Distance study shows drives flying 1 percent farther since 2003

Dustin Johnson
Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Dustin Johnson is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour. But should he be able to hit the ball that far? While the debate pushes on, new data provides context to the state of driving distances in professional golf.
By Dan McDonald
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, December 12, 2016 | 11:40 a.m.

It’s a question that gets asked by golfers and golf analysts often: Do the pros hit the ball too far?

With courses far exceeding 7,000 yards and par 5s pushing well into the 600-yard range, many have answered that question with a resounding “yes.”

To help guide the debate around driving distances, the USGA and R&A have issued a joint distance study to show the effects of technology and equipment rule changes on driving distances among seven professional tours.

The main takeaway from the study this year was that from 2003 to 2015, driving distances on four of the seven tours increased by 1%, or 0.2 yards per year. Over that same period, distances decreased about 1% on the other three tours.

Here is the main chart showing average driving distances from 2003 to 2015 on each tour.

Two interesting charts featured in the report show the effect of equipment advancements and rules changes on the average driving distance on each tour. Since 2003, when the R&A instituted the “spring-like effect” test to test drivers, distances have, for the most part, stabilized.

To put some names and more familiar numbers behind the data, in 2003, the longest driver on the PGA Tour was Hank Kuehne at 321.4 yards per drive. John Daly was second at 314.3. There were 9 players with a driving average at or above 300 yards.

Fast forward to the recently completed 2016 season, the longest driver was J.B. Holmes at 314.5. Dustin Johnson was second at 313.6. However, 27 players had a driving average at or above 300 yards. 

Two other main takeaways from the report show that average launch conditions on the PGA TOUR – clubhead speed, launch angle, ball speed and ball backspin – have been relatively stable since 2007, and looking at all of the players who are ranked for distance on the PGA TOUR and PGA European Tour, the amount by which players are “long” or “short” is virtually the same.

You can read the full 18 page report from the USGA and R&A here.