R&A, USGA driving distance study shows 3-yard increase since 2016

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R&A, USGA driving distance study shows 3-yard increase since 2016

Golf

R&A, USGA driving distance study shows 3-yard increase since 2016

The increasing distances that professional golfers are hitting the ball has triggered expanded studies by the U.S. Golf Association and R&A to better understand the causes and effects of distance. 

The two governing bodies released their annual Distance Report on Monday morning. The governing bodies began releasing their Distance Report in 2015, but previous iterations failed to ring any alarm bells. The 2017 report appears to be different, as distance gains deviated well above previous fluctuations.

The ramped-up efforts to understand the effects of increased distance come after a year in which the seven professional tours studied – including the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, PGA Tour Champions and Web.com Tour – saw an average increase in driving distance of more than 3 yards.

No specific plans to curtail distance were announced, but the 2017 report stated that “any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.”

The governing bodies stated a desire to work with various stakeholders – equipment manufacturers, course operators, players and others – to develop a comprehensive understanding of distance. This comes on the heels of previous studies and distance reports that did not trigger any changes to the rules concerning equipment or other factors. 

The USGA and R&A have studied distance for decades, and in a joint statement of principles in 2002 said, “The purpose of the Rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game. … The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.”

The average increase dating back to 2003 was around 0.2 yards per year, the USGA said in previous reports. The 2017 Distance Report states that average driving distance on the seven tours increased 2.2 percent overall (more than 3 yards) from 2003 through 2017.

The Web.com Tour saw the greatest gains in that 15-year period, with distance gains of more than 10 yards for a 3.6 percent increase since 2003. The Web.com Tour’s average on measured holes jumped more than six yards in 2017 alone, going from 296 yards in 2016 to 302.9 yards last year.

Average driving distance or measured holes on the PGA Tour in 2003 was 286.3 yards. In 2016 that number was 288.1 yards, and in 2017 it leapt to 291.7 yards. Overall, there was a distance increase of 2.3 percent since 2003.

The LPGA since 2003 has seen average distance gains of 3 yards to 252.6, the European Tour has seen average gains of 5.4 yards to 291.7, and the PGA Tour Champions has seen gains of 5.5 yards to 275.4.

While not the line in the sand that many observers anticipated, the 2017 Distance Report laid out preliminary efforts to review data to better understand distance increases across the board.

“As the review of this issue progresses, the USGA and the R&A remain committed to the spirit of the 2002 Joint Statement of Principles which recognize that distance impacts many aspects of golf and that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable,” the letter said. “Building on the extensive research we have undertaken in recent years, we will conduct a thoughtful conversation about the effects of distance prior to making any specific proposals.

“We remain open-minded and our absolute priority is to ensure that all key stakeholders are involved in an open and inclusive process, and that we move forward together in the best interests of golf at all levels. There is no fixed timetable, but we will commence this process immediately and endeavor to reach a conclusion as promptly as possible.

“The USGA and The R&A intend to consolidate previous work conducted by the two organizations, as well as others in the golf industry, regarding the effect of distance on the footprint and playing of the game, conduct new research on these same topics to augment the current state of knowledge of the issues, and, most importantly, in the coming months, engage with stakeholders throughout the golf industry to develop a comprehensive understanding of perspectives on distance. Additional information on this stakeholder engagement will be made available in due course.”

 

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