The Truth About Driving Distance

By Frank ThomasAugust 26, 2009, 4:00 pm
Dear Frank,
 
I really appreciate what you are doing for the game. I know you addressed this issue in your book, Just Hit It, but do you still think we need to be unconcerned about the distance pros are now hitting the ball? Do you think there is an end to this increase in distance and, if not, what will the USGA have to do to control it?
 
– Sean

 
Sean,
 
Thanks for your kind comments and for buying my book. I am pleased you enjoyed it.
 
You have pushed another one of my hot buttons so let me clear up a few things about a very real problem.
 
The problem is not that the pros are continuing to increase their driving distance, but that people think they are doing this. This perception is based on marketing and the over-dramatization of distance being portrayed by the media. Yes, we have seen – reinforced by several replays and without appropriate explanation – extraordinary feats by a few individuals able to drive the ball in excess of 380 yards. The fact that the ball rolled three to four times farther than normal because the conditions were conducive to such long drives, is rarely discussed, as this would take away from the 'Wow' and 'You-Da-Man' factor.
 
The problem – which will not go away – is that many viewers, some of whom are concerned golfers and even administrators, treat these extraordinary feats as common place.
 
Sean, the laws of nature have limited the distance a golfer can drive the ball given a specific clubhead speed, and clubhead speeds are not getting much faster unless you go to the circus or long-drive competitions.
 
So here are the facts. The chart below shows how the PGA Tour's average driving distance has changed since 1968 – distance data was not recorded between 1969 and 1980. The big jump came between 1995 and 2003 when spring-like effect in drivers was permitted to avoid litigation.
 
The multi-layered ball and spring-like effect – commonly referred to as increased COR (Coefficient of Restitution) – has allowed pros to launch balls higher with less spin, creating optimum launch conditions (i.e. a unique launch angle and spin rate for a particular ball speed to achieve the maximum distance given average turf conditions). These conditions were not achievable by Jack Nicklaus or others of his era with the equipment available to them at the time.
 
It was predicted some 10 years ago that when these optimum conditions were met, the average distance would level off. Now, the only way to increase distance is to increase head speed – and we all know what happens when we try to kill the ball. Tiger’s clubhead speed is not measurably faster than Jack Nicklaus’ was 45 years ago, so we shouldn’t expect a dramatic increase in average clubhead speeds on the Tour in the near future.
 
I think the graph below speaks for itself. Neither you nor any others need to be concerned unless we consider the anomalies to be the norm. Mother Nature has taken control of distance.
 
Driving Distance on PGA Tour chart.
The average driving distance on Tour has changed very little the last few years.

 
Sean, as far as the average golfer is concerned, we have not seen significant improvements in distance over the last 15 years or so. This is in spite of all the new technology introduced and advertising claims that every new club will increase your distance 15-20 yards. If that were the case, most of us would be driving the ball at least 300 yards by now.
 
The laws of nature do not change at midnight on December 31 every year. So don't expect any significant improvement in distance from a new club compared to last year's model.
 
However, if you have not upgraded your driver in the last seven years then it is time to consider a new one, or even last year's model, which will save you some money.
 
Sean, the USGA does not have to be concerned about distance increases anymore, but you can be assured that this issue – which is now more than 100 years old – will not go away any time soon. For more facts about equipment and the game, be sure to register as a Frankly Friend for my FREE weekly updates.

Share your experiences with your driver by taking part in our 'Frankly The Best' Driver Survey. You'll be able to check back on our findings and will be entered to win a custom-built Frog Putter and a consultation with Frank.
 
Frank
 
Frank Thomas logoFrank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
 
Frank Thomas
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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.