Accuracy. Distance. Which is more important?

Think of the best players you know. Do they hit towering bombs off the tee? Or does it seem like they’re always putting for birdie?

To help provide some context, we gleaned some data from the more than 200 million recorded shots in Shot Scope’s database.

Let’s take a look.


Many golfers likely believe that more skilled golfers are more accurate than golfers with higher handicaps. However, Shot Scope’s data suggests that isn’t exactly the case—at least not when considering the percentage of fairways hit per round. In fact, scratch golfers (0 hdcp) hit fewer fairways than any other handicap range.

As a point of reference, PGA TOUR pros hit an average of 47 percent of fairways. Certainly, course setup (narrower landing areas) and generally firm and fast conditions play into this figure.

It’s also worth noting that LPGA Tour pros hit more than 70 percent of fairways—23 percent more than their male counterparts.


Accuracy Versus Distance

On the other hand, distance differs significantly between handicap ranges. Scratch golfers have a huge advantage over their fellow amateurs, hitting drives 68 yards further on average compared to 25 handicappers. Still, a scratch golfer is roughly 40 yards shy of the average PGA TOUR driving distance.

If you consider only driving distance, a scratch golfer is far closer to an LPGA Tour player than to a PGA TOUR golfer.  To be clear, while swing speed and equipment specs might be in the same ballpark, when it comes to skill and scoring average, the LPGA Tour player is universally superior to any scratch golfer.

Keep in mind that all averages include some outliers. Some golfers might have more frequent, though less severe, mishits. For others, it might be the opposite: fewer mishits but the magnitude of each miss is much greater.

Impact on Scoring

In this case, the data is clear. Regardless of handicap or skill, golfers are relatively consistent regarding the percentage of fairways hit. However, we’d expect to see that golfers with a shorter average driving distance struggle to hit a large percentage of greens in regulation.

A quick example…

Golfer A is a scratch golfer, Golfer B is a 20 handicap.

Both play a par-4 of 395 yards.

Golfer A drives the ball 260 yards, leaving 135 yards to the green.

Based on Shot Scope average distances, Golfer A will use a 9-iron for the approach shot.

Golfer B drives the ball 204 yards, leaving 191 yards to the green.

Based on Shot Scope average distances, Golfer B will use a 3-wood for the second shot and will hit it roughly 169 yards, finishing 22 yards short of the green.

If we look at the data slightly differently, Golfer A hits the green 62.5 percent of the time from 135 yards.

Golfer B hits the green only seven percent of the time from 191 yards. You might be inclined to argue that Golfer B should move up a set of tees (or two) and you’d likely be correct.

However, the illustrative point is that distance has a tremendous impact on a golfer’s ability to shoot the lowest score possible. Moreover, gaining (or losing) distance isn’t isolated to a single club. If you gain 10 yards with your driver, you’ll likely hit your other clubs further as well.

It’s a data-driven world, we’re just living it in.

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