By the numbers: Distance off the tee really does pay dividends

LAHAINA, HI - JANUARY 04: Justin Thomas of the United States plays his shot from the third tee during the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club on January 4, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

By the numbers: Distance off the tee really does pay dividends

Digital Edition

By the numbers: Distance off the tee really does pay dividends

It has been less than two months since the U.S. Golf Association and R&A released a joint report on distance changes in professional golf.

Noting that the pros are hitting the ball farther than ever, the game’s governing bodies will collect data this year from a wide variety of sources and evaluate what steps, if any, they will take to potentially reduce distance.

Possessing the ability to hit the ball a long way off the tee always has been an advantage in golf, and no one is arguing that big hitters do not deserve an edge. But many people think that edge has become disproportionately large.

Using last season’s numbers – the same data that lead the USGA and R&A to believe that a serious look into distance was warranted – what can we learn about the advantages long hitters enjoy? And how are prize money and scoring related to driving distance on the PGA Tour?

With its upward-sloping trend line, the chart below shows that being among the longest hitters on the PGA Tour last season helped a player’s chances of earning more prize money. But several golfers who had impressive driving distance averages did not make a lot of money relative to their peers.

The average driving distance on the PGA Tour last season was 292.5 yards. Three of the four players who earned the most official prize money had driving distance averages of more than 300 yards (Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama). But among the 10 golfers who earned the most prize money in 2017, four did not average more than 300 yards per tee shot (Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harmon). Two of those players, Kisner and Harmon, averaged less than 290 yards.

In all, 43 players on the PGA Tour in 2017 averaged 300 yards or more off the tee, and their average official prize money was $2,546,061. The other 147 players who had official stats last season had a combined average prize money of $1,362,608.

Looking at the relationship between distance and strokes gained: total confirms what you probably suspect: Hitting the ball farther off the tee than the average PGA Tour golfer tends to help a player achieve a higher strokes gained: total average.

Among the 190 golfers who finished last season with official stats, 80 had a strokes gained: total average that was negative, ranging from Martin Flores’ -0.015 to Steven Bowditch’s -2.889. These players, who typically shot a higher score than the field average, had a combined driving distance average of 288.13 yards. At the same time, 110 players had a positive strokes gained: total average, and their combined driving distance average was 296.17 yards.

Seven of the 43 golfers last season who finished with a driving distance average above 300 yards also ended the year with a negative strokes gained: total average, proving that being able to hit the ball a long way off the tee does not guarantee a pro will shot low scores.

Finally, if you look at how driving distance average and scoring relate, you once again will see the relationship you probably expect. The longer a player hits it off the tee, the more likely he is to have a low scoring average.

Eighteen players had a scoring average below 70 last season, and their collective driving distance average was 302.57 yards. Among the 87 players whose scoring average was between 70.01 and 71, the distance average was 294.75. Among the 73 players with a scoring average between 71.01 and 72, the distance average was 288.88. Finally, the 12 PGA Tour players with a scoring average of 72 and higher last season had a driving distance average of 287.62.

As these numbers show, there is no denying that the farther a PGA Tour golfer hits it off the tee, the more likely he is to shoot lower scores and earn more money. The only thing left is to wait and see if the USGA and R&A decide that distance has become too critical to success at the elite level and what, if anything, they are going to do about it. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home