How Far Did Jack Nicklaus Drive The Ball?

We know that Jack was a long hitter but how far could he actually shift it? Was he comparable with today’s gunslingers in terms of power?

Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus lets on rip on the 15th at St Andrews
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jack Nicklaus was famously one of the most powerful drivers of the ball through his long and illustrious career. It’s difficult to make comparisons with today’s players because of the equipment he was using but safe to say, he was pretty long and anecdotal evidence would suggest he would have held his own with the modern big guns.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t the data we have today for us to be certain on Nicklaus’ average driving distance when he was in his pomp. The first year the PGA Tour has records for is 1980 when Jack was 40. Even then he ranked 10th in driving distance for the season with an average of 269 yards. It should be noted, he also ranked 13th in driving accuracy that season. With a total driving score of 23 (the two rankings added together) it remains the greatest recorded season of all-round driving on the PGA Tour.

In 1967, IBM measured driving distances in 11 tournaments on the PGA Tour. For those events, as Golf Digest uncovered, Nicklaus, who was 27 at the time, averaged 276 yards from the tee. That was the longest of anyone. The average was just over 260 yards.

But of course, driving distances are affected by a number of factors and not just equipment – The wind, the firmness of the turf, the temperature, the altitude... all of these will have an impact on how far the ball travels.

Power Hitting

Jack Nicklaus

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nicklaus was capable of hitting the ball prodigious distances though and there are examples to prove it.

In the playoff for The Open Championship of 1970, Nicklaus reached the 18th tee with a one-shot lead. He famously took of his sweater and unleashed a drive that ran through the green. The hole measures 357 yards so that drive must have travelled some 370 yards and it was only stopped by the collar of rough through the green.

In 1963, Nicklaus won a long drive contest at the PGA Championship with a blow that travelled some 341 yards. That must have been extremely impressive at the time.

Lee Trevino once said he was convinced that Jack, given modern equipment, conditions and training would be able to hit the ball 400 yards. That may be over-estimating a little but, if you consider his 276 yard, 1967 average and his ability to hit regularly over 300 with his persimmon driver, it’s probably reasonable to say that he would continue to average near the top of the pile in terms of driving distance.

How far then did Jack Nicklaus drive the ball? The only definitive numbers we have are that 276 yard, mini-average in 1967 and the 269 season average for 1980. But we know he was capable of shifting it far further than that. Let’s just say – The Golden Bear was long!

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?