Golf Through The Ages

Published: Nov 05, 2013 14:11pm EST
By JLangley4, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Nov 05, 2013 @ 02:41pm EST


Golf is a game that can be played in many different ways, from the player who mash the ball off the tee to get as far down the fairway as possible, to those who lay back and play strategically.

In today's game, there are players who are freaks of nature who have the uncanny ability to drive a golf ball over 300 yards with no problem. There are still players who choose to lay the ball back in the fairway, and pick and choose their spots when being aggressive, but that isn't as exciting.

The biggest comparison in modern golf is Tiger Woods to the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus has won 18 major championships, the measure of all great golfers. Woods is second on the list with 14 majors, but has surpassed the Golden Bear in total PGA tour wins with 79.

Many argue to this day that Woods has no excuse for not winning more major championships, as there is a decrease in talent from when Nicklaus played the game. While the argument may have validity to it, there are other factors that go into this discussion, like the style of play of golfers now in comparison to 1980, when statistics for the PGA tour began being collected.

Here are some things to look at in the discussion.

Training regimens for tour players.

Before the era of Tiger Woods, many believed it wasn't necessary to work out to improve your golf game. It was a common belief that working out would hurt the golf swing, causing players to avoid working out.

Enter Tiger Woods in 1996. He was thin when he entered the tour, but he worked out like a football player, and the results showed. No player on tour could drive the ball further, and Woods was able to hit shots from the toughest of lays, well over the normal distance of others.

Back in the time of Nicklaus, it wasn't commonplace to work out to improve your golf game, and it shows in the driving distances.

In 1980. 32 players averaged less than 250 yards on their drives off the tee. 84 players averaged 250-260 yards, 53 players averaged 260-270 yards, while just six averaged 270-280 yards.

No player came close to averaging 300 yards on their drive. Not one player averaged over 280 yards.

By contrast, in 2011, only one player averaged 260-270 yards on their drive. 84 players averaged 290-300 yards on their drives, with 21 players averaging over 300 yards on their drives. The difference between the time periods is staggering. Players in todays game must have a better wedge game to succeed. Longer drives set up for more wedges or short irons. With shorter drives the long irons (5 or 6 irons) come into play, which makes it hard to generate much spin.

Driving Accuracy.

This is an area where there is a vast difference between the past and the present. In 2013, Jerry Kelly led the tour with a 71.81% driving accuracy. Steve Stricker was third at 70.65%, with Tiger Woods, the player who won the most tournaments that season, in 69th at 62.5%.

In comparison, Mike Reid led the tour at 79.45% in 1980, with Jack Nicklaus placing 13th at 71.57%. The contrast is incredible. Tiger Woods was able to win five tournaments with a driving accuracy percentage 17 points lower than that of Reid.

The moral of the story is this: longer drives help those who don't drive accurately. They are closer to the hole, allowing them to use wedges to get out of trouble. In 1980, if the driving accuracy was low, wins were not a given. Strategic play was necessary for success.

Greens In Regulation (GIR).

There is one area where there isn't a giant gap between the generations, and greens in regulation is that category. In 2013, Henrik Stenson led the tour with a 71.96% greens in regulation. In 1980, Jack Nicklaus led the tour with a 72.11% greens in regulation, a difference of just .15%.

Mike Reid played more holes that season, so for a bigger sample size, Reid hit 71.60% greens in regulation, hitting 1,379 greens on 1,926 holes.

The story of greens in regulations is simple: you must hit greens to win tournaments. This is an argument that doesn't change over time.


Putting is where rounds can be made. The difference between putting in the early 90's and present day is remarkable. In 2013, Brian Gay led the tour with a putting average of 1.528 putts per green, with 2,173 putts on 1,404 holes. Tiger Woods, the winner of five tournaments in one season as previously mentioned, averaged 1.603 putts per green, while Phil Mickelson averaged 1.587 putts per green.

Ian Baker-Finch led the 1992 tour with a putting average of 1.364, with 1,473 putts on 1,080 holes. Russ Cochran had the same putting average as 2013 leader Brian Gay, 1.528, and he placed 58th that season.

Putting is a very important part of the game of golf, but longer drives have made up strokes for players on the tour in present day. The scoring average from 2013 is a bit lower than that of 1980. Steve Stricker led the tour with a 68.95 scoring average, with Tiger Woods placing second at 68.98.

In 1980, Lee Trevino led the tour with a scoring average of 69.73 with Jack Nicklaus having a scoring average of 71.0 per round.

Moral of the story? The talent is not necessarily down in the PGA tour. The style of play is vastly different from the past, causing players to prepare in different ways. Golfers are putting the ball further down the fairway, causing wedge play to become an increasingly important aspect of the game.

The current scoring averages being lower with a higher putting average than in the past tells the difference long drives have had on the game. Technology and workout routines have contributed to this, creating a totally different game from that played in the 1980's and 90's.


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