How Do Pros Hit the Ball So Far? It’s Not About the Equipment!

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Dustin Johnson hitting driver

The start of every golf season is always the same these days.

The marketing teams of the main club manufacturers go into overdrive and spend a bunch of dollars advertising the latest driver in their range which will it feels ‘guarantee’ us an extra 10 if not 20 yards of distance off the tee.

After all, the top pros on the PGA and LPGA Tours are hitting the ball such a long way and using that new driver so it makes sense therefore for us to think that is the reason the pros hit the ball so far and so much further than us regular amateur players.

But is that the real reason the pros get so much distance?

As a whole pros hit the ball so far because they are skilled athletes and play on the best conditioned courses. Athletic golf skills maximise swing speed and therefore distance while the agronomy of the fairways means the ball runs further. Equipment is only a minor factor in why they hit the ball much further than amateurs.

But surely the golf manufacturers would not tell outright falsehoods when it comes to their latest equipment?

No they don’t and we are not saying for one moment that equipment does not explain to any degree why the best PGA and LPGA Tour pros get so much distance.

Having the latest driver, and especially latest shaft, will certainly not do any golfer any harm when it comes to how far they hit it, but when it comes to the professional ranks equipment is not the main differentiator and certainly not when it comes to explaining why they hit it so much further than regular amateur golfers.

[Top tip: Improving your fitness and swing speed will make a huge difference to how far you hit the ball and has the potential to add 20 to 30 yards to drives and an extra club throughout the bag. If you want to know how you can achieve this check out two of the best ‘golf training’ programs that can get you there:

“I’ve been doing [The Stack System] religiously week in and week out … I’ll be honest, it’s worked wonders. I feel like maybe three years ago … and I was playing with Will in the final group, I’d be concerned that I’m going to be 15, 20 [yards] behind him. And I felt comfortable all day that I was going to be past him, which to me, gives me confidence obviously going into the next shot knowing that you’ve got less club.”

Matt Fitzpatrick, 2022 US Open Champion

Equipment is a Minor Reason Why Pros Hit It So Much Further

Golf’s governing bodies – the USGA and R&A – have been worried about how far the pros hit the ball for a while now.

In fact, so worried are they about the huge distances the pros get with their clubs, and drives in particular, that they now commission an Annual ‘Distance Insights Report’ “to study the past, present and future impacts of hitting distance in golf.”

These reports have stirred up a huge amount of debate in recent times and got many people arguing for rule changes to stop what is felt by some as the unsustainable increase in distance the top pros are hitting the ball.

But before we get to the reasons why the pros get so much distance let’s quickly confirm just how much further the best pros on the PGA and LPGA Tours are hitting it than us average amateur players.

And a look at data from Arccos, Golf’s first Artificial Intelligence platform whose caddie product measured a total of close to 30 million shots played by amateurs in 2021, shows the distance gap is a huge one.

Graphic of average driving distances of amateur golfers compared to PGA and LPGA Tour pros.
PGA Tour pros drive the ball 77.6 yards further than amateur golfers on average. LPGA Tour pros hit it 38.7 yards further.

[Note – If you are interested in Arccos – Golf’s first artificial intelligence shot tracking platform – and getting an exact idea of how far you hit the ball so you choose the right club every time click here to get 15% off when you use our discount code – GOLFINGFOCUS15. Recognised by Golf Digest Editor’s awards 5 years running Arccos’ members improve by an average of 5 strokes in their first year of membership!]

Compared to the average amateur the ‘average’ PGA Tour pro is driving the ball a massive 77.6 yards further than the ‘average’ amateur while on the LPGA Tour the ‘average’ women pros are gaining 38.7 yards on their amateur friends.

These are huge differences before you even start to look at the biggest hitters on the PGA and LPGA Tours where the longest players are hitting the ball 320 yards and 290.8 yards respectively on average.

As to the reasons for these differences the contributors to how far the pros hit the ball can be broadly grouped into three categories:

  1. Equipment
  2. The player
  3. The course.

And while you may expect equipment to be the top reason why pros hit the ball the reality is very different.

Yes the pros do have access to the very latest equipment, and yes it is custom fitted to a highly detailed degree to their swing, but the truth of the matter is that all the main gains which have come from equipment since golf tech exploded in the early 1990s have already been realised long before now.

[Note – To see how much a club fitting costs check out our detailed analysis here.]

Cool fact: The average driver volume increased from an average of 200 cm3 in 1997 to over 400 cm3 by 2004.

USGA Distance Insights Report

The oversized driver revolution began as far back as 1991 with the introduction of Callaway’s Big Bertha driver after which titanium drivers soon became widespread.

Both these elements, facilitated by developments in manufacturing techniques, enabled the emergence of large hollow metal clubs which significantly improved distance performance over the wooden persimmon clubs they replaced.

Next in the early 2000s came the replacement of old wound golf balls with the multi-layer, solid-core golf balls that are universal today.

And by spinning considerably less this golf ball evolution was the next important factor that increased driver shot distance for the simple reason that decreases in spin can contribute directly to increases in distance.

For substantial distance increases, we’re done in driver head design. There won’t be any other new metal that will be discovered, any new kind of weighting or construction of the head that will increase the ball speed over the 1.5 smash factor that COR controls in the rules …. In terms of the drivers the player’s can’t hit it any further than they’re hitting it right now because they are all locked on the limit.

Tom Wishon, industry leader in the research of golf club design

The big increases in hitting distance which resulted for the pros from these key equipment design changes caused the USGA and R&A to introduce a series of rule changes in 2003 to limit a whole range of club features such as spring-like effect, length, size and volume.

The effect of these rules in placing limits on the technology (through the coefficient of restitution or COR of the clubhead) and the subsequent small incremental developments which have occurred since, have caused club makers today to say that they have pretty much exhausted the science when it comes to driver design.

The current COR basically restricts how much a driver is allowed to translate club head speed (i.e. the speed at which players swing the club) into ball speed.

This so-called ‘smash factor’ – ball speed divided by club head speed – has therefore been limited to 1.5 for the past 20 years or so and as a result we can see that equipment is no longer the driving reason why the pros continue to get extra distance compared to us mere mortals in today’s game.

When it comes to the distance debate the focus is naturally always on the driver but irons have changed too in the last several decades.

The pros are also hitting their irons far into the distance and at unimaginable distances compared to amateur players.

Equipment has again played a small part in explaining how far PGA pros hit their irons so far but once more it is only an element of the story.

On average iron club lofts have decreased by 4º since 1980 at the same time as the length of irons has increased and both these factors help explain how pro golfers hit their irons so far. Improved player fitness and increased swing speeds are however bigger factors in why pros hit their irons so much further than amateurs.

Graph of the change in golf iron lofts from 1965 to 2020
Typical iron lofts have changed over the years
Graph of the change in golf iron lengths from 1965 to 2020
Increases in iron lengths have also led to increased distances

The ‘Distance Insights Report’ graphs above show how iron lofts and lengths have changed in recent decades and combined with better iron design including perimeter weighting these changes have clearly contributed to increased iron hitting distances by the top pros.

However to assign the lion’s share of the huge distance gains the pros enjoy over the rest of us to equipment is overestimating its impact and underestimating the effect that golfers turning themselves into athletes has made when it comes to explaining why they hit the ball so far.

[Note – If you are interested in what drivers the pros are using we have done a detailed analysis on the clubs being used by the top 100 PGA Tour players which you can check out here. If you want to know what irons are being used by the top 100 players on the PGA Tour click here.]

Fitness is a Key Reason Modern Day Pros Get So Much Distance

In recent times no pro golfer has been more linked with golf’s distance debate than Bryson DeChambeau.

After adding a reported three stone in weight – mostly in muscle mass – in time for the start of the 2020 season his stock yardages have increased hugely and at the 2020 Ryder Cup resulted in him crushing a 417-yard drive on the par-5 5th hole, leaving him just 72 yards to the flag!

In short by focusing on his fitness and working on the speed of his swing and how hard he hits the ball DeChambeau has been able to transform his game

And GolfTV’s graphic below gives a clear idea of just how much of an impact this program has made on his stock yardages.

Graphic comparing Bryson DeChambeau's stock yardages in 2015 and 2021.

Indeed DeChambeau’s distance gains, and the manner of his 2020 US Open victory by 6 shots where he overpowered the notoriously tough and long West Course at Winged Foot, has influenced other top PGA pros, including 4-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

After getting a close view of DeChambeau’s strategy to use a fitness and swing speed regime to ensure success by hitting the ball further than anyone else McIlroy started to chase extra swing and clubhead speed and distance himself in order to improve his game by adding weight.

While McIlroy subsequently abandoned this approach deciding that he feels “better when I’m lighter [and gets] a little more speed” the link between a pro’s fitness and how hard pro golfers swing is now well established and a key factor in explaining how pros hit the ball so far in the modern game.

On average PGA pros swing with a club head speed of 114 mph with the longest hitters such as Bryson DeChambeau generating 125 mph of speed. LPGA pros by comparison swing less hard at an average of 94 mph while professional competitors in the World Long Driving Competition generate speeds of upwards of 140 mph.

And the simple reason why the best pro golfers in the world are looking to use their fitness regimes to develop increased swing speed to hit the ball ever increasing distances is that the stats clearly show distance matters when it comes to scoring.

Columbia Business School Professor and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics adopted by the PGA Tour, Professor Mark Broadie, has analysed millions of golf shots.

And presenting his analysis in his fantastic book ‘Every Shot Counts’ he found that an extra 20 yards of driving distance is worth about 3/4 of a stroke per round for pros. (Check out our full review of Professor Broadie’s golf-changing book here.)

That may not sound a lot but at the top level of the game that adds up to 3 strokes per 72-hole tournament which over the course of a season will add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money!

And Dr Broadie’s analysis also shows driving distance is more important than driving accuracy and a quick read of the statistic below quoted by former European Ryder Captain, Paul McGinley, only serves to emphasise this point.

“Of the leading 100 players in the world rankings as of first of January 2020 only one of those ranked in the top hundred in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour. So it’s not that important to hit the ball straight anymore but it’s really important to hit it a long way.”

Paul McGinley, former European Ryder Cup Captain

When it comes to us amateur players that same 20-yard distance gain is worth nearly 3 strokes to the typical 115-scoring golfer, 2.3 strokes to the 100-scoring player, 1.6 strokes to 90-scorers and 1.3 strokes to 80 scoring players.

So in summary extra driving distance has an impact on every level of golfer and the most impact on the highest scoring players.

Therefore if you are looking for a way to hit the ball further to take advantage of the scoring gains on offer as outlined by Professor Broadie one key way is to focus on improving your strength and fitness.

The pros are heading to the gym more and more for a reason and it’s something you can also do to help hit the ball further and improve your scores.

“You will be shocked at the amount of distance you will gain if you are currently doing nothing. I have a number of friends who have gone through speed training and fitness training and it’s not uncommon to see 20 to 30 yards longer with the driver and a club longer through the bag. It is well worth your investment in time if you want to get better.

Lou Stagner, Golf Stat Pro, Arccos Data Insights Lead, Co-Host of ‘Hack It Out Golf’ podcast

[Note – For more ideas on how you can get better using the same swing you have now check out our article – 16 Top Tips To Get Better at Golf Without Lessons.]

Pro Golfers Get More Distance by Playing on Better Courses

When it comes to explaining why pro golfers hit the ball so far and so much further than regular amateur golfers another key factor is the conditions of the golf courses they play on.

At the four majors, and on the PGA Tour and other tours throughout the world, the pros are not only playing on the most famous courses in the world but also those courses in the best condition they can possibly be.

Unlike us regular amateur golfers you never see patches of ‘ground under repair’ or areas of waterlogged fairways on the courses the pros are playing on!

Instead you typically see perfectly manicured fairways which will likely be equivalent to the greens amateurs play on at their home club.

And those course conditions make a difference to the distances the pros hit the ball!

In a recent interview on the Hack It Out podcast, 6-time PGA Tour winner Marc Leishman stated that part of his strategy for the upcoming season was simply to try and hit more fairways because he believed he could gain up to 30 yards of distance due to the great condition of the fairways on the PGA Tour.

“I hit it far enough …. I feel like if I can just hit more fairways that will create more distance because the agronomy has gotten so good with golf courses now [that] I think that is a lot of the reason why the golf ball is going so far ….. If you do hit the fairway it runs 30 yards. At Riviera Country Club [The Genesis Invitational] last week those fairways were quick!”

6-time PGA Tour winner Marc Leishman, Hack It Out Podcast

And you only need to look at TaylorMade’s tweet below about their Stealth driver featuring Dustin Johnson to show what impact course conditions can have on distance.

Already one of the long hitters on the PGA Tour without any course assistance DJ’s drive ended up going a massive 422 yards after getting roughly 90 yards of run on the beautifully manicured fairway!

90 yards approx. of run!!

None of these comments about course conditions of course takes anything away from the fundamental reasons that pros hit the ball so far.

And that is simply that their skill, combined with their athleticism and swing speed, means they are already going to hit the ball a long way.

But the quality of the course conditions that they play on week in and week out undoubtedly also has an effect on the distances they hit the ball.

And it’s not just the course conditions that can play a factor. The varying altitudes that the pros play at on various PGA and LPGA Tour events also have an impact on distances.

Picture of Rory McIlroy's stock hitting yardages with each club when playing a golf course at 7500ft above sea level

Take a look for example at the ‘typical’ average stock yardages Rory McIlroy hits the ball on the left above and then the notes taken of his yardages at the World Golf Championships at the Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City on the right.

Club de Golf Chapultepec at its highest point reaches 7,835 feet above sea level.

To put that height in context Muirfield Village in Ohio reaches 910 feet, Augusta reaches 310ft at its highest point and of course Pebble Beach is played pretty much at sea level.

Playing at nearly 8,000 feet we can see that McIlroy is expecting in or around 30 yards extra distance with his driver and woods and many of his irons.

And the premise for this is simple. At higher altitudes, the lower air density creates less lift and drag on the golf ball. This means the ball will fly further.

“It’s pretty crazy how far the ball goes [at Chapultepec]. At least coming from Utah I can relate; it’s going farther here, but playing at altitude at home, I’m a little closer to these numbers than a lot of other guys.”

Tony Finau, 2-time PGA Tour winner who often plays at Victory Ranch, Utah which is around 6,000 feet above sea level

Once again this does not mean that the venues where the pros play explain the vast differences in the distances they hit the ball compared to us mere mortals but as these numbers show they are certainly a big factor to be considered.

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