How Far Did Arnold Palmer Drive The Golf Ball?

Arnold Palmer was one of the most swashbuckling, powerful players in 20th century men’s professional golf, but how far did he hit it?

Arnold Palmer
How Far Did Arnold Palmer Drive The Golf Ball - Here he tees off at St Andrews
(Image credit: Getty Images)

During the 1950s and 60s Arnold Palmer was the most popular player in men’s professional golf. He had “an army” of followers in the USA and he earned enormous respect from golf fans on this side of the pond through his performances in, and respect for, The Open championship in the early 1960s.

Palmer won 62 times on the PGA Tour between 1955 and 1973. He won an incredible 95 tournaments overall in professional golf. Through the 1960s he finished in the top-10 in 25 of the 37 Majors in which he played – an astonishing record.

Palmer was known for his strength and was famous for his piercing, powerful long irons. He was also an excellent driver of the golf ball.

Unfortunately, when Palmer was playing in his prime the PGA Tour did not keep statistics like it does today. Now we have a huge amount of data showing how far and accurately each of the players on the main circuits hit the ball, not only with regards driving but from tee to cup. That information doesn’t exist for Palmer in his pomp, so we have to rely more on anecdotal evidence and a few specific examples to give us an idea of how far he hit the ball.

It's difficult to make comparisons with modern players when you consider someone like Arnold Palmer. Modern equipment has changed the game drastically since the 1960s when a persimmon driver had a head the size of a tangerine. Advances in club and ball technology, together with player technique, conditioning, as well as course agronomy mean the top guys and girls on tour today hit the ball a good bit further than their predecessors.

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was famed for his swashbuckling style

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But one example shows just how far Palmer could send the ball out there – In the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills, Palmer famously began his final round by driving the first green – That hole measured 346 yards. No matter what the weather and course conditions, that is a phenomenally long hit. To demonstrate how impressive that shot was. Before the 2014 BMW PGA Championship at Cherry Hills, top pros of the day were given a persimmon driver to try and recreate Palmer’s feat. None of them got close. In fact, Rory McIlroy got the nearest and he found a fairway bunker some 49 yards short of the putting surface. Arnie could shift it.

In the late 1950s, prior to a friendly match in Ohio – The players engaged in a long-driving contest from the first tee. It’s said that Palmer sent several drives out between the 270 and 290 yard mark. It was impressive but it should be noted that Palmer’s length was apparently eclipsed that day by an 18-year-old youngster who is also known as one of the great drivers of all time – a certain Jack Nicklaus.

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer and his great rival Jack Nicklaus in the Westchester Classic of 1967

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A video from 1957 shows Palmer in competition sending a running drive that chases beyond 300 yards. Stories from his Open Championship performances in the early 1960s suggest drives running out over 300 yards.

It’s difficult to put a number on Palmer’s average driving distance but looking at the fact he was, by most accounts, a little behind Nicklaus, an average in his prime of around the 270 yard mark would seem roughly correct.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?