Whos Better Tiger or Jack



Thanks for sharing your insights and your book, Just Hit It, with those of us who appreciate a philosophical insight into the game and unbiased information about equipment. It is a wonderful service you provide to golfers.

My question relates to how equipment and technology have changed professional golf over the years, giving today’s player a huge performance advantage over those players from 30 and 40 years ago. Because of the differences in equipment, can we really compare the performance of Jack Nicklaus with that of Tiger Woods?

I would really appreciate your insight.

– Clive 


Thank you very much for you kind words and I am pleased you have enjoyed my book.

I too have often wondered how valid a comparison it is between two great golfers separated by so many years, different course conditions, and significant differences in equipment.

We do have some interesting statistics and information which allows us to compare their performance and provides a relatively valid comparison as to how Jack would perform if he was in his prime – as he was in the late 1960s – playing against the present fields today.

We need to recognize that there are more quality golfers today then there were in the 60s and 70s, which in itself makes it more difficult to excel on any sort of continuous basis. However, Tiger seems to have done this and has dominated the PGA Tour as Jack did in the mid-60s and 70s.

Let’s review Jack’s stats in 1968 compared to Tiger’s today:

1968 2009
Jack Nicklaus
Tiger Woods
Statistic Field Rank Statistic Field Rank
Driving Distance 276 yards 2 Driving Distance 298.4 yards 26
GIR 75.6% 1 GIR 64.5% 11
Accuracy 67.1% 75 Accuracy 64.66% 75

Putts/Round 30.8

Best in Field 29.5


Putts/Round 28.38

Best in Field 27.88


Putts/GIR 1.81

Best in Field 1.78


Putts/GIR 1.74

Best in Field 1.725

Score/Round 70.1 2 Score/Round 68.86 1

This gives us some idea about the performance of each golfer and how they ranked against the field.

If we review the above stats, we find that Jack was better than Tiger in greens hit in regulation (GIR) and fairways hit (Accuracy). Tiger ranks better statistically in putting, even though they both ranked #10 in the field in putts per GIR.

Now let us see what Jack would have done with today’s driver compared to Tiger:

  Jack Nicklaus (1968) Tiger Woods (2009)
Loft 10.5 degree 10.5 degree
Shaft Length 42 3/4' 44'
Shaft Material True Temper Dynamic S Steel Shaft Mitsubishi Diamana Graphite Shaft
Head Material Persimmon (solid) Titanium (hollow)
COR 0.78 0.83
Head Volume 210cc 380 cc
MOI Low High
Weight ≈389 grams ≈340 grams
Launch Conditions ≈10.5 degrees & 3000+rpm ≈12 degrees & 2500 rpm

Note that both Tiger has and Jack had shorter drivers than the average on Tour at the time.

The major advantages that Tiger has over Jack are the longer, lighter weight shaft – by almost 50 grams – and the higher COR (spring-like effect) and MOI (forgiveness) head, even though he is using a 380 cc driver – the max allowed is 460 cc.

Tiger also uses the new low spin multilayered ball, which, along with other factors, gives him the ability to achieve optimum launch conditions for his ball speed. These all important launch conditions were not achievable by Jack or any other players using the equipment available in 1968.

Knowing that both golfers hit the ball with similar clubhead speeds, it is estimated that if Jack had today’s equipment he would have driven the ball approximately 30 yards farther than he did in 1968, and more accurately because of the more forgiving driver, low spin and better quality ball.

It is not surprising that the irons used by both golfers are similar in most respects as iron technology for the elite golfer has not changed very much over the last 40 years.

Bottom line – given the same equipment and conditions – I give Jack the edge, even though Tiger is fitter than Jack ever was, he is a better putter and seems to have the ability, through training, to focus and get into the zone at will. This mind set is an essential element in the make-up of a great golfer. Jack also had this element derived from pride, tenacity and a Bear-like attitude.

Clive, thank you for the question, which I personally enjoyed researching. Please have your say by clicking here and voting for who you think is the best golfer. Real-time results can be viewed on our home page at www.franklygolf.com.

– Frank 

Frank Thomas logo Frank 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