Does Distance Matter? (Here's a Hint: Get a Fitness Coach)
07 Jan 2019
by Brendan Ryan of Golf Placement Services

- Golfweek photo
- Golfweek photo

If you have been hiding in the woods over the last 15 years, let me bring you up to SPEED -- the great debate in golf is over distance. Are players hitting the ball farther and maybe even too far? Is working out and greater athleticism changing the game?

In 2001 Hank Kuehne averaged 321 yards off the tee compared to 318 yards in 2018 for PGA tour Leader Rory McIlroy. One would expect changes in distance between 2001-2006ish as players adopted better technology in balls and larger head drivers. But since those changes, what does the data say?

Here is the data for players from 2007-2015 which shows year, average driving distance (in yards), the leader on the PGA tour and their driving distance and the number of players who averaged over 300 yards:

PGA Tour
PGA Tour
Players avg.
300+ yards
2015289.7Dustin Johnson (317.7)26
2014288.8Bubba Watson (314.3)25
2013287.2Luke List (306.8)13
2012289.1Bubba Watson (315.5)21
2011290.9J.B Holmes (318.4)21
2010287.3Robert Garrigus (315.5)12
2009287.3Robert Garrigus (312)13
2008287.3Bubba Watson (315.1)13
2007288.6Bubba Watson (315.2)18

Now, let’s compare the top 15 longest players to the shortest 15 players from 2016-2018 with a minimum of 20 events played:

Longest 15 playersShortest 15 players
Avg Driving Distance310.2 yds278.6 yds
Total Earnings/year$52,527,483$13,600,000
Avg Earnings/player$3,501,832$910,000
Avg Earnings/yard$11,289$3,266

In this data set the 15 shortest hitters are averaging 278.6 yards/drive, while the 15 longest hitters are averaging 310.2 yards/drive. This means each yard to the player at the bottom is worth approximately $3,266, while each yard for the top 15 players yields approximately $11,289.

Furthermore, none of the 15 shortest players finished in the top 10 in the money list, and only 6 of the 15 (40%) were able to maintain their PGA Tour card for the following year.

Now tell me, does distance matter?

If you’re someone who is thinking about playing elite junior golf, college or professional golf, do you need to have a fitness coach? These numbers seem clear -- yes, you should!

A special thanks to Lance Gil of Lance Gil Performance for his insights and contributions to this article!

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