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The PGA tour wrapped up its season last week and we had a chance to view the season ending driving statistics. The driving distance average has jumped up 290.9 yards, a 3.6 yard increase over 2010. This finding is certainly discouraging (and another straw on the camel’s back for classic golf courses) but it probably doesn’t affect the individual PGA tour player too much because on average, everybody is going up in distance. So how has modern gear and the across-the-board increase in distance affected the PGA tour ranks? Driving accuracy has been rendered all but meaningless. Put another way: driving accuracy has no correlation with season ending money rankings. Now there have always been long hitters, from Jim Barnes to Jack Nicklaus to Greg Norman to Tiger. However, there have been short hitting counterparts who were able to compete on consistency, accuracy, and control. Distance was always beneficial but there was a risk/reward aspect where a long, straight drive provided a significant advantage over a short straight drive but a long, wayward drive was not superior to a short drive, center cut. No longer. Don’t believe it? Here are some figures dug up from the PGA tour website (correlation is Money Rank vs. Particular Stat in all cases).

What happened here? From 1980 to 1990 there was a constant and meaningful correlation between driving accuracy and money list. It takes a drop to a lower level and stays constant until around 2001 when it then drops down to zero.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened during those years. In 1990 we started seeing early metalwoods but more importantly, graphite shafts. With the lightweight shafts in hand drivers became longer and some control was lost but it didn’t matter as much because you could carry bunkers and hazards that were meant to make you navigate around. However, we still hadn’t seen clubhead volume maxed out and wound balls were still the standard. Accuracy still mattered, just not as much.

Around 2001 the ProV1 was released and wound balls went the way of the dinosaur. Additionally, clubheads ballooned to 460cc. These two together resulted in complete loss of correlation between driving accuracy and money rank. Notice that the correlation between driving distance and money rank as well as GIR and money rank both held fairly constant.

So what are we going to do about it? Instead of just complain about it here are some suggestions that could fix the situation:

- Play and promote persimmon gear. The smaller head size, heavier weight, and shorter shafts all control distance by penalizing poor swings. This protects the game of golf.

- Advocate a ball rollback or the return of a wound ball. A wound ball moves more, allowing the skilled player to work the ball while penalizing poor swings by sending the wild one farther offline. It also compresses the ball more which gives more feel but reduces overall distance.

Option 1 is a lot easier and super enjoyable. Option 2 is more difficult and requires a re-invention of wound ball technology.

Small beans in the grand scheme of things but for those who love this game and want to see the classic game of golf, including accuracy and shotmaking, passed on the next generation and not lost forever, these are worthy topics for our consideration.

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