USGA and R&A's Annual Driving Distance Report shows pros hit it farther in 2018

Rory McIlroy Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

USGA and R&A's Annual Driving Distance Report shows pros hit it farther in 2018

Equipment

USGA and R&A's Annual Driving Distance Report shows pros hit it farther in 2018

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The U.S. Golf Association and the R&A jointly released their fourth Annual Driving Distance Report on Tuesday, and the data showed that average driving distance was up 1.7 yards across the world’s seven major professional tours.

Driving information was gathered from the PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Tour Champions, LPGA and the Ladies European Tour.

While every tour saw a distance increase, the most significant year-over-year increase was the PGA Tour’s rise from 292.5 to 296.1 yards (1.2 percent). The smallest increase was on the LPGA, which went from 252.6 yards to 252.7 yards (0.1 percent).

The professional tour with the longest average driving distance was the Web.com Tour, which saw an increase of 2 yards in 2018 to 304.9 yards (0.7 percent).

Average Driving Distance chart

(USGA/R&A)

In 2002, the USGA and R&A expressed their Joint Statement of Principles and made it clear they are committed to keeping skill as the dominant element of success in golf. While the game’s governing bodies have monitored changes in driving distance since that time, the average driving distance of every major professional tour has increased, fueling a debate within the golf world about whether distance has become a problem from a competitive and environmental perspective.

Last season, after an average increase of more than 3 yards across the seven tours, the USGA and R&A announced they would begin collecting data and information from sources throughout the golf industry to get a complete perspective on the effects of increased distance. Data was collected from equipment manufacturers, course superintendents, professional players, the media and anyone who visited the USGA and R&A’s websites and completed a questionnaire before the Dec. 20 deadline. That information will serve as the foundation of the eagerly anticipated Distance Insights project.

Cameron Champ

Cameron Champ led the Web.com Tour in driving distance in 2018 with an average of 343.1 yards. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a brief statement accompanying the 2018 Annual Driving Distance Report, the USGA and R&A noted, “A progress update on work conducted to date on the Distance Insights project will be delivered by the end of the first quarter of 2019. The USGA and the R&A remain on target to distribute the comprehensive Distance Insights report in the latter half of 2019.”

Average driving distance is calculated using different methods across the tours. The PGA Tour, Web.com Tour and PGA Tour Champions acquire data using the laser-driven ShotLink system on two holes at each event.  Whenever possible, holes with flat landing areas and that play in opposite directions are used to negate the effects of wind.

On other global tours, tournament officials and players record the distance on the measured holes from the teeing ground to where the ball comes to rest, regardless of whether that spot is in the fairway, rough or sand.

In addition to showing how far the pros are hitting the ball, the Driving Distance report reveals some interesting facts about launch conditions recorded on the PGA Tour using the TrackMan radar system and ShotLink. The average drive last season had a ball speed of 169.2 mph, a spin rate of 2,641 rpm and started on a launch angle of 11.1 degrees. Compared to the earliest radar data available, which came in 2007, ball speed is up almost 4 mph, drives start 0.3 higher and with almost 200 rpm less spin. At the same time, the average clubhead speed on those drives has increased from 112.4 mph to 113.7 mph. This would indicate that while the pros on the PGA Tour are swinging faster as a group, their equipment and swings are becoming more optimized and efficient.

At the recreational level, the average driving distance at four public courses in the United Kingdom for male players was found to be 215 yards. That’s up from last season’s 208 yards but still within a consistent band that started in 2005. The average for female golfers was 147.9 yards.

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