Driving The Golf Ball – Length Vs Accuracy

Long DriveWhat’s more important, length or accuracy?  Been having a couple interesting dialogs with Jim at The Grateful Golfer and Jimmy at Tiger Golf Traveler on the challenges of driving and figured it was time to take a closer look at the dichotomy.  Let’s approach from the two perspectives of the tour professional and amateur player, which are very different, and often get munged together to create great confusion.  First the pro.  The current PGA Tour driving distance average is 290.8 yards.  This has steadily increased from slightly over 260 yards in 1993 to 287 yards in 2003 and leveled off since.  The reason was three-fold:  first was the introduction of the trampoline effect on the driver face (new technology), second was the introduction of the three-piece golf ball, and finally was the muscling up and year round conditioning of today’s tour players pioneered by Tiger Woods.  As a result, the PGA Tour has steadily lengthened its venues to maintain the competitive integrity of the game.  No doubt, length has won out over accuracy on tour as the world’s best are more deadly accurate with their approaches using wedges out of the rough than short to middle irons from the fairway.

What’s fascinating is that the playing public has access to the same equipment that the best in the world have, but for some reason they expect to boom drives in the same fashion that their heroes on TV do.  How often have you seen the guy at the driving range banging bucket after bucket over the 300 yard sign with sweat dripping from his brow and a great look of satisfaction on his face?  Or maybe that person is you???  Here’s where perception and reality are out of whack because the tour pro’s misses are far less off-line than the amateur’s and what the pro can do with his game at the other end of the drive differs considerably from the amateur.   To put it differently, given a 36oz. wooden bat and a softly tossed baseball, would you be able to stand at the plate and swat home runs like Chris Davis or Jose Bautista?  Of course not.Crush

As a young amateur, I had a laminated Top Flite driver that would almost never miss the fairway.  I couldn’t drive it over 220 yards but was incredibly straight.  In my 20s I took a couple lessons with a pro who firmed up my left side during the downswing.  Part of that instruction included strengthening my left hand grip which allowed me to generate more power through better leverage.  Well that worked and the ball started flying farther but far more crooked and I have never regained the accuracy with the big stick.  Oddly enough, in last two years, I have started driving it better just focusing on making a good shoulder turn going back.  But the bottom line for this amateur: the game is far more enjoyable if you stay out of trouble off the tee, even if that means sacrificing some distance.

So my final recommendation:  Let the equipment companies continue to try and sell you a new $400 driver every year with the promise of a few more magical yards but don’t buy it.  Invest half that much and get a professional driver fitting with a reputable club maker.  He’ll make sure the driver you are playing has the correct shaft flexibility, is not too long, and lets you keep it in the short grass.

Where do you fall in the length vs accuracy spectrum?  Play well!

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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9 Responses to Driving The Golf Ball – Length Vs Accuracy

  1. I think this thought process can change from hole to hole. It depends on how you are playing and the type of hole you are playing. But you are right accuracy is the key, just ask the USGA. That,s why the typical long knocks on the tour rarely win a U. S. Open. Somebody like Bubba Watson should probably never hit more than a 5 wood off the tee in a U. S. Open but refuses to do it and thus is hardly ever in contention and just complains.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Vet, of course last year being the exception with the tournament being contested on the surface of the moon. So glad they returning to a traditional venue this year. Thanks!

      Brian

  2. Sully says:

    Brian,
    I agree that when it comes to driving the ball too much emphasis is put on distance. While getting 10-15 extra yards is always nice, it’s not worth sacrificing your accuracy for it. Interesting statistic about how average drives on the tour have gotten further and further over time.

    -Sully

    • Brian Penn says:

      Sully,
      If players would game plan each hole and simply strive for solid contact instead of muscling up on every drive, they would probably hit the ball farther and straighter. It’s hard to change the mindset with the driver away from “hit it as far as I can” but that’s a key to successful driving.

      Thanks for the comment and play well!

      Brian

  3. Brian,
    I couldn’t agree with you more about amateurs focusing on accuracy over distance. Although it’s fun to bomb it, it probably won’t help their scores like it can the pros since, like you said, they have a very different game after they hit their drive and wont’ reap the rewards of being a few yards closer. Hitting it further off the tee always sounds great, but as soon as you do, you eliminate a lot of lines off the tee you used to have which would put you in the short grass. Now you’re in the rough, bunkers or trees on some of those lines.

    Cheers!
    Josh

  4. If you can hit it 300 then great, that can lead to lower scores due to proximity. However, if you are like me you are probably better served with a smooth 240-250 in the fairway. As long as you don’t play the 7300 yard tees you should be good. Smooth swing and pick the right tees. Thanks for the shout out.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jimmy great point about the right set of tees. One of the biggest problems leading to slow play is golfers thinking they can play from the tips when they should be one or two sets up. Personally, I look for a set between 6,300 and 6,800 as a good challenging length. There’s not much enjoyment for me playing from 7,300 and having to hit 3WD into all the par-4s. Thanks!

      Brian

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