The argument is all wrong. The antimodernists screech at the top of their
lungs that today’s golf equipment is wrecking the game, particularly at the highest
level. They couldn’t be more misled.
In fact, there are some areas that
today’s PGA Tour players are worse at than
they were 20 years ago. We know that there
are lies, perfect lies, buried lies, damned
lies and statistics. We utilize the latter to
throw some light onto some hitherto dark
areas. We looked at six statistical categories from last year, 10 years ago and 20
years ago. And we took the No. 1 player
and the No. 70 player in each category (see
chart). The numbers speak for themselves.
Let’s get the distance issue on the table
and out of the way. Today’s drivers, with
their super-engineered clubheads, along
with advances in shaft technology and the
distance the modern ball travels, make
players longer off the tee than ever before.
There’s no dispute.
Tour players have benefited from 30
extra yards off the tee on average from 20
years ago. So have the rest of us. A combination of forces produces the prodigious
length. Clubheads are better and more
forgiving. And golf balls – at all levels –
perform like never before.
And the least talked about part of a
driver – the shaft – has made more technological inroads than perhaps anything
else in clubmaking. Shafts can be dialed in
to get the most possible distance out of the
club without having to change your swing.
Has more distance ruined the game?
Hardly. PGA Tour courses are much longer
2011 1st 318.4
2001 1st 306.7
1991 1st 288.9
2011 1st 65.17%
2001 1st 69.78%
1992 1st 68.26%
2011 1st 75.65%
2001 1st 81.10%
1991 1st 78.31%
PUTTS PER ROUND
2011 1st 27.75
2001 1st 27.90
1991 1st 28.02
GREENS IN REGULATION
2011 1st 71.68% 70th 66.25
2001 1st 74.53% 70th 67.29
1991 1st 73.32% 70th 67.48
2011 1st 68.86
2001 1st 68.81
1991 1st 69.59
than they were 10 or 20 years ago, stretching to 7,400 yards or more. At one time, a
430-yard par- 4 was a manly hole. Today, on
Tour, it’s 480 yards – or longer. The 500-
yard par- 4 is now a staple in the professional game. Courses with a par of 70 are
becoming more popular with the PGA Tour
staff, which limits the long-ballers to only
two par 5s per round instead of four.
Purists claim that distance has rendered great old courses obsolete. From
whom? Tour players compete on only about
40 courses a year. That leaves the rest for
us to play and extra distance isn’t causing
even scratch players to bring the Pine
Valleys and the Merions and the Seminoles
to their knees. The greats are still great.
With all this extra distance, you’d think
that Tour players are hitting wedges to
every hole, which would mean they are
hitting a lot more greens. In fact, it’s just
the opposite. The 2011 leader in greens in
regulation hit on average just fewer than 13
greens per round. The 70th-ranked player
was just under 12 greens per round. That’s
significantly worse than the stats from 2001
In defense of modern players, they must
deal with hole locations that are tucked
three paces off the edges of greens in many
cases during tournament week. However,
nothing is ever wrong with hitting the center of the green. From the fairway.
Putting happens to be the one area
today’s Tour player is marginally better
than his brethren of 10 and 20 years ago.
Last year’s leader averaged 27.75 putts per
round, roughly a quarter of a stroke better
than 10 years ago and a little more than
that 20 years ago. Still, that only amounts
to about one shot better per tournament.
There are a couple of reasons for the
improvement. One is agronomy. Grass
strains and green surfaces are better than
ever. Tour players compete on almost
perfect greens nearly every week. It’s
markedly easier to hole putts when greens
are pristine. And Tour players have access
to the latest technology to analyze putting
strokes, thereby geting a perfectly fit putter.
All of which adds up to scoring, which is
statistically about even with 2001 and 1991.
The 2001 leader in scoring averaged 68.86
strokes per round, .05 worse than 2001 and
about .75 better than 1991.
Hitting the ball farther never made anyone better. And straighter isn’t necessarily
the answer, either. You still have to somehow get the ball in the hole. Joe Durant led
the PGA Tour in 2011 in driving accuracy
and was third in greens in regulation. Yet,
he finished 160th on the money list.
Even for the best ball-strikers in the
world, it’s still a hard game. l