Mark Broadie: Advanced stats prove who the best driver on Tour is
Rory McIlroy round 4 of the Players Championship in a tie for second, one stroke behind Jon Rahm. He parred the first three holes, then double-bogeyed the fourth. Under pressure on the next tee, he bombed a 335-yard drive into the fairway, leaving himself just 132 yards to the pin. It was the longest drive of the final round on that hole (a full 18 yards longer than the next-longest drive) and it landed in a part of the fairway that was only 30 yards wide at that distance. That’s some serious firepower— combined with deadly accuracy. Basic geometry shows that longer drives are less likely to find the fairway.
Imagine two tee balls that start the same number of degrees off-line, but one travels 20 percent longer than the other. You guessed it: The longer drive will end up 20 percent further off-line.
In the bomber’s paradise that we call the modernday PGA Tour, it begs the question: Who are the straightest long-hitters in the game? To answer this question I looked at driving accuracy after taking into account a player’s driving distance (with both quantities adjusted for fairway widths and other course conditions).
At the time of writing, during the 2019 season, players who are ten yards longer than the PGA Tour average miss an average of four percent more fairways, and that’s enough to move a player from 100th in the driving-accuracy category to 160th.
Among the 22 players in 2019 who drive it at least ten yards longer than the Tour average, the leaders in distance-adjusted driving accuracy are Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Jason Day. These players range from 12 to 18 yards longer than the Tour average and, after adjusting for course conditions, are about Tour average in accuracy.
As a group, McIlroy, Rahm and Day gain about 1.1 strokes with their driving, with distance contributing 1.1 strokes and accuracy contributing 0.0 strokes. The 1.1 stroke gain beats the big-bomber average of +0.6. The three power players with the lowest distance-adjusted accuracy? Phil Mickelson, Brandon Hagy and Ollie Schniederjans.
Facts are facts: Longer driving tends to trump increased accuracy, so it’s no wonder that power is so heavily emphasized on Tour. Rory’s combination of distance and accuracy gives him a massive five-stroke head start in each event he plays, and it’s what makes him the hands down the most deadly bomber out there.