Are PGA Tour players hitting the ball farther or are our eyes deceiving us?

Are PGA Tour players hitting the ball farther or are our eyes deceiving us?

At this summer's PGA Championship, Jason Day bombed a 382-yard drive on the 11th hole in the final round at Whistling Straits. All Jordan Spieth, who averaged 291 yards off the tee last season, could do was look back at the Aussie, who playfully flexed his muscle after a behemoth drive.

And it's not just Day smoking the ball these days. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau all come to mind. There are plenty more.

It seems as if the players are getting longer and longer and longer, but the game's governing bodies want us to believe that's not the case.

Everyone getting longer? Just an illusion, according to the latest reports released this week by those august governing bodies.


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"What we are seeing at the moment is a fairly consistent percentage of some tremendous athletes who are hitting the ball farther," said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers in China at this week's HSBC Golf Business Forum. "The percentage of them is unchanged. The average is a lot less than what the media talk about. The average has only moved 3 to 4 yards in the last 10 years. There's no burning desire on our part to make any changes."

"It's a single-digit number of players who hit over 320 [yards]," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, also at the conference. "The average is in the mid-280s -- this is run and carry.

Luckily, we do not have to leave this as a debate in the abstract. Thanks to ShotLink data, we can answer the question: has driving distance increased on the PGA Tour?

Finchem has a point, how far a ball rolls after it hits the ground as a lot to do with course conditions and set-up, as opposed to whether or not the player hits it father. So, leaving the roll out of it, let's look at carry distance, or how far does the ball travel in the air before it hurts the ground.

To make the comparison, I looked at 2007 and 2008 -- the two earliest years for which data was available -- before jumping to 2011, 2014 and 2015.

pgatour-average-distance

The chart doesn't lie. In the last eight years, the average carry distance on the PGA Tour has increased dramatically, by some 10 yards. The median distance has also seen a 10-yard increase.

Year Avg. Carry Median Carry
2007 266.81 266.40
2008 269.50 268.65
2011 272.34 272.30
2014 274.40 274.35
2015 276.98 276.30

The USGA, R&A, and PGA Tour can all suggest what they'd like, but the numbers don’t lie. Driving distance on the PGA Tour is increasing, and it is increasing rapidly.


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