Are Sub-60 Rounds Becoming Commonplace on the PGA Tour?

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Are Sub-60 Rounds Becoming Commonplace on the PGA Tour?
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Last Friday afternoon, Jim Furyk became the sixth man in PGA Tour history to card a 59 during tournament play.

Furyk’s 59 was particularly impressive because it was done on a fairly difficult golf course—Conway Farms Golf Club—which was playing even more difficult than usual due to high winds, cold temperatures and rock hard greens.

The next-lowest score during Round 2 of the BMW Championship was a 65, and the average score for the day was a full 12 strokes higher than Furyk’s 59. Only 18 players in the entire 70-man field even managed to break 70 during the second round.

Furyk hit 14 of 14 fairways, 17 of 18 greens, and needed just 23 putts during what one could only describe as a nearly perfect round of golf.

However, “nearly” would be the operative word in that previous sentence because Furyk could have legitimately posted a score of 58 or better.

Furyk, who began his round on the 10th hole, missed a six-foot putt for par on the fifth hole and got a par on the reachable par-five ninth after missing a birdie putt from a little more than four feet.

Furyk’s round of 59 on Friday afternoon was shocking to most longtime golf observers due to the playing conditions and the average score for the field that day. However, 59s in general are beginning to become a bit less shocking than they were 10 to 20 years ago.

Between the start of professional golf in America (which started with the Professional Golfers Association of America tour in 1916 and was spun off into the PGA Tour in 1968) and 1977, just one man—Al Geiberger in 1977—had carded a 59.

But between 1991 and 2013, five men have carded 59s in PGA Tour events, including three in just the past four years (Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby in 2010 and now Furyk in 2013).

In fact, there have actually been three 59s posted on American professional golf tours just this season—two on the Web.com Tour and Furyk’s 59 during the second round of the BMW Championship.

In addition to the four 59s posted on American professional golf tours, there have been several other close calls this year.

Phil Mickelson lipped out a putt for a 59 earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, while Keegan Bradley also posted a 60 during the opening round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

Tiger Woods had a legitimate shot at a 59 about a month ago during the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational but managed to finish up with a 61 after getting a par on the par-five 16th and missing a short birdie putt on the 17th.

Back in 2010, Ryo Ishikawa, who was 18 years old at the time, posted a score of 58 during the final round of The Crowns tournament on the Japanese Tour. Ishikawa’s 58 was the lowest score ever recorded on any professional golf tour.

There have been five 59s on the Web.com Tour in just past 15 years, the first of which came from Notah Begay back in 1998.

There is little question that PGA Tour scoring has improved dramatically over the past 20 to 30 years, despite visiting courses that often play 1,000 yards longer than they did in the early 1980s.

Between 1980 and 1985, the average score per round on the PGA Tour was 72.04. The average score between 2009 and 2013 was more than a full stroke lower at 70.88.

While the PGA Tour scoring leaders of 1980 and 1981—Lee Trevino and Tom Watsonhad a scoring average just below 70 for the season, between 1982 and 1987 the PGA Tour’s leading scorer never averaged a score below 70 for a season.

In 2012, 18 players on tour had a scoring average below 70, and 19 players currently have a scoring average below 70 in 2013 with just one event left to be played.

Between 2000 and 2013, a scoring average below 69 was achieved 19 times, while this feat occurred just twice between 1980 and 1995 (both times by Greg Norman).

Over the past five years, just four members of the PGA Tour had a scoring average of 73 or higher for a season. In 1980 alone there were 32 players with a scoring average of 73 or higher for the season. During a five-year stretch between 1980 and 1984, a yearly scoring average of 73 or higher was recorded 116 times. 

Another good indication of the improved scoring levels in professional golf is the Masters, which has been held at the same golf courseAugusta Nationalsince 1934.

Between 1980 and 1990, the winning score at The Masters was lower than 10 under par three times. Between 2000 and 2010, that number doubled. The winning score has also been 10 under par or lower at two out of the last three Masters.

This is an astonishing improvement in scoring over just the past 20 to 30 years, especially when considering that scoring had not changed a great deal during the first 61 years of professional golf in America, particularly in terms of players' ability to post sub-60 rounds.

As with most changes which occur over a 30-year period of time, there have been numerous factors at playlevels of fitness, coaching, easier travel options for players and mental coaches.

With the money in professional golf these days, some might also argue that today’s touring pros are a bit more serious about their craft than players of the '40s, '50s and '60s.

The PGA Tour of the '40s, '50s and '60s could be likened to a traveling frat party where most rounds of golf were immediately followed by wild parties in the clubhouse.

Although there are numerous factors at play which have caused this marked improvement in scoring over the past 20 to 30 years, one needs to look no further than the advancements in equipment as the key reason why sub-60s rounds are actually beginning to become commonplace in professional golf.

In 1980, Dan Pohl led the tour with an average driving distance of 274 yards. In 2013, Luke List is leading the PGA Tour with an average driving distance of 306 yards, and Pohl’s 1980 average of 274 yards off the tee would have ranked 177th on tour.

Due to recent advancements in golf club and ball technology, touring pros of today are bringing 7,800-yard golf courses to their knees.

Video equipment, launch monitors and other technologically advanced club-fitting equipment have allowed players to get their hands on equipment that is built specifically for their body size, strength, club head speed and style of play.

Drivers can be adjusted within seconds to allow players to hit a draw or a fade.

The weight, angle and loft of a putter can be adjusted within minutes inside one of the dozens of equipment vans that travel with the tour each and every week.

While many will complain that golf has been suffering in participation numbers throughout the amateur game due to the length of golf courses and difficulty of the game, the exact opposite has occurred in the professional game.

Golf has actually become easier for professional golfers over the past 20 to 30 years.

Scores are consistently lower than they were 30 years ago, and there have been three 59s carded on the PGA Tour in just the past four years.

We may be fast approaching the day when equipment, fitness, training and technology will dramatically dilute the significance of a sub-60 round.

If 40 is the new 30 in terms of age, well, it might not be long before a score of 60 becomes the new 70 in professional golf.

Golf has been evolving since the modern game began to take shape in 15th-century Scotland, but in terms of scoring, perhaps at no time throughout the game’s history have we seen such a dramatic improvement during just a 30 year stretch.

The game of golf looks vastly different today than it did in 1980, and with the unrelenting advancement in equipment technology, one can only imagine what the game might look like 30 years from now.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics for this article came from PGATour.com.

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