The PGA Tour’s Rising Driver Ball Speeds Mean One Thing – $$

Rory McIlroy hitting a drive

In modern golf it seems you can’t watch a PGA event on TV these days without the commentary quickly turning to the subject of distance and especially driver distance.

And because ball speed is the single biggest factor in determining the distance a golf ball actually carries the ball speeds of the top pros are consistently flashed on the screen as they smash their latest tee shot.

So given the importance of ball speed in golf today we thought it was time to take a look at the average driver ball speeds on the PGA Tour.

The average driver ball speed on the PGA Tour is 172.72mph according to the latest Shotlink stats. This represents a 0.86mph rise on the Tour average of 171.86mph at the end of the 2022 season and is 7.36mph more than the 165.36mph PGA Tour average recorded in 2007 when Shotlink began to track this metric.

But when you delve a bit deeper into the ball speed numbers amongst the top PGA and LPGA Tour pros the pattern that emerges is fascinating and the reason why the best athletes – for that is what they are now – are now constantly searching for ever more ball speed is laid bare.

And what is more, it seems absolutely clear that this quest for more ball speed amongst the top pros is not going to stop any time soon!

Chart of the money won by average ball speed on the PGA Tour from 2007 to 2018

More Ball Speed on the PGA Tour = More Distance = More Money!

When a trend is seen in any sport, and especially when money is involved, the obvious question that follows is what is the reason behind it.

As we have already noted the average ball speed on the PGA Tour has been steadily rising over the last number of years, and continues to do so, therefore it is safe to assume that given there are millions of dollars in prize money at stake that there is a good reason why this is the case.

Some may point to the fact that based on the average numbers we have highlighted, ball speeds have only increased by a seemingly minor 0.49mph per year from 2007 until 2022, but while this is indeed a small number, it makes a big big difference to PGA Tour players.

Pro tip: Ball speed is the single biggest factor in how far a golf ball ‘actually‘ carries and is not to be confused with club/swing speed which is the key factor for determining a golfer’s ‘potential‘ distance. Ball speed is often judged by ‘smash factor’ which is calculated by dividing ball speed by club/swing speed. The closer the smash factor to the perfect score of 1.5 the better the energy transfer from the club to the ball.

And the simple reason for that is that more ball speed means more distance.

And more distance has been clearly identified by the golf stats gurus as a crucial element in the difference between the scores of all standards of golfers including the best pros in the world.

As Professor Mark Broadie, the godfather of modern golf stats, is quoted as saying – “Golfers who can’t hit it long and straight never even make it to the tour. You need to drive the ball longer than 280 yards to have any chance of competing on the PGA Tour.”

So for all the talk in traditional golf circles of how you drive for show but putt for dough the hard reality amongst elite golfers on the PGA Tour, or any professional golf tour for that matter, is that you have to hit the ball a long way to succeed.

Therefore given a gain of 1mph of ball speed can increase a drive distance by up to 2 yards according to Trackman – and that for pros an extra 20 yards of driving distance is worth about three-quarters of a stroke per round – it is immediately apparent why they keep focusing on improving their driver ball speed number.

3/4 of a stroke per round may not sound very much but for a PGA Tour pro it could mean hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in increased prize money.

Golfing Focus graph of the year on year comparison of average ball speeds on the PGA Tour from 2010 to 2022

In 2022 for example Cameron Young was 10th on the money list with over $6.5 million in prize money and a scoring average of 69.84. Adam Hadwin’s scoring average by comparison was 70.59 which left him 49th on the list and take home money of just over $2.5 million.

Or to look at it another way that 3/4 (0.75) of a stroke difference over the course of the season cost Adam Hadwin around $4 million!

Not that we should feel too bad for pro golfers who earn millions of dollars but the key point to take away is simply this.

On the PGA Tour more ball speed equals more distance which in turn means more prize money.

Being amongst the top PGA Tour pros in terms of driver ball speed is therefore obviously vital to success and now all the best players in the world are clearly aware of this they are going to continue to push the boundaries to achieve more and more ball speed with their driver.

And just to emphasize how much PGA Tour pros are now focused on driver ball speed you need only look at the number of them averaging a driver ball speed of 170mph on tour over the years which is something that used to put pros into the elite.

Today it’s not even average and as we can see from the table below it’s a ball speed that will more than likely cost a PGA pro his place on the tour!

(2022 SEASON)
Top 20177.31 mph+5.45 mph
Top 50174.82 mph+2.96 mph
Top 100173.63 mph+1.77 mph
Top 125 (Kept Tour Card)173.41 mph+1.55 mph
Bottom 122 (Lost Tour Card)170.68 mph-1.18 mph
Source: PGA Tour (Shotlink)
Golfing Focus chart of the number of PGA Tour pros with over 170mph of driver ball speed from 2009 to 2022

[Note – If you are interested in our delve into the topic of how far amateur driver ball speeds should go ranging from 100mph and up check out our other top article here.]

What is the Fastest Driver Ball Speed on the PGA Tour?

Although average driver speeds are all very well when it comes to talking about anything to do with speed people quickly want to know who is the fastest.

And with driver ball speed on the PGA Tour golfers are no different.

The fastest ‘average’ PGA Tour driver ball speed is 190.94mph and was set by Cameron Champ over the 2020-21 season. The fastest ‘individual’ ball speed on tour of 199.55mph was recorded by Bryson DeChambeau again in 2020-21 but DeChambeau has reached a ball speed of 219mph in world long drive championship competition.

A quick glance through the fastest driver ball speeds on the PGA Tour since 2007 reads like a who’s who of the long drivers in the world of golf in recent times but even these supremely fast numbers almost pale into insignificance when we take a look at the ball speeds of the long drive specialists.

2007182.88 mph (Bubba Watson)189.69 mph (J.B.Holmes)
2008184.35 mph (J.B.Holmes)188.75 mph (J.B.Holmes)
2009183.73 mph (Bubba Watson)189.09 mph (Bubba Watson)
2010182.61 mph (Bubba Watson)188.19 mph (Bubba Watson)
2011185.73 mph (J.B.Holmes)190.79 mph (J.B.Holmes)
2012184.98 mph (Bubba Watson)192.21 mph (Bubba Watson)
2013-14183.48 mph (Bubba Watson)188.95 mph (Andrew Loupe)
2014-15184.54 mph (Bubba Watson)188.80 mph (Tony Finau)
2015-16184.57 mph (Andrew Loupe)190.24 mph (Andrew Loupe)
2016-17186.79 mph (Brendon Hagy)190.50 mph (Brendon Hagy)
2017-18182.22 mph (Trey Mullinax)187.50 mph (Keith Mitchell)
2018-19190.70 mph (Cameron Champ)198.91 mph (Cameron Champ)
2019-20189.18 mph (Cameron Champ)197.59 mph (Bryson DeChambeau)
2020-21190.94 mph (Cameron Champ)199.55 mph (Bryson DeChambeau)
2021-22188.94 mph (Cameron Champ)194.64 mph (Cameron Champ)
Source: PGA Tour (Shotlink)

Two-time World Long Drive champion Kyle Berkshire, who unbelievably has hit a drive in competition that almost reached the 500-yard mark (yup, you read that right!), broke the Trackman ball-speed record with an astonishing 236.2mph hit in December 2022.

And unbelievably since that time that record has been broken not once but twice!

Firstly by Berkshire himself at the end of March 2023 with a recorded ball speed of 236.8mph but then again by reigning World Long Drive champ – Martin Borgmeier – who smashed a new world record ball speed of 239.3mph at the beginning of April 2023.

Putting that into context that is an average ball speed roughly 50mph faster than Rory McIlroy’s average on tour, over 53mph more than Jon Rahm’s and almost 59mph faster than Justin Thomas’.

What should be noted though is that compared to the long-driving specialists like Kyle Berkshire the pros on the PGA Tour are more than likely not hitting their drives at top speed when you watch them play tournaments.

To maintain control they will often dial back from what they could achieve should they really go for it with driver and focus purely on achieving the highest ball speed number they can while not worrying at all about where the ball goes.

So when you next watch your favourite players on TV just bear in mind that as Jon Rahm ably demonstrates in the clip below they more than likely have more in the tank!

And what about the great Tiger Woods?

You would think that following his serious car crash in early 2021, in the aftermath of which it looked possible he could lose his leg, that a modern game focused on ever-increasing ball speed would now simply get away from him.

And especially when you consider that in the last event he played in prior to the accident, the 2020 Zozo Championship, he averaged a mere 168.5mph driver ball speed and reached a maximum of 171mph.

Unbelievably however in the first round of the 2023 Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club in California, Woods produced an average driver ball speed of 177.6mph, hitting a max of 180mph on not one but two occasions.

Set against the current PGA Tour ball speed average of 172.72mph it seems arguably the greatest golfer ever to play the game is not going to let the younger generation leave him in the slow lane of ball speeds quite yet!

[Note – To find out how the best pros in the world hit the ball so far check out our detailed analysis on this topic here.]

Lady professional golfer hitting driver

What About the Average LPGA Tour Driver Ball Speed?

When it comes to the professional game the talk is typically dominated by the men’s game.

However when we turn our attention to the LPGA Tour we can quickly see that when it comes to driving distance and the speeds associated with making that happen the same trend can be seen amongst the best women golfers in the world.

Since the great Laura Davies topped the LPGA Tour driving chart in 1993 with an average distance of close to 255 yards, Emily Pedersen has added another 30 yards to that mark 20 years later.

And that means driver ball speeds have been rising on the LPGA Tour also.

The average driver ball speed on the LPGA Tour is now 140mph according to Trackman. World No.1 Lydia Ko averages this speed while longer hitters including Nelly Korda produce ball speeds over 150mph. The longest driver in 2022, Maria Fassi, records ball speeds of 156mph on average.

While these numbers are well short of their male counterparts they show the best women pros are equally focused on distance and driving up their ball speed numbers.

And given the similarity in swing speeds also between the average male golfer and LPGA Tour pros it would often serve regular players far better to see what they can learn from the top pros on the LPGA Tour versus the PGA Tour.

While the average male amateur averages around 219 yards with their driver LPGA Tour pros average a total driver distance of 257 yards with an almost identical club/swingspeed.

That’s an enormous difference of 38 yards and is evidenced clearly by the better ball speeds the top women pros achieve based on their superior ball striking compared to regular amateurs.

So if you’re a regular male amateur player and looking at ball speeds you should probably be comparing yourself against the ball speeds produced by LPGA Tour pros, a selection of whose speeds are detailed on the table below.

(140 mph)
Nelly Korda153 mph+13 mph
Lydia Ko140 mph
Brooke Henderson148 mph+8 mph
Lexi Thomson152 mph+12 mph
Emily Pedersen150 mph+10 mph
Maria Fassi156 mph+16 mph

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