Is hitting it straighter or further more effective for lowering your scores?
Improving your swing speed and your average golf driver distance is extremely popular. But is this the most beneficial way to lower your scores?
We all want to improve our game, but knowing which areas are the most beneficial to work on is essential. We want to practice areas that will make the most significant impact on our game in the shortest amount of time.
So should you be working on your dispersion or you distance with driver?
Average percentage of fairways hit by handicap
A common misconception among golfers is that lower handicap golfers are more accurate off the tee, which is why they shoot lower scores. If we look at the Shot Scope data for the percentage of fairways hit with a driver, we can see this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Scratch golfers hit the lowest percentage of fairways with driver. In fact, they are missing the fairway more often than they are hitting it. If we look across the range of handicaps, how many fairways someone hits has no direct correlation to their handicap.
Fairways hit by handicap:
Scratch golfers: 46%
Even tour pros aren’t hitting that many more fairways. Across the bag, including drivers and more conservative clubs, the average PGA Tour player hits 47.37% of fairways. That’s less than a 25-handicap golfer!
The golfers who hit the most fairways? Turns out it’s female pros. The average LPGA Tour player hits 71.9% of fairways which is pretty impressive.
Average golf driver distance by handicap
Shot Scope data shows average golf driver distance varies quite significantly by handicap. Scratch golfers gain as much as 68 yards on average over a 25-handicapper.
It is perhaps surprising that only those in the scratch golfer category average more than 250 yards off the tee. But remember, this is the overall average with driver and not the maximum length these players can hit the ball. This data also shows a combination of driving distance for male and female golfers.
Turns out if you hit it past the 300-yard mark, you are in a minority of just 2% of recreational golfers.
Driving distances by handicap:
Scratch golfers: 260 yards
5-handicap: 236 yards
10-handicap: 229 yards
15-handicap: 212 yards
20-handicap: 204 yards
25-handicap: 191 yards
So why does how far you hit the ball have a direct correlation to your scoring?
Let’s compare how a scratch golfer and a 15-handicap golfer play a par-4 by average golf driver distance.
The average driving distance of a scratch golfer is 260 yards on this 421-yard hole that leaves 161 yards to the middle of the green. Since a scratch golfer carries their seven iron 159 yards, a driver and a 7-iron would easily get them home in two. 47% of approach shots with a 7-iron by a scratch golfer finish on the green.
In other words, nearly every time a scratch golfer plays this hole, they would hit the green in regulation, an average of 2.5 shots to reach the green.
A 15-handicapper has an average distance with a driver of 212 yards. This leaves 199 yards to the green. On average, this group of golfers hit their 3-wood 178 yards, so they would not be able to make it to the green in two. If they did flush one and make the carry distance, they only have a 4% chance of hitting the green in regulation with this club.
Nearly every time a 15-handicapper plays this hole, they would need three shots to reach the green. They are half a shot worse before they have hit any short-game shots. At my home course, there are ten par-4s over 400 yards.
If you require three attempts to reach all of these, you lose five shots to a scratch handicapper purely on distance. You could save a lot of shots just by hitting the golf ball further.
If you hit your driver further, you have a significant advantage as you will have a shorter club into the green, making it easier for you to hit the green in regulation. This is because a shorter club has a shorter shaft and more loft, making it easier to control the strike and direction.
But gaining club head speed doesn’t just give you more distance with driver. It allows you to hit every club in the bag further.
Take the 15-handicapper above. If they increased their driver distance by 15 yards, they would have 184 yards into the green, which doesn’t seem much different. But if they also hit all their clubs 10 yards longer, they could reach the green with a 4-hybrid. This would mean they have the distance to get to this hole in two and are 6% more likely to hit the green in regulation.
According to strokes gained data this would save you 0.15 strokes on every approach shot hit which could reduce your scoring, and handicap, by 2.7 strokes a round.
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