Photo: Titleist Pro V1 / Pro V1x, titleist.com

Has the Pro V1 Changed the Game of Golf?

Has the Pro V1 changed the game of golf? It’s the kind of stuff obsessed golfers think about when it’s March and there’s still snow on the ground.

Well, maybe just weird, obsessed golfers think about these things … but I digress.

With snow still on the ground, I realized I missed sitting around the clubhouse talking about golf. Hearing stories about how golf wasn’t always a game of bash, go find, and bash again. In fact, they’d tell you golf was a game of skill, artistry, and lore. A game from a mystic time and place, where all putts were slick downhill sliders. All drives were uphill and against the wind. A game only “real golfers” played and only “real golfers” could understand.

Yet, as much as golf seems to be romantically remembered in the past, golf has always been a game in motion. Golf is constantly evolving with changes in teaching, philosophy, and most especially, equipment. Evolutions from hickory to metal, from a feathery to balata, golf has always been in a continuous loop of change.

However, not even golf’s best historians could have predicted the impact the launch of a golf ball, in the year 2000, would have on the future of golf.

HERE COMES THE PRO V1

Image: www.titleist.com/company/history
Image: www.titleist.com/company/history

In golf, the year 2000 became a pre-Pro V1 world and a post-Pro V1 landscape. Even Titleist (in their humbled opinion) calls the Pro V1, “one of, if not, the most revolutionary products in golf equipment history.”

And to be fair, it was a game changer.

Prior to the Pro V1, in the 1990s, there was the Top Flite Strata golf ball. In its time, the Strata itself was revolutionary. It merged a high-spinning Balata-type outer cover with a durable distance inner core. Prior to the Strata, golfers were forced to choose between distance (with balls like Pinnacle and Top Flite) or spin (with balls like Titleist Tour Balata and the Maxfli HT).

When the Pro V1 hit the scene in 2000, golf was exploding with technology. Golf’s equipment companies were pushing the envelope and experimenting with (stretching) USGA / R&A equipment rules, and the golf world was blowing up with the popularity of a new guy you may have heard of, Tiger Woods.

Almost immediately, the Pro V1 made a game-changing difference for golfers … especially tour pros. Greater distance, greater spin, more consistency, and more ball control than had ever been seen before. Golf courses suddenly became “too short.” Augusta National and others began to “Tiger proof” their courses by adding significant distances to holes and overall course length. 7,000-yard courses quickly became the norm on tour and it made golfers and golf’s governing bodies very nervous.

It was also around this same time (and even now through present day), the USGA and R&A began to answer – and to a degree counter – technology’s affect on the game through the creation and update of modern equipment rules. The golf world is now one of limitations on club size, spring effects, ball distance, and club lengths.

However, for many in the golfing world, these limitations are not enough. As one example, there are those who feel the modern golf ball needs to be “rolled back” or limited greatly in distance. The call to roll back the golf ball comes with as much hope of halting the lengthening of golf courses, as it does the upheaval every time a 350-yard drive bounds down the fairway in a PGA tournament.

DID THE PRO V1 MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Taking all these factors into account: the Pro V1 (and the next gen balls it inspired), modern golf equipment, new equipment rules, and the lengthening of golf courses, I wondered if the Pro V1 had really made a difference. To make a difference, in my mind anyway, the difference would have to be seen in the only category that really matters … scoring.

To measure “impact” or “difference” in scoring, I used the PGA’s Vardon Trophy data as a statistical baseline. The Vardon Trophy, named in honor of English golfing great Harry Vardon, is awarded annually by the PGA of America to the PGA Tour’s leader in scoring average.

Photo: Harry Vardon, WorldGolfHallofFame.org
Photo: Harry Vardon, WorldGolfHallofFame.org

The trophy’s formula has essentially gone through four iterations: 1937-1941 (points based); 1947-1979 (scoring average); 1980-1987 (scoring average-80 rounds min); and 1988-2016 (scoring average-60 rounds min).

My intent was to use the Vardon Trophy data to discover if the Pro V1, combined with today’s modern equipment, had really changed the game … and if so, how.

Or, if perhaps, the combination of the USGA / R&A equipment rules and the lengthening of golf courses were somehow the perfect countermeasures, which led to a self-correction.

THE DATA

To be statistically consistent, I used the Vardon Trophy numbers from the most modern formula–1988-2016. I broke down the scoring average into two time periods–1988-1999 (pre-Pro V1) and 2000-2016 (post-Pro V1). In its current formula, between the years of 1988-1999, the highest stroke average was 69.92 in 1995, with the lowest stroke average of 68.43 in 1999. That’s a difference of 1.49 strokes. I also gathered an additional statistic by using all the years for that time period to create the overall average mean. For the ‘88-‘99 time period, the average mean was 69.22.

  • Vardon Trophy: 1988 – 1999
    • High: 69.92 (1995) Steve Elkington
    • Low: 68.43 (1999) Tiger Woods
    • Diff High/Low: 1.49
    • Mean: 69.22

Keeping the ’88-’99 data in mind, the high/low difference between the world’s most elite players was 1.49 strokes. When you look at the 2000-2016 statistics and factor in the introduction/play of the Pro V1 in 2000 and moving forward, here’s what you find.

  • Vardon Trophy: 2000 – 2016
    • High: 69.61 (2010) Matt Kuchar
    • Low: 67.79 (2000); (2007) Tiger Woods
    • Diff High/Low: 1.92
    • Mean: 68.71

So, comparing these two time periods, one thing stood out to me, the statistical mean. For the years of 1988-1999, the statistical mean (average) was 69.22. For the years 2000-2016, the statistical mean was 68.71. The difference between the two is a mere 0.51.

  • Vardon Trophy: 1988 – 1999
    • Mean: 69.22
  • Vardon Trophy: 2000 – 2016
    • Mean: 68.71

CONCLUSION

These numbers surprised me. I know the modern ball is better. I know modern equipment is better. I also know if there is any group of golfers who could really exploit this leap in technology, it would be the world’s best.

0.51, or just a little over ½ stroke, is an amazing number when taking into account the sometimes loud and emotional calls for significant change to the game. Dialing the ball back, shrinking the club size, bifurcation of the rules, and other opinions like these sound good, and at times sound logical, until you look at the actual scoring numbers of the Vardon Trophy and examine the data.

It appears, at least on the surface, while technology has advanced, its affect on the game of golf may has been countered through a combination of USGA / R&A equipment rules (controlling technology) and the lengthening of golf courses (accounting for it).

WANT MORE?

If you were just wondering (maybe it’s snowing where you are too), here’s the overall data from 1947-2016 (70-years). It could be a bit skewed due to the different formulas in scoring over the years, but from persimmon to metal, metal to graphite, balata to Pro V1, stronger athletes, better agronomy, Trackman … and you’re still only looking at a 3.1 high/low difference and just a 1.28 mean average difference … again, in 70 years.

  • Vardon Trophy: 1947 – 2016
    • High: 70.89 (1972) Lee Trevino
    • Low: 67.79 (2000); (2007) Tiger Woods
    • Diff High/Low: 3.1
    • Mean: 69.99 (1947-1999)
    • Mean: 68.71 (2000-2016)
    • Diff Mean: 1.28 (70-Years)

Seems like those old guys were pretty good too!

Featured Image: Titleist Pro V1 / Pro V1x, titleist.com

BIO: Keith Cook has been a writer and contributing editor at thelocalgolfer.com since 2013. Follow Keith @KeithCookWriter on Facebook or @_KeithCook on Twitter.

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