In contrast to widespread belief, driving distances in golf have not materially changed over the last 10 years. Additionally and also not in line with what many people tend to believe, there is not much of a difference between the European and US PGA tour as far as driving distance is concerned. Last but not least the number of players hitting it on average over the 300 yards has actually declined since 2006!

Average driving distances have not materially changed over the last 10 years. Too often complaints can be heard on the enormous distances that golf professionals drive their golf balls off the tee. This would make their second shot easier and hence make the game less attractive. As a result some courses have lengthened some of their holes. But is it really true? Are the professionals hitting balls any further?  We have analyzed the progression in driving distances over the last 10 years and the conclusion is that average distances have not materially changed. In fact since their peak, they have slightly come down. So in contrast to the nineties, which were characterized by a sharp increase in driving distance, this has not been the case so far in the new millennium.  The table below shows the progression in driving distances on the European and PGA tour. It is noticeable that since the peak in 2006, average driving distances have even marginally come down.

Yards 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
European tour 273,3 280,8 281,8 286,3 286,9 284,9
US PGA tour 273,2 279,3 279,8 286,3 287,2 288,9
Yards 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
European tour 284,1 282,2 284,3 285,9 285,6 286,1
US PGA tour 289,3 289,1 287,7 288,3 287,5 286,3
Source: European Tour, USPGA

No big difference in yardage between Europe and the US. From the table it also becomes clear that distances in Europe and the US are not that different. For some reason there is the misconception that Americans are hitting it further. The table tells the story; the differences between the official European Tour and the US PGA are actually negligible. How about the number of golfers hitting balls further than 300 yards on a structural basis? Since 2004 there have been on average a higher number of Americans surpassing this mark. However the European have made up the gap over the last few years. For both it is noticeable that the number of longhitters has come down since 2005.

Players >300 yds 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Europe 0 2 4 16 15 12
US PGA 1 1 1 9 15 26
Players >300 yds 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Europe 12 4 9 8 10 9
US PGA 20 18 13 13 12 7
Source: European Tour, USPGA

Lets end with some fun! Who are the notorious long- and shorthitters on the different tours? To begin with the difference in distance between the longest and shortest hitter can be substantial and has averaged around the 50 yards during the last 10 years and that is substantial; the difference between a wedge and a mid-iron. So who wins the category of the shortest hitter on tour? In the US the award goes to Corey Pavin, who dominated this category for many years in a row. His role now seems to be taken over by Brian Gay. Pavin did not hit the ball much further than 260 yards or around 234 meters, so there is hope for all of you out there! In Europe it is the Frenchman Christian Cevear showing remarkable consistency in ending at the bottom as far as yardage is concerned. Well then, the big hitters! They are the ones getting all the publicity and it should be of no surprise that Alvaro Quiros is the man as of lately. Before his reign it was Angel Cabrera together with less familiar names such as Emanuele Canonica and Titch Moore who dominated  the rankings. The latter is record holder; he managed to hit 316.7 yards on average in 2005. In the US the Daly era is long gone. The household names here are JB Holmes, Robert Garrigus, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson but surprisingly enough none of them holds the record! That is held by Hank Kuehne, who managed to hit an average of 321.4 yards in 2003.

When glancing through the list of European’s best ranked playing golf professionals, one always has the impression it mainly contains golfers from the UK, Sweden, Spain and a few lost Frenchmen and Danes. Intuitively the explanation is likely to be found in the number of golf courses and the number of active players in these countries. The UK has by far the largest number of both and hence it should not surprise they are at the top of the list in both categories.  However, it would be nice to see  which country would rank first in terms of number of playing professionals vis a vis the country’s golfing population and number of courses. Would the UK still rank first? The following table (sources: EGA, KPMG, World PGA Rankings)  summarizes this relationship and the surprising conclusion is that Italy ranks first!

Country Players Courses Partici-
Golfers per
per course
Pros as %
of players
Pros per
Italy 100317 269 0,173% 373 216083 58,0 15 0,0150% 0,056
UK&Ireland 1369448 2993 2,206% 458 20744 62,1 147 0,0107% 0,049
Denmark 152622 201 2,775% 759 27366 5,5 12 0,0079% 0,060
France 410377 574 0,637% 715 112230 64,4 32 0,0078% 0,056
Spain 388160 345 0,834% 1.125 117464 46,5 27 0,0070% 0,078
Austria 104475 151 1,272% 692 54373 8,2 6 0,0057% 0,040
Netherlands 193350 192 1,158% 1.007 87062 16,7 11 0,0057% 0,057
Switzerland 76693 94 1,009% 816 80899 7,6 4 0,0052% 0,043
Finland 137282 126 2,615% 1.090 41669 5,2 7 0,0051% 0,056
Sweden 512407 456 5,656% 1.124 19868 9,1 25 0,0049% 0,055
Norway 125160 174 2,686% 719 26785 4,7 5 0,0040% 0,029
Belgium 53190 79 0,511% 673 131827 10,4 1 0,0019% 0,013
Germany 599328 700 0,728% 856 117614 82,3 11 0,0018% 0,01

The following conclusions can be drawn:

Italy; low participation rate, empty courses but relatively a lot of playing professionals. Italy is counting several very talented professionals such as the Molinari brothers and young gun Manassero. This is particularly surprising given that there are not that many courses and that the participation rate (% golfers vs total population) is extremely low vs the remainder of Europe. Moreover intuitively you would expect the temperament of the Italians vs for example the Swedes would work against them. Hence there must be other reasons why the Italians are doing so well such as possibly a very efficient teaching/talent system and the fact that they have plenty of room to practice.

UK and Ireland; high participation rate and low player density per course but still relatively many ranked playing professionals. It is not surprising that the UK is delivering the most ranked playing professionals in absolute terms. In fact it should given the enormous number of available golf courses and high number of players. However the UK is also doing well in relative terms. As can be seen in the table only Italy delivers more playing professionals as a % of the total golf-players pool. Hence the UK also manages to breed very good players. In fact this should be no surprise given that the country has a big golf heritage and hence has an enormous experience as far as education is concerned.

Sweden and Germany have low number of ranked playing professionals vs number of total players.
Both Sweden and Germany have over half a million golf players. Nevertheless, both countries do not manage to deliver many playing pros. Whereas Sweden has the highest participation rate (5,7%) in Europe, Germany scores very low (0,7%) in relative numbers. Clearly there is a big talent pool of good Swedish players on the tour. However given the total number of players, this is still a relative low number. As the Swedes have a very good teaching/talent system, one of the explanations could be that they cannot play the year around as a result of the weather. As far as Germany is concerned, this country should be considered as a sleeping giant. Not only is there plenty of room to attract more people to the golf sport, the country should also be able to convert a higher proportion of players into playing professionals. Reasons why this has not been the case yet could be the lack of tradition, the average age of the German golfer and the teaching/talent system.

Coming Friday the Ryder Cup 2010 will finally start. Europe is seen by many (including the bookies) as the clear favorite. But are they really? We have done some fun and games and analyzed the numbers; although Europe indeed scores better in many fields, the margin with the US is considerably smaller than one would expect upfront.

Europe is the favorite, but is this realistic? It’s only a few days away, the Ryder Cup 2010! The golfing world is slowly getting itself ready for the biggest bi-annual event in golf. Millions will be glued to their television sets to watch golf’s greatest stars fighting each other at the Celtic Manor resort in Wales. As usual, all golfing enthusiasts  seem to have an opinion on whom is going to win, which adds to the fun. Most people seem to favor Europe including the bookies, where the odds of Europe winning are 33/50 vs the USA 177/100. This is a relative big margin and I have to admit I am with Europe as well. However, is this assumption realistic, is it backed by the facts?

Of course results realized in the past are by no means always a guarantee for the future, but sometimes numbers can reveal  interesting facts. We have gathered and analyzed  some statistics of both teams to see whether any conclusions can be drawn. We will briefly discuss.

USA RC W RC L RC T Major pts World rnk pts 2010 Points Events Pts per event
Tiger Woods 9 13 2 34,02 9,04 90,53 12 7,54
Phil Mickelson 10 14 6 140,03 8,58 243,78 21 11,61
Hunter Mahan 2 0 3 22,20 4,76 190,72 24 7,95
Bubba Watson       60,00 3,78 162,88 22 7,40
Jim Furyk 8 13 3 13,05 7,60 240,77 21 11,47
Steve Stricker 0 2 1 14,41 7,82 215,46 19 11,34
Dustin Johnson       46,72 4,98 235,57 24 9,82
Jeff Overton       13,50 2,73 141,70 26 5,45
Matt Kuchar       42,38 5,35 253,52 25 10,14
Stewart Cink 4 7 4 12,40 3,27 78,91 22 3,59
Ricky Fowler       9,58 3,34 130,99 26 5,04
Zach Johnson 1 2 1 41,30 4,17 160,44 24 6,69
Total/Average 34 51 20 449,59 65,42 2145,27 266 8,06
Europe RC W RC L RC T Major pts World rnk pts 2010 Points Events Pts per event
Luke Donald 5 1 1 13,30 5,90 272,16 24 11,34
Ross Fisher       3,50 3,62 96,01 20 4,80
Peter Hanson       12,83 3,03 115,22 19 6,06
Padraig Harrington 7 11 3 5,60 3,88 107,52 21 5,12
Miguel Angel Jimenez 2 7 3 15,88 3,63 176,69 23 7,68
Martin Kaymer       130,25 7,10 282,02 20 14,10
Graeme Mc Dowell 1 1 0 109,30 4,86 206,07 21 9,81
Rory McIlroy       66,33 5,67 211,59 21 10,08
Eduardo Molinari       10,63 4,73 189,46 22 8,61
Francesco Molinari       8,20 3,35 125,86 22 5,72
Ian Poulter 5 2 0 17,30 4,72 146,96 19 7,73
Lee Westwood 14 10 5 127,75 8,50 273,95 16 17,12
Total/Average 34 32 12 520,87 58,99 2203,51 248 8,89


Americans are slightly more experienced. Looking at the Ryder Cup track record of both teams, we can see that the Americans have played more matches than the Europeans but simultaneously and not surprisingly (given that Europe won the last few Ryder Cups) they also lost more matches. Additionally the Americans are also slightly older (also when looking at the median age) and jointly have scored more points on the world ranking list (results realized in last 2 years).  Conclusion 1: the Americans are slightly more experienced than the Europeans, but also lost more matches. A tie……

Europeans seem to have the better momentum. Looking at the points realized in the majors of the last year, the Europeans win from the Americans, but this can mainly be explained by the fact that 2 out of the 4 majors were won by Europeans (McDowell, Kaymer) and only one by the Americans (Mickelson). However, when we look at the median results during the majors (so stripping out the best and worst results) we witness that the Americans have done better (28.11 vs 14.59), so their depth has been pretty good. We also looked at how many points were added to the world ranking list by both teams during 2010. Again Europe has added more points than the Americans during the season and here the median is pretty even. Conclusion 2: the Europeans have enjoyed better momentum during 2010, but stripping out the highs and lows, the Americans are right up there. A marginal win for Europe…….

USA Stroke avg GIR Putts Drive Dr Accur Age
Tiger Woods 71,10 64,10 1,75 295,80 57,20 34
Phil Mickelson 70,30 65,10 1,76 299,10 53,70 40
Hunter Mahan 70,70 68,00 1,79 291,80 68,20 28
Bubba Watson 70,20 68,50 1,76 309,80 56,20 31
Jim Furyk 70,20 67,10 1,77 276,00 71,80 40
Steve Stricker 69,80 68,30 1,75 282,90 69,70 43
Dustin Johnson 70,50 68,00 1,77 308,50 57,10 26
Jeff Overton 70,30 66,90 1,75 297,30 55,90 27
Matt Kuchar 69,50 68,90 1,74 287,00 68,80 27
Stewart Cink 70,60 68,10 1,78 192,30 63,90 37
Ricky Fowler 70,70 69,00 1,79 292,40 64,10 21
Zach Johnson 70,70 65,80 1,74 279,80 71,60 34
Total/Average 70,38 67,32 1,76 284,39 63,18 32,33
Europe Stroke avg GIR Putts Drive Dr Accur Age
Luke Donald 69,80 68,30 1,76 282,90 69,70 32
Ross Fisher 70,96 70,22 1,76 292,00 65,22 29
Peter Hanson 70,77 72,47 1,79 287,09 62,46 32
Padraig Harrington 70,80 61,90 1,75 292,10 56,70 39
Miguel Angel Jimenez 70,83 65,33 1,71 281,65 68,83 46
Martin Kaymer 69,97 69,60 1,74 293,27 64,80 25
Graeme Mc Dowell 70,36 75,34 1,76 287,26 67,60 31
Rory McIlroy 70,90 66,20 1,80 300,00 62,60 21
Eduardo Molinari 70,55 74,90 1,77 287,63 69,50 29
Francesco Molinari 70,28 73,79 1,79 281,11 72,20 27
Ian Poulter 71,50 62,50 1,80 286,80 62,70 34
Lee Westwood 70,61 68,52 1,73 293,71 67,07 37
Total/Average 70,61 69,09 1,76 288,79 65,78 31,83


Statistics mixed bag….. Looking at the statistics of all players it has to be said that not all players have been playing on the same tour, which may blur the outcome marginally (however the stats of players being active in both tours are not that different). We have looked at both the averages of the USPGA and the European tour. When looking at the outcome the Europeans win in most categories, but they lose in what is probably the most important one, stroke average! Luckily this will be matchplay. What is also noticeable, is that the Europeans are hitting their drives slightly longer than the Americans. This is somewhat surprising as the general perception was that the Americans were the long hitters. In terms of consistency (greens in regulation and driving accuracy) the Europeans score slightly better, whilst both teams score even as far as putting is concerned. Conclusion 3: no big difference, the Europeans win by a very small margin

So the overall conclusion is that Europe is indeed the favorite, but only by a whisker as far as I am concerned. Although the Europeans seem to have performed better during the season (they added more points to their world ranking in 2010, they did better at the majors), the player statistics of both teams are very similar. Moreover, the Americans still are carrying more points on the world ranking and seem to be slightly more experienced (they have played more matches in the Ryder Cup and are marginally older). Having said all of this, the Ryder Cup remains the Ryder Cup and hence predictions are worthless. There are so many other variables such as the course (which seems to be made for the Americas) and the weather (could be more in Europe’s favor) which could play an important  role. So let’s just enjoy it!

woodsOver the last few days most of Tiger Woods’ sponsors have published press releases on their future relationship with him. Gillette and Accenture have dropped him, whilst Tag Heuer and Nike continue their support for the time being. Critics have been quick to criticize particularly Gillette and Accenture claiming that Tiger’s private matters should have nothing to do with his performance levels on the golf course. Who are we to morally disqualify him (or anybody else). True but not relevant! They are missing the point. These companies have always supported Tiger, as his values seemed to match with the values of their own. As this seems no longer the case, their decision is logical.

When looking at Tiger’s brand identity, Tiger has always come across as Mr Clean; a family man and a person that is always showing great dignity and integrity on and off the pitch. Tiger’s values could possibly be summarized as loyal, trustworthy, integer, reliable, focused. Most of these values probably still stand but integrity and reliability can be crossed off the list I believe. Surely one is allowed a mistake but not one of such significance, particularly given his emphasis on virtues of being humble and honest. Stardom comes at a price I am afraid and Tiger’s authenticity and credibility have been severely dented here.

Now let’s go back to the sponsors. It is to appreciate that Nike, EA Sports and TAG Heuer will continue to support Tiger, “the athlete”, at least for the time being. However, it has to be said that it is much easier for them than for example for Accenture, Gillette and possibly AT&T. Why? The core values of the likes as Nike, EA Sports and Tag Heuer do not conflict with Tiger’s actions, whereas this is the case for the other 3.
Although Nike does not specifically state its core values, its mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. As Tiger as a golfplayer still is inspiring many, this does not really conflict with Tiger’s actions so far. Hence Nike can permit itself a sit and wait strategy, also taking into account that Tiger is commercially tremendously important to Nike. For TAG Heuer things are not that different. TAG’s core values are excellence, performance and exceptional achievement, all values still applicable to Tiger as a top athlete.

Now let’s look at the core values of Accenture and Gillette, who seem both to have more broadly defined core values. Those of Accenture are client value creation, one global network, integrity, stewardship, best people and respect for the individual. Tiger’s actions particularly conflict with integrity and respect for the individual. Additionally Accenture’s commercial “we know what it takes to be a Tiger” does not help in this respect. Gillette’s core values are achievement, integrity and collaboration. Again Tiger’s actions conflict with integrity, as did the recent action of Thierry Henry by the way (both feature in the same commercial). In any case you can barely condemn these companies for acting in accordance with their core values or better said, their DNA. They have “to practice what they preach”, “walk the talk” so to say. If not, they can barely be taken seriously, which particularly is the case for Accenture, which sometimes advises clients on these matters. In this perspective I would not be surprised if AT&T would do the same as Accenture and Gillette. Clearly, the actions of these sponsors do not condemn Tiger as an athlete, no one disputes his greatness in this perspective. What it does tell is how companies connect with sportspeople representing their brand identity and that all of them seem to have acted in accordance with what they stand for. Tiger has lost his authenticity and integrity off the course, which is coming at a large price and may take years (if ever) to repair.

St_Andrews_17th_Road_Hole_Old_CourseOne of golf’s most famous and celebrated holes in the world, the 17th St Andrews hole, the Road Hole, will be lengthened by 35 yards, to 490 yards. Work will begin this week and a new tee will be built on a driving range nearby.

For years the Road Hole has been considered by many great players as one of the hardest par 4’s in the world. Its uniqueness includes a tee shot played over a building, a road that is in play immediately behind the green, a greenside pot bunker that doesn’t easily give up ball or player, and a green that slopes into that same bunker (also called the Sands of Nakajima). Over the years the Road Hole has claimed many victims such as David Duval in the British Open in 2000. Being in 2nd place behind Tiger Woods he ran his ball in the bunker, took four increasingly feverish shots to get out and ended the hole with 8. Besides losing his dignity and a considerable amount of money, he also swapped 2nd place for tied 11th.

So why change it? Clearly next year’s British Open is a major catalyst. According to Royal &Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson, the Road Hole has become too easy and no longer plays the way it was originally intended. The threat from both the road and the bunker has diminished now that players use shorter irons for their approach shots. Ironically it is the R&A who has the reputation of being one of the guardians of the game’s tradition.

Undoubtedly cricticism will erupt and I fear I am amongst this bunch. Yes I agree that the hole may have become easier to some as both athletic abilities and particularly equipment have improved. Nevertheless and in spite of this the Road Hole never has become easy, certainly into the wind when it is difficult to reach in two. It’s all back to the chicken and egg discussion I reckon. Should holes and even courses be reconstructed each time that improved equipment is leading to increased yardage, or should we just change the rules for equipment? Again ironically some of the equipment rules are to be changed in 2010; most club heads will have smaller grooves in an attempt to reward accuracy off the tee and rein in golf’s power-hitters. Moreover it will become more difficult to hit the green. Golf’s major stars also seem to disagree. Goossen prefers the current hole, Harrington wants to see it even more intimidating.

If it was me I would have waited at least one more year with lengthening this Holy Hole in order to see what impact these rule changes will have. However I fear the pressure of hosting a spectacular 2010 Open has outweighed, sadly at the expense of………

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