What’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.
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!