I have this memory of watching a PGA Tour event. I think I was watching Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods bombing away from the tee, hitting these long shots with their drivers. On this one particular hole their drives would land and then bounce off the ground just like when you get a cart path bounce. Except it was right in the fairway. And I thought I’d like to hit my driver long and have it bounce like that. Wonder what I have to do?
According to the PGA Tour site, the average driving distance to date in 2010 is 286 yards and Robert Garrigus is leading the long drive contest with 318 yards. A 286 yard average drive isn’t much different than a lot of regular folks I know. The real difference is not the driving distance, it’s the driving accuracy and the shot shape. The PGA Tour pro’s driving accuracy has us beat hands down there. Of course getting to spend a week at the Kingdom at Reynold’s Plantation having the TaylorMade folks dial in your driver and irons helps quite a bit. Having them match your driver with the right golf ball and making sure it is the right combination also helps.
On Monday I was playing the Sahalee Country Club where Bernhard Langer won the US Senior Open the day before. What stuck me the most about the fairways was how incredibly hard they were. I mean like concrete with a really thin layer of grass on them. And the greens where rock hard too. And so it all started to make sense to me. If I was hitting onto a surface like that I’d get a lot of roll too. I’d need to be able to hit my driver straight consistently enough to justify the penalty for when I was wrong. But I’d get the bounce on PGA Tour courses like this.
The other thing that doesn’t show up in the Tour driving statistics is the strategy with which those drives were shot. On an older course like Sahalee, the PGA pros driving distance carries them over most of the fairway sand bunkers. On the other hand Sahalee is so narrow that you need to determine your shot strategy in reverse.
So if I need to be on the right side of the fairway to have a shot at the the pin, then I need to hit my drive so I can have that shot. On a shorter course like Sahalee, a PGA Tour golfer can hit a hybrid wood or a 3 wood off of the tee and be in the right position to attack the pin. Being in the A position on the course carries a huge premium. And so driving distance takes a back seat to driving accuracy. That’s why Freddie Couples driving distance the first couple days was shorter than in the final round. In the final round he had to take risks to really shoot for birdies. But the shorter driving distance in the first few days where accuracy was more important doesn’t show up in the statistics.
The combination of strategic driving and the portion of the PGA Tour golfers who just aren’t that long off the tees helps to explain why the average PGA Tour Driving Distance is reachable by the rest of us mortals when we’re driving away without fear of the penalty of a sliced drive.