How Important are Fairways?

One of my college coaches asked me to provide perspective for his players on the importance of hitting fairways.  I love when my clients do that – it’s a compliment!  In this age of “bomb and gouge” players tend to focus on distance at all costs – and there are costs.  To help quantify this I ran a query on the 2019 PGA Tour ShotLink data – 14,090 rounds to be exact – quite a solid sample.  I looked into how players score from the fairway vs. rough as well as relative accuracy from various distances from each.  To be clear, I isolated only primary rough locations labeled by the Tour as “Rough.” 


The cost or scoring difference between hitting the fairway vs. rough is .275 strokes:

      • Results from the fairway = -.180 (under par)
      • Results from the rough = +.095 (over par)

This means that a golfer who misses half the fairways (7) in a given round loses just under 2 shots to par – not counting Penalty or No Shot driving results that we consider to be errors.


The effect on accuracy is even more dramatic than that on score.  Bottom line, in order to be as accurate from the rough as from the fairway at 151 to 175 yards, a Tour player must be as much as 75 yards closer to the target.    

Tour.Appr fwy v rgh

Accuracy from 151 to 175 yards:  

      • Hit Green from Fairway: 72%; Hit Green from Rough: 47%
      • Average Proximity to Hole from Fairway: 23 feet; from Rough: 29 feet

To attain the same the fairway accuracy cited above from the rough, we need to get to the 76 to 100-yard range:

      • Hit Green from Rough: 71%
      • Average Proximity to Hole: 20 feet

Midpoint to midpoint of these ranges is 75 yards.

One might ask, how does this relate to amateur golfers?  For the answer to this I looked into our database and was not totally surprised that the answer is not so much.  Why?  Because amateurs are not nearly as accurate from any position – and certainly not from greater distances.  Thus, accuracy can only fall off so much with shots from the rough.  [See chart below: the average 15-19 Handicap golfer hits the same percentage of greens from the rough by only moving 25 yards closer to the hole.  I use the 151-175 yard range as it represents the greatest number of Approach opportunities at virtually every handicap level for golfers playing the correct tees for their skill level.

15-19 Fwy v Rough

Bottom line, our analysis reveals that as one moves up the handicap ranges, they need to focus far more on avoiding errors off the tee than simply hitting fairways.  

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