By Robert Bicknell

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April 30, 2006

USGA blows away myths…

One of the reasons that I prefer the United States Golf Association (USGA) over the R&A is because the USGA loves to conduct tests. They test everything almost to the point of absurdity. Nothing is too small to escape scrutiny. On the other hand, the R&A seemingly regard tests as a prostate exam on a cold foggy morning.

Yes, I’m in a grouchy mood from not playing enough golf, can’t you tell?

Anyway, the USGA decided to investigate some popular myths about golf equipment and performance. Perhaps, they should create a new full-time department – USGA Myth Busters. The results are quite interesting.

Here are the results as posted by the USGA’s Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge.

Myth : Golfers with faster swing speeds get disproportionately greater distance benefits from new golf balls that have been introduced after 2000.

False. Physics, scientific tests, and actual results on the PGA Tour all confirm that faster swinging players have not gained a disproportionate amount of distance from modern golf balls.  An example: Corey Pavin, the shortest hitter in 2000, gained about the same amount of distance from 2000 to 2005 (7.4 yards) as the longest (John Daly at 8.7 yards). 

Myth : Golf ball distance is not currently limited. 

False.  Golf ball distance has been regulated since 1976 and golf ball rebound characteristics have been regulated since the 1940s.  In 2004, the USGA updated its testing methodology to more closely reflect the athleticism and clubs of today's Tour pros. All golf balls played on Tour and the vast majority of golf balls sold have passed the USGA’s distance limit test.

Myth : Driving distance on Tour is increasing rapidly.

False.  While average PGA Tour driving distance significantly increased over the past 10 years, it has levelled off during the past three.  The average increase since the level of 2003 to the current level in 2006 is only about 1 yard per year.

Myth : The longest hitters on the PGA Tour finish higher on the money list.

False.  While some long-driving professionals have been very successful, on average, the top 10 driving distance players have actually been falling down on the money list in recent years.  From 1980-85 the average rank was 64.2; in 2000-2005 it was 77.1. The second worst single year average rank on the money list of the longest 10 drivers was in 2004 with an average rank of 103.3. 

Myth : Most of the PGA Tour professionals swing at 120 mph or more.

False.  The average swing speed on the PGA Tour is approximately 113 mph.  There are some who swing at or higher than 120 mph, but they are clearly in the minority.

Myth : The USGA ball test doesn't control ball distance well enough because actual pro golfer swings are different than the test method. 

False.  The test method employed by the USGA, using a 120 mph swing speed, is representative of the swing conditions used by the longer PGA Tour professionals.  The USGA tests balls like the PGA Tour pros hit balls. 

Myth : The average distance for 5-irons on Tour is more than 200 yards.

False.  The PGA Tour Shotlink system, which records virtually all shots throughout the season, shows that the average 5-iron shot from fairway to green is approximately 185 yards.  From the tee on par threes, the average 5-iron distance is about 197 yards. 

Myth : You get more distance when you put topspin on a drive.

False.  Every normally struck drive has backspin. Backspin generates lift and keeps the ball in the air.  You can put topspin on a ball – but only when you 'top' the ball.  It will go a very short distance and dive into the ground. 

Myth : Accuracy off the tee isn’t as important as it used to be on the PGA Tour.

That’s no myth, it’s true.  During the '80s driving accuracy was almost as strong a predictor of money-winning as putting.  Today it has fallen to the lowest level ever. 

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