DEBATE: R&A and USGA rebuff driving distance increases

The Scoop

We get so worked up about driving distance increases - or lack of, if you believe the governing bodies. But, asks NCG, does it really matter?

The R&A and USGA have published their annual review of driving distance.

Introduced in 2016, the review examines driving distance data from seven of the major professional golf tours, based on approximately 285,000 drives per year. Data from studies of male and female amateur golfers has also been included for the first time.

These are some of the facts the sport’s governing bodies want to get across to you:

  • Between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, average driving distance on five of the seven tours has increased by approximately 1.2%, around 0.2 yards per year.
  • For the same time period, average driving distance on the other two tours studied decreased by approximately 1.5%.
  • Looking at all of the players who are ranked for distance on the PGA Tour and European Tour, the amount by which players are “long” or “short” has not changed. For instance, since 2003 the 10 shortest players in that group are about 6% shorter than average, while the 10 longest players in the group are about 7% longer than average. The statistics are not skewed toward either longer or shorter players.
  • The average launch conditions on the PGA Tour – clubhead speed, launch angle, ball speed and ball backspin – have been relatively stable since 2007. The 90th-percentile clubhead speed coupled with the average launch angle and spin rate are very close to the conditions that the R&A and the USGA use to test golf balls.

Interesting, right? And completely relevant to the average club golfer…

But is the driving distance debate really that important? NCG’s Steve Carroll and Alex Perry argue their cases…

YES!

No TV broadcast seems complete these days without a commentator spitting out his water in wonder as a big-hitter belts another drive 350 plus yards, writes Steve Carroll.

But that ‘hype’ has led to some – let’s call them alternative – facts spreading about the game at the highest level.

And that’s led to some dangerous assumptions: that professionals are hitting the ball too far; that technology has reduced the game to a drive and putt and, most prevalently, that the ball needs to be changed to stunt these golfing supermen and women.

So why is this research so interesting?

Because it suggests that fantasy and reality have become intertwined.

Looking at driving distances from more than 285,000 shots every year, and over the past decade and a half, the R&A and the USGA concluded that players – on the majority of the seven major professional tours – are hitting the ball further.

About 18 centimetres a year further. 0.2 yards, to be exact.

Is that really worth changing the ball for?

It’s interesting because it tells us that despite massive changes in the way drivers have been envisaged and designed over the last decade, not a lot has changed.

Clubhead speed, ball speed, backspin – all “relatively stable since 2007”.

We should latch on to this research, and spread the word for all it is worth, because it dispels a myth.

So next time you see a TV analyst gasp in awe at another rocket that flies down the fairway, temper your rush to decry it as the end of golf as we know it.

NO!

I’ve been asked to write 300 words on this, but I’ll be surprised if I write 30, writes Alex Perry.

Seriously, I couldn’t care less. Why is this important? When I go out and play 18 holes with my mates, fellow mid-handicappers, we’re not playing 600-yard par 4s. The longest par 4 at my home course is a little more than 400 yards. I’m just happy to keep it on the fairway – however far down.

If you are in a position to play the same courses the pros play, then good luck to you. But don’t beat yourself up because you can’t play it the same way they do.

Even Dustin Johnson, who smashes it 3,000 miles BECAUSE HE IS A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE, still has to get it close to the hole with his second shot. He’s not walking off with an eagle or a birdie simply because he can drive it more than 400 yards, which he has done on three occasions this year already. Golf just isn’t that simple. (Incidentally, DJ birdied two of those holes and parred the other.)

My argument to people who get wound up by this sort of thing, which I’ve promised will be more than just “get a life”, is this: Get out and enjoy your golf. It really doesn’t matter. Find a driver you like and learn how to hit it straight. Don’t get worked up that the pros hit it 200 yards further than you. It’s literally their job. Football fans don’t get annoyed when Lionel Messi plants a 35-yard free-kick in the top corner – they simply marvel at the skill involved.

Watching Johnson and friends hit the ball as far as they do is a wonderful viewer experience. Sit back and enjoy.

Well what do you know, I did manage 300 words…

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