The Importance of Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy on the PGA and Champions Tours

### Abstract

The question of whether driving distance or driving accuracy is more important to a golfer’s overall level of performance is a question that has long been debated. No conclusive answer has been found despite the efforts of numerous researchers who have investigated the relative importance of these two shot-making measures along with other shot-making measures such as greens-in-regulation and putting average. There are various reasons why this particular question has gone unanswered for so many years and many of these reasons are methodological in nature. However, the results in this paper, using data from the 2006-2009 seasons of the PGA and Champions Tours and a new methodological approach, indicate that the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy depends upon both the type of hole (Par 4 hole versus Par 5 hole) and the age of the golfer. For younger PGA Tour members, driving accuracy was more important than driving distance on Par 4 holes, but the opposite was true on Par 5 holes. For older Champions’ Tour members, driving distance was more important than driving accuracy on both Par 4 and Par 5 holes. Additional analyses revealed that the quality of the drive, in terms of both its distance and accuracy, was relatively more important to a golfer’s performance on the Champions Tour than it was on the PGA Tour.

**Key Words:** Golf, Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, importance, performance

### Introduction

Which is more important to a golfer’s success – how far they drive the ball or how accurate they are with their drive? Past attempts to answer this age-old question have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, including the utilization of flawed methodological procedures as well as the failure of researchers to consider that the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy might actually depend upon the combination of a number of different factors. The literature contains numerous studies that look at the extent to which driving distance and driving accuracy, along with other shot-making skills measures such as greens-in-regulation, putting average, and sand saves, were correlated to a golfer’s overall level of performance. Consistently, in these analyses, greens-in-regulation and putting average were found to be more highly correlated with scoring average and total earnings than either driving distance or driving accuracy (3,5,10). Further, in many instances, neither driving distance nor driving accuracy was statistically significant. These past analyses were typically based upon the performance of PGA Tour members, although the performances of members of other professional golf tours and amateur golfers have also been analyzed (2,6,7,8,11).

There are a number of methodological issues that need to be examined when attempting to evaluate the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy, especially when these two measures are considered in conjunction with other predictor measures. Failure to do so can result in faulty conclusions being made. In this paper, the distance versus accuracy question is examined by conducting separate analyses for members of the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.

### Methods

#### Populations

The populations of interest in the study are members of the PGA Tour and the Champions’ Tour for the last four tour seasons, 2006-2009. The latter tour is for golfers who are at least 50 years of age. Data used for both tours in this analysis came from the PGA Tour website (www.pgatour.com).

#### Dependent Variables

scoring average has frequently been used as an overall performance measure in analyses that examined the effects of various shot-making skills. However, in the present study, which compares the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy, scoring average should not be used as the dependent variable measure. The reason for this is that scoring average is based on all 18 holes in a round, and golfers will typically use a driver only on Par 4 and Par 5 holes and not on Par 3 holes. The fact that there may be as many as five or six Par 3 holes in a round makes scoring average an inappropriate performance measure for the purpose of this study.

The total earnings of a professional golfer on a particular tour are another measure that has been used for the dependent variable. Like scoring average, total earnings have problems associated with its use in the present study. The first problem is that tournaments on the various professional golf tours do not offer the same amount of prize money. As a result, total earnings is more heavily weighted to how well a golfer performs in tournaments that have the largest purses than to how well a golfer performs in all of the tournaments in which they play. A second problem is that total earnings do not take into account the number of tournaments played in a season. Accordingly, low total earnings may be due either to poor performances or to a small number of tournaments having been played.

Due to the problems associated with both scoring average and total earnings, it was decided to use two different dependent variable measures for determining the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy. These two measures are (i) scoring average obtained only on Par 4 holes and (ii) scoring average obtained only on Par 5 holes. By having these two distinct measures, it is possible to determine whether the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy varies by type of hole. Further, the use of these two measures also eliminates the previously discussed problems associated with both scoring average based on 18 holes and with total earnings.

#### Independent Variables

Besides driving distance and driving accuracy, there are other variables or shot-making skills that have been commonly used in analyses that sought to determine the key factors that are related to a golfer’s overall performance. Three of the most frequently used measures will be used in this study. They are:

– **Greens-in-regulation:** The percentage of times that a golfer is able to land his or her ball on the green in two strokes on a Par 4 hole and in three or fewer strokes on a Par 5 hole.

– **Putting average:** The average number of putts per greens-in-regulation.

– **Sand saves:** The percentage of times a golfer takes two or fewer shots to put their ball in the hole from a greenside sand bunker.

Analysis
Descriptive statistics will be obtained and regression analyses were conducted in order to determine the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy. However, it should be noted that a potential problem exists when using highly correlated predictor variables in a regression analysis. This is the problem of multicollinearity and this problem is one that is often present in studies that seek to determine the relative importance of various shot-making skills. For example, Heiny (5) did not explicitly consider the effects of multicollinearity when he concluded, using data from the 1992-2003 PGA Tour seasons, that the two driving measures were of far less importance to a golfer’s overall level of performance than either greens-in-regulation or putting average. The problem of multicollinearity arose since driving distance and driving accuracy were both highly correlated with greens-in-regulation and because these three measures were all used in the regression model. Due to multicollinearity, the relative importance of the two driving measures could not be accurately determined. Since the focus of this study is on driving distance and driving accuracy, primary attention will be placed on these two measures.

### Results

#### Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics for driving distance and driving accuracy for members of each tour during the 2006 to 2009 seasons are given in Table 1. The scoring average on both Par 4 and Par 5 holes for each of the tours remained fairly constant over this period of time. On the shorter Par 4 holes, the average score on both tours was virtually identical and slightly over par. On the Par 5 holes, the average score was under par on both tours, but Champions’ Tour golfers had a slightly higher stroke average compared to their PGA Tour counterparts.

**Table 1**
Means and Standard Deviations for Scoring Average, Average Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy Percentage for Golfers on the PGA and Champions Tours: 2006-2009

2006 2007 2008 2009
Tour/variable Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
PGA Tour
Scoring average on Par 4 holes 4.06 0.04 4.07 0.04 4.07 0.03 4.06 0.04
Scoring average on Par 5 holes 4.68 0.07 4.69 0.06 4.70 0.07 4.69 0.07
Average driving distance (yards) 289.5 8.7 289.1 8.6 287.6 8.6 288.1 8.6
Driving accuracy (%) 63.4 5.4 63.5 5.2 63.4 5.5 62.3 5.5
(n) (196) (196) (197) (202)
Champions Tour
Scoring average on Par 4 holes 4.06 0.06 4.05 0.06 4.05 0.07 4.06 0.07
Scoring average on Par 5 holes 4.73 0.10 4.71 0.09 4.73 0.08 4.72 0.11
Average driving distance (yards) 270.2 9.4 273.7 9.3 272.6 8.9 277.0 10.5
Driving accuracy (%) 71.4 5.0 69.2 5.3 69.1 5.8 68.6 5.4
(n) (80) (77) (75) (81)

During the four year period, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour was between 287.6 yards and 289.5 yards. The big jump in terms of average driving distance on the PGA Tour came between 1995 and 2003 when a spring-like effect in drivers was permitted. This development, together with a new a multi-layered ball, allowed golfers to launch balls higher and with less spin, thus creating optimum launch conditions and longer driving distances. This has resulted in the average driving distance leveling off in recent years on the PGA Tour. However, on the Champions’ Tour, the distance of the average drive increased from 270.2 yards in 2006 to 277.0 yards in 2009. This recent increase was due, in part, to a number of older tour members retiring and being replaced by longer-hitting younger golfers. In 2009, the differential between the PGA Tour and the Champions’ Tour in terms of the length of the average drive was just 11.1 yards compared to 19.3 yards in 2006.

The driving accuracy percentages were in a narrower range on the PGA Tour compared to the Champions’ Tour. In addition, the Champions’ Tour accuracy percentages exhibited a steady decline over the four year period and, on each tour, the percentage was at its lowest level in 2009. In terms of the variability of the two scoring averages as measured by the standard deviation, there was considerably more variability in the average scores on both the Par 4 and Par 5 holes for members of the Champions’ Tour than for members of the PGA Tour. The variability was also greater on the Champions’ Tour with respect to both driving distance and driving accuracy, but the variability differentials were not as large as they were for the two scoring average measures.

A moderately strong negative correlation existed between Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy for golfers on both tours during the 2006-2009 seasons. These correlations, which were all significant at the .01 level, are given in Table 2. The nature of the relationship found in this study was similar to that obtained by Wiseman et al (12) for members of the PGA Tour during the 1990-2004 seasons. The results also indicate that during the last two years, there was a weakening of the relationship for members of the Champions’ Tour.

**Table 2**
Correlation between Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy on the PGA and Champions Tours: 2006-2009

Tour 2006 2007 2008 2009
PGA Tour -.59 -.64* -.61* -.57*
Champions Tour -.53 -.52 -.47 -.37

∗ Correlation is significantly different from zero (p < .01) in that year.

For each tour, a golfer’s average driving distance and driving accuracy percentages were correlated with their scoring average on Par 4 and Par 5 holes. The obtained correlations are presented in Table 3. Most signs are negative, as expected, since long drives and a high driving accuracy percentage are associated with good performance and low scores. However, there were distinct differences in the correlations depending upon the tour and the type of hole.

**Table 3**
Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy Correlations with Scoring Average on Par 4 and Par 5 Holes for the PGA and Champions Tours: 2006-2009

2006 2007 2008 2009
Tour/type of hole Distance Accuracy Distance Accuracy Distance Accuracy Distance Accuracy
PGA
Par 4 -.06 -.36* -.00 -.32* -.06 -.33* -.12 -.37*
Par 5 -.37* .03 -.36* -.17** -.39* .14 -.43 .12
Champions
Par 4 -.49* -.14 -.49* -.12 -.38* -.29* -.40* -.30*
Par 5 -.62* .13 -.60* .02 -.46* .01 -.54* -.08

∗ Correlation was significantly different from zero for that year (p < .01).
∗∗ Correlation was significantly different from zero for that year (p < .05).

On Par 4 holes, the correlation between driving distance and scoring average for golfers on the Champions’ Tour was much stronger than for golfers on the PGA Tour. These correlations were between r = -.38 and r = -.49 for Champions’ Tour members, but only between r = -.00 and r = -.12 for PGA Tour members. These latter correlations indicated that there was virtually no relationship between driving distance and scoring average on Par 4 holes for PGA Tour golfers. The opposite was true for driving accuracy. The correlation between driving accuracy and scoring average on the PGA Tour was stronger than on the Champions’ Tour. Correlations for driving accuracy and scoring average were between r = -.32 and r = -.37 for golfers on the PGA Tour and between r = -.12 and r = -.30 for golfers on the Champions’ Tour. In the last two years, the relationship between driving accuracy and scoring average on the Champions’ Tour has strengthened. The above results suggest that on Par 4 holes, driving distance was far more important than driving accuracy for Champions’ Tour golfers, while driving accuracy was far more important than driving distance for PGA Tour golfers.

With Par 5 holes, driving distance was more highly correlated with scoring average than was driving accuracy on both tours. The correlations were stronger, however, on the Champions’ Tour and were between r = -.46 and r = -.62. On the PGA Tour, the correlations were between r = -.36 and r = -.43. For driving accuracy, the correlations were weak on both tours. These results suggest that on Par 5 holes, driving distance was more important than driving accuracy for players on both the PGA Tour and the Champions’ Tour.

#### Regression Analyses

Regression analyses were conducted to determine the extent to which driving distance and driving accuracy taken together could explain the variability in scoring average on Par 4 and Par 5 holes. A large R2 value would indicate the drive was a key factor in terms of explaining overall performance, while a small R2 value would indicate the opposite. Results are shown in Table 4.

**Table 4**
Estimated Linear Regression Equation Coefficients and R2 Values when Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy were used to Predict Scoring Average

Tour / type of hole / year Estimated Linear Regression Coefficients
b0 Constant b1 Driving distance b2 Driving accuracy R2
PGA
Par 4
2009 5.076 -.0024* -.0050* .30
2008 4.469 -.0008** -.0026* .14
2007 4.716 -.0014* -.0037* .18
2006 4.826 -.0017* -.0041* .24
Par 5
2009 6.176 -.0046* -.0026** .21
2008 5.932 -.0038* -.0019 .16
2007 5.665 -.0031* -.0011 .14
2006 6.081 -.0041* -.0035* .19
Champions
Par 4
2009 5.710 -.0042* -.0071* .39
2008 5.904 -.0050* -.0071 .42
2007 5.925 -.0052* -.0063* .44
2006 5.998 -.0053* -.0070* .45
Par 5
2009 7.172 -.0072* -.0068* .38
2008 6.493 -.0055* -.0038** .26
2007 7.372 -.0080* -.0069* .47
2006 7.238 -0.0080* -.0054** .44

∗ Estimated regression coefficient is significantly different from zero (p < .01).
∗∗ Estimated regression coefficient is significantly different from zero (p < .05).

On the Champions’ Tour, the value of R2 ranged between .38 and .47 during the 2006-2009 seasons for each type of hole, except for Par 5 holes in 2008 when R2 = .26. The regression coefficients for driving distance and driving average were all significant at the .01 level, except in 2006 and 2008 when the coefficient associated with driving accuracy was significant at the .05 level. Results on the PGA Tour differed as far less of the variability in scoring average could be explained by the drive alone. R2 values ranged between .14 and .24 in the four years and on each type of hole, except on Par 4 holes in 2009 when R2 = .30. The regression coefficient for driving distance was significant at the .01 level in each year, except in 2008 where the significance level was .05. The regression coefficient for driving accuracy on Par 4 holes was significant at the .01 level in each year, but on Par 5 holes, there were two years in which the coefficient was not statistically significant.

Additional regression analyses were conducted to determine the extent to which three other variables (greens-in-regulation, putting average and sand saves) could explain the variability in scoring average that could not be explained by either driving distance or driving accuracy. The R2 values presented in Table 5 indicate that the five measures used together could explain more of the variability in scoring average on the Champions’ Tour than on the PGA Tour. R2 values ranged from .69 to .89 on the Champions’ Tour and from .41 to .75 on the PGA Tour.

**Table 5**
R2 values when Five Skills Measures were used to Predict Scoring Average on Par 4 and Par 5 Holes for the PGA and Champions Tours: 2006-2009*

Tour / type of hole 2006 2007 2008 2009
PGA
Par 4
Par 5
Champions
Par 4
Par 5

∗ The five measures were Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens-in-Regulation, Putting Average, and Sand Saves.

**Table 6**
Proportion of Total Explained Variability in Scoring Average Directly Attributable to Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy on Par 4 and Par 5 Holes for the PGA and Champions Tours: 2006-2009

Tour / type of hole 2006 2007 2008 2009
PGA
Par 4 (.24/.67) = .36* (.18/.66) = .27 (.14/.61) = .23 (.30/.75) = .40
Par 5 (.19/.53) = .36 (.14/.41) = .32 (.16/.48) = .33 (.21/.56) = .38
Champions
Par 4 (.45/.88) = .51 (.44/.88) = .50 (.42/.89) = .47 (.39/.78) = .50
Par 5 (.44/.78) = .56 (.47/.80) = .59 (.26/.69) = .38 (.38/.78) = .51

∗ Values obtained by dividing R2 values given in Table 4 by the corresponding R2 values given in Table 5.

The ratios of the corresponding R2 values in Tables 4 and 5 are given in Table 6. These ratios indicate the relative importance of the drive compared to the other three predictor measures. The higher the ratio, the greater the variability in scoring average that could be explained by using the two driving measures compared to the three other predictor measures. As shown in the table, the ratios are higher in each case for the Champions’ Tour than for the PGA Tour. This indicates that the drive, compared to the other three measures that were used, was relatively more important for golfers on the Champions’ Tour than for golfers on the PGA Tour.

### Discussion

This study examined the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy on two professional golf tours from 2006-2009. Based upon independent analyses on Par 4 and Par 5 holes for each tour, the findings indicated that the relative importance of driving distance and driving accuracy varied by both tour and type of hole.
Other researchers have recently investigated the physical (1,9) and mental (4) effects of aging on the ability of professional golfers to compete at a high level. These studies described the nature of declines that take place with aging as well as compensating offsets, for example, shorter, but more accurate drives. In the present study, one possible explanation for the changing relative importance of driving distance relates to the physical changes that occur as people age. Individuals lose strength and agility over time, which in golf is frequently demonstrated by both shorter and more accurate drives. However, for Champions’ Tour golfers this improvement in driving accuracy is not enough to offset the loss in driving distance which, in turn, results in higher scoring averages. On long Par 4 holes, a short drive for these players means fewer birdie opportunities because it is more difficult to reach the green in regulation. For PGA Tour golfers, a relatively short drive on a lengthy Par 4 hole is not necessarily an impediment to reaching the green in regulation, even if the tee shot does not come to rest on the fairway.
This study also demonstrated that the drive was relatively more important to a golfer’s overall performance than was previously thought based upon a number of similar studies. This increased level of relative importance could be attributed, in part, to the fact that in the present analysis, separate scoring averages on Par 4 and Par 5 holes were used rather than a single scoring average based upon all 18 holes. Additionally, by conducting the analysis in two phases, it was shown that approximately half of the total explained variability in scoring average on both Par 4 and Par 5 holes on the Champions’ Tour, and approximately one-third of the total explained variability in scoring average on the PGA Tour, could be directly attributed to the drive alone. These results highlight the need for careful attention to the performance measures that are used in future studies.

### Conclusion

This paper investigated whether driving distance or driving accuracy was more important to a golfer’s performance. The results indicated that the answer to the question depended not only on the type of hole (Par 4 or Par 5), but also on the age of the golfer. For the 50 years of age and over golfer playing on the Champions’ Tour, driving distance was clearly a more important factor regardless of the type of hole. However, for the under 50 years of age golfer on the PGA Tour, driving accuracy was more important on Par 4 holes, while driving distance was more important on Par 5 holes. In addition, the investigation revealed that the quality of the drive in terms of the combined effects of both driving distance and driving accuracy was more important to a golfer’s success on the Champions’ Tour than it was on the PGA Tour.

### Applications in Sport

This study is relevant to all golf teaching professionals because instructors debate the amount of time golfers should spend in practicing their driving techniques. Traditionally, golfers have been told to spend less time on driving and more on other facets of the game. This study has shown that except for young professional golfers, the drive is very important in trying to achieve lower scores.

### References

1. Baker, J., Deakin, J., Horton, S. and Pearce, W. (2007). Maintenance of Skilled Performance with Age: A Descriptive Examination of Professional Golfers. Journal of Aging and Physical Ability, 15, 299-316.

2. Callan, S. & Thomas, J. (2006). Performance in Amateur Golf: An Examination of NCAA Division I Golfers. The Sport Journal, 9, 3. Available online at: <http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/gender-skill-and-performance-amateur-golf-examination-ncaa-division-i-golfers/>.

3. Engelhardt, G.M. (1995). It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive: the myth. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 80, 1135-1138.

4. Fried, Harold O. & Loren W. Tauer. (2009). The impact of age on the ability to perform under pressure: golfers on the PGA tour. Journal of Productivity Analysis. Available online at: <http://www.springerlink.com/content/337g8rv212w45423/?p=7d7abc1e32d744f3906e83014cf31f51&pi=4>.

5. Heiny, E. (2008). Today’s PGA Tour Pro: Long but Not so Straight. Chance, 21, 1, 10-21.

6. Moy, R.L. & Liaw, T. (1998). Determinants of golf tournament earnings. The American Economist, 42, 65-70.

7. Rishe, P. (2001). Differing Rates of Return to Performance. Journal of Sports Economics, 2, 285-296.

8. Shmanske, S. (2000). Gender, Skill and Earnings in Professional Golf. Journal of Sports Economics, 1, 385-200.

9. Tirunch, G. (2010). Age and Winning Professional Golf Tournaments. Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 6, 1. Available online at: <http://www.bepress.com/jqas/vol6/iss1/5/>.

10. Wiseman, F. & Chatterjee, S. (2006). Comprehensive Analysis of Golf Performance on the PGA Tour: 1990-2004. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 102, 109-117.

11. Wiseman, F., Chatterjee, S., Wiseman, D., & Chatterjee, N. (1994). An Analysis of 1992 Performance Statistics for Players on the US PGA Tour, Senior PGA and LPGA Tours, in A. Cochran & M.R. Farrally (Eds.) Science and Golf II. Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf. London: E & FN Spon. Pp. 199-204.

12. Wiseman, F., Habibullah, M., & Yilmaz, M. (2007). A New Method for Ranking Total Driving Performance on the PGA Tour. The Sport Journal, 10, 1. Available online at: <http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/new-method-ranking-total-driving-performance-pga-tour>.

### Corresponding Author

**Frederick Wiseman, Ph.D**
202 Hayden Hall
College of Business Administration
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115
<f.wiseman@neu.edu>
(617) 373-4562

### Author Bios

#### Frederick Wiseman
Frederick Wiseman is Professor of Statistics at the Northeastern University College of Business Administration

#### Mohamed Habibullah
Mohamed Habibullah is a Lecturer in Statistics at the Northeastern University College of Business Administration

#### John Friar
John Friar is Executive Professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Northeastern University College of Business Administration

Print Friendly