The golf equipment changes affecting tour player driver distance and tournament course design over the past 10 years have made most amateur golfers expect these changes to benefit them as well. Is this a realistic expectation?
The changes affecting tour player driver distance and tournament course design over the past 10 years have made most golfers expect the new technology to benefit them as well. At the same time, many critics of these changes believe that shot making and actual skill have been diminished in favor of the “driver-wedge-putter” game that seems to dominate tournament events.
Are these concerns overrated? What should amateur golfers expect from the new balls and club designs when it comes to distance and control?
Can you separate fact from fiction when it comes to golf equipment performance?
By Dick Rugge, Senior Technical Director, United States Golf Association
To show how perceptions can be misleading, the following is a list of items prepared by Dick Rugge, senior technical director at the USGA, that separate golf equipment fact from fiction. The United States Golf Association acts to regulate equipment so that skill remains the most important tenant of the sport. The USGA is often asked to address the needs of a game that appears to be changing. Facts and opinion need to be considered when the USGA makes important decisions about golf equipment.
1. Golfers with faster swing speeds get disproportionately greater distance benefits from new golf balls that have been introduced after 2000.
False. Physics, scientific tests, and actual results on the PGA Tour all confirm that faster swinging players have not gained a disproportionate amount of distance from modern golf balls. An example:
Corey Pavin, the shortest hitter in 2000, gained about the same amount of distance from 2000 to 2005 (7.4 yards) as the longest (John Daly at 8.7 yards). This implies that most amateur golfers will get less than Pavin’s, especially with slower swing speeds.
2. Golf ball distance is not currently limited.
False. Golf ball distance has been regulated since 1976 and golf ball rebound characteristics have been regulated since the 1940s. In 2004, the USGA updated its testing methodology to more closely reflect the athleticism and clubs of today’s Tour pros. All golf balls played on Tour and the vast majority of golf balls sold have passed the USGA’s distance limit test. Even as the pro players get more athletic the amateur golfing population struggles with obesity, aging and time constraints, all factors that reduce performance regardless of equipment.
3. Driving distance on Tour is increasing rapidly.
False. While average PGA Tour driving distance significantly increased over the past 10 years, it has leveled off during the past three. The average increase since the level of 2003 to the current level in 2006 is only about 1 yard per year. The law of diminishing returns sets in for everyone. That 1 yard improvement may end in 2008 when the maximum MOI, head size and shaft weight/head size ratio are reached.
4. Most of the PGA Tour professionals swing at 120 mph or more.
False. The average swing speed on the PGA Tour is approximately 113 mph. There are some who swing at or higher than 120 mph, but they are clearly in the minority. On the other hand, the average swing speed of amateur golfers is well below 113 mph.
5. The average distance for 5-irons on Tour is more than 200 yards.
False. The PGA Tour Shotlink system, which records virtually all shots throughout the season, shows that the average 5-iron shot from fairway to green is approximately 185 yards. From the tee on par threes, the average 5-iron distance is about 197 yards.
6. Accuracy off the tee isn’t as important as it used to be on the PGA Tour.
That’s no myth, it’s true. During the ‘80s driving accuracy was almost as strong a predictor of money-winning as putting. Today it has fallen to the lowest level ever.
This is one fact that holds up with amateur golfers, as well.