game is the distance they can hit their driver.
Over the past 30 years, driving distances have increased across the board in the professional ranks due to a combination of equipment, agronomy and fitness.
Previous studies have shown that driving distance doesn’t necessarily lead to success, however. The results from the 2021 season seem to bear this out.
Driving Distance 2021
Here you can see a list of the top 10 drivers from six major professional tours for the season-ending in 2021. At first glance, the Champions Tour seems to have the greatest correlation between being a long driver and finishing near the top of the money list. Although if we take the average finishing position (mean) then the Asian Tour is quite close to the Champions Tour.
From a statistical standpoint, this is admittedly a small population but this has already been shown by people with much better statistical skills than I have.
If we sort this in order of driving distance then we see some patterns emerging.
The fact that the ladies and seniors take up the bottom 20 positions is unlikely to be a surprise to experienced golfers but what might be is the fact that the Korn Ferry Tour seems to be home to a new generation of big hitters.
But again this is probably not that much of a surprise given how much work is now put into maximizing a player’s potential in terms of fitness, biomechanics and club fitting.
Long Driving Championships
Bryson Dechambeu’s recent foray into the long-driving competition has probably increased their exposure somewhat but it also highlighted the difference between a tour pro who needs to have a rounded game and someone who is concentrating solely on smashing the ball as far as possible. Even Bryson couldn’t compete with the big hitters who managed 422 yards and 418 yards in the final!
Bomb and Gouge
Traditionally golf had been a game of accuracy as much as brute strength but over the last 20 years or so the thinking changed somewhat in the professional ranks. The idea was to smash the ball as far as possible leaving such a short shot to the green that it didn’t matter whether or not you are in the rough. At the majority of professional events, this can be a good strategy as there may not be that much deep rough. Given the fact that many holes will be lined with spectators or grandstands then it’s quite possible that even a very crooked shot could still find a reasonable lie.
Diving Distance Increases
Looking at data from the PGA Tour you can see how much further the pros now hit it.
The average for the whole tour is now almost 25 yards further than the longest hitter back in 1980!
Dan Pohl managed an average of 274.3 yards compared with the whole PGA Tour now averaging 296.2. Now back in 1980 most pros were likely to be using persimmon drivers with steel shafts. A large percentage would have been using a 3 piece wound balata ball as well. Dan’s figures for 1980 would have put him in 196th place on the 2021 list! To be honest I would love to hit it 274 yards though!
During the 90s the move to metal-headed drivers and graphite shafts saw an increase for both the leader and the tour as a whole. It was the new millennium where the greatest leap took place though with the introduction of the Pro V1.
With the increasing use of ball-tracking technology maximizing distance is now much better understood. Combined with better fitness and agronomy standards it’s not all that surprising that distances have increased so much.
Looking at the PGA Tour Data from 1980-2021 it does show a significant drop-off in accuracy off the tee from the early 2000s. During the 1980s and 90s there was a definite upward trend peaking at an average of 69% of fairways hit in 1999. Over the following two decades there’s a been a sharp drop. In fact, since 2011 all but one year has been worse than the lowest average between 1980 and 2010. To me, this clearly shows the lack of interest in hitting fairways anymore.
If we look at the finishing positions of the top 10 in the driving accuracy statistics though maybe we can see why pros are favoring the bomb and gouge approach. 5 of the top 10 didn’t even make the top 100 on the money list and only 3 made the top 25.
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There’s a lot of truth in the old adage “Drive for show and putt for dough” but at the tour level, you really need to be good at all aspects of the game.
Here are some more fun golfing facts and figures.