The perceived distance “explosion” in professional golf? It’s more of a “slow creep,” according to a study conducted jointly by the USGA and R&A.
The two governing bodies published a report Thursday that details driving distance averages from seven tours across the world (PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Web.com tour, PGA Champions Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour). The report includes decades worth of driving data, dating back as far as 1968.
From 2003 through ’15, average driving distance on the PGA Tour, European Tour, Web.com Tour and PGA Tour Champions Tour increased approximately 1% (or 0.2 yards) per year, according to the study. During that same period, average distance on the LPGA Tour actually decreased about 1%.
The governing bodies have long endured criticism from some of the most influential names in the game about how the distance today’s top players hit the ball has made some of the game’s classic courses indefensible. When Jack Nicklaus was asked at the Masters in April about how to toughen up Augusta’s par-5 13th hole, he said, “I tell you the simplest solution is change the friggun golf ball. The ball goes so far.”
This new report is presumably, in part, an effort to quiet the critics.
“Hitting distance is, and has long been, a constant subject of healthy and spirited debate in golf,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want everyone in the game to have access to the facts, to better understand the decision-making process and the research we use to ensure that our game is both enjoyable and sustainable for future generations.”
According to the report, the average clubhead speed, launch angle, ball speed and ball backspin on the PGA Tour have all been “relatively stable” over the past nine years. R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said the report will be published yearly with intention to “inform the debate and ensure reliable information is available.”
You can find the full study here.