Less-than-Driver Course Performance

The PGA TOUR has introduced more and more courses that fit the bill of a bomber’s paradise. Each year the majors seem to get longer and longer. Before we know it, they’ll be playing at 8,000 yard courses. This angle is about the exact opposite, as we are looking at courses that force golfers to club down and take less club off the tee.

You can look at field average driving distance to get a general idea of what courses force you to club down. However, even that can be misleading due to course conditions affecting distance in addition to club selection. So, over the years I’ve accumulated quotes and broken down driving stats on a hole-by-hole basis to get a better idea of which courses restrict driver usage.

These courses are often considered “classical” layouts and require position off the tee, not power. Most of these courses require more shot-shaping off the tee due to tree-lined fairways, pesky bunkers, or even water hazards. Again, those are all generalizations, and that may not apply to every single course in this set of data.

* Minimum 30 rounds to qualify. Stats are time-weighted and adjusted to the strength of competition.

Top 25 Performers on Less-than-Driver Courses (since 2014)

Dustin Johnson (3.001 sg:total)
Rory McIlroy (2.79 sg:total)
Tommy Fleetwood (2.787 sg:total)
Jason Day (2.69 sg:total)
Tiger Woods (2.639 sg:total)
Henrik Stenson (2.609 sg:total)
Patrick Cantlay (2.55 sg:total)
Justin Rose (2.512 sg:total)
Jordan Spieth (2.501 sg:total)
Rickie Fowler (2.467 sg:total)
Justin Thomas (2.317 sg:total)
Paul Casey (2.302 sg:total)
Adam Scott (2.24 sg:total)
Sergio Garcia (2.217 sg:total)
Rafa Cabrera Bello (2.2 sg:total)
Brooks Koepka (2.195 sg:total)
Jon Rahm (2.189 sg:total)
Francesco Molinari (2.182 sg:total)
Phil Mickelson (2.109 sg:total)
Hideki Matsuyama (2.061 sg:total)
Matt Kuchar (2.02 sg:total)
Joaquin Niemann (1.974 sg:total)
Emiliano Grillo (1.964 sg:total)
Kevin Na (1.95 sg:total)
Marc Leishman (1.949 sg:total)

Top 25 Less-than-Driver Specialists
(Less-than-Driver Performance vs. Expected Strokes Gained)

Wesley Bryan (1.238 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.336 sg:total)
Joaquin Niemann (1.974 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.305 sg:total)
Parker McLachlin (0.335 sg:less-than-driver vs. -0.136 sg:total)
Alex Noren (1.88 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.43 sg:total)
Julian Etulain (1.155 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.722 sg:total)
D.A. Points (0.165 sg:less-than-driver vs. -0.254 sg:total)
Ted Potter, Jr. (0.817 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.417 sg:total)
Jamie Lovemark (1.671 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.285 sg:total)
Sam Burns (1.272 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.92 sg:total)
Emiliano Grillo (1.964 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.62 sg:total)
Curtis Luck (0.662 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.341 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.572 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.251 sg:total)
Nicholas Lindheim (0.45 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.135 sg:total)
Kevin Na (1.95 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.642 sg:total)
Whee Kim (0.644 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.341 sg:total)
Jason Dufner (1.504 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.21 sg:total)
Jonathan Byrd (0.814 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.521 sg:total)
Bronson Burgoon (1.073 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.785 sg:total)
Tommy Fleetwood (2.787 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.506 sg:total)
Ryan Armour (1.232 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.956 sg:total)
Blayne Barber (0.875 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.602 sg:total)
Derek Fathauer (0.371 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.099 sg:total)
Rafa Cabrera Bello (2.2 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.929 sg:total)
C.T. Pan (1.443 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.172 sg:total)
Freddie Jacobson (0.731 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.461 sg:total)

Top 25 Less-than-Driver Anti-Specialists
Less-than-Driver Performance vs. Expected Strokes Gained)

Thorbjorn Olesen (-0.201 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.334 sg:total)
Andrew Putnam (0.198 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.04 sg:total)
Wes Roach (-0.74 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.088 sg:total)
Carlos Ortiz (-0.079 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.602 sg:total)
Max Homa (-0.618 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.02 sg:total)
Xander Schauffele (1.267 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.875 sg:total)
Danny Willett (-0.067 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.539 sg:total)
D.J. Trahan (-0.323 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.229 sg:total)
Hunter Mahan (0.064 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.528 sg:total)
Cameron Smith (0.834 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.289 sg:total)
Talor Gooch (0.588 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.023 sg:total)
Satoshi Kodaira (-0.709 sg:less-than-driver vs. -0.28 sg:total)
Si Woo Kim (0.636 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.062 sg:total)
Jon Rahm (2.189 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.594 sg:total)
Tony Finau (1.682 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.07 sg:total)
Martin Laird (0.881 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.256 sg:total)
Abraham Ancer (0.707 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.059 sg:total)
Matt Every (-0.525 sg:less-than-driver vs. -0.173 sg:total)
Hideki Matsuyama (2.061 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.408 sg:total)
Robert Streb (0.349 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.688 sg:total)
Tom Lovelady (-0.007 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.312 sg:total)
Brendan Steele (0.982 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.3 sg:total)
Richy Werenski (0.396 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.7 sg:total)
Gary Woodland (1.516 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.819 sg:total)
Justin Rose (2.512 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.814 sg:total)

Last Updated: May 20th, 2019


BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I mean, I can take advantage of long golf courses, but I enjoy plotting my way around probably more than the bombers’ golf courses where you’ve got to think, be very cautious sometimes, laid back, and firing at the centre of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy. -2018 Carnoustie

PATRICK CANTLAY: I like the golf course. I like golf courses where there’s a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway and playing smart shots into the greens. -2017 PLAYERS

JUSTIN THOMAS: I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m having short irons in, and I felt comfortable enough with those that I could hit my numbers. -2017 Waialae CC Sony Open

RUSSELL HENLEY: You’ve got to be precise off the tees here and I think that’s just what makes it fun. It’s more placement golf, and I enjoy that. -2017 Waialae CC Sony Open

GARY WOODLAND: I want to pull it out every hole [DRIVER] but it just doesn’t set up. I did that my first couple times here and that didn’t work out for me. Driver feels great. I just don’t get many opportunities out here. I’m not complaining about being in the fairway either. -2017 Waialae CC Sony Open

MARTIN KAYMER: I like a golf course where you have to hit the ball fairly straight, where you have to manage the golf course, where it’s not always driver from the tee box where you need to take some bunkers or waters out of play. So I enjoy that, where you have to think a little more instead of just hitting driver and bomb it down every single time and see where you are, just get it close to the green. And that is why I enjoy more tough courses. -2015 Honda

BRENDON TODD: I don’t really ever think having distance is a disadvantage, but because if you’re accurate and long that week, you’re going to give yourself a greater chance of scoring lower from hitting closer to the hole. But this golf course is going to require them to constantly hit clubs less than driver, and if they’re not comfortable with that, then it’s going to be a challenge for them. -2014 Colonial