Like seemingly everything in 2020, the PGA TOUR’s annual trip to Muirfield Village Golf Club is a bit different this year.
Though the stay is a little later on the calendar and has been stretched from one week to two, one inexorable element of the yearly sojourn to Ohio is the tournament host, Jack Nicklaus.
RELATED LINKS: 15th Club
Nicklaus’ trove of insurmountable records is instant recall for golf die-hards. Eighteen majors, yes – but an unreachable nineteen runner-up finishes, too. Six Masters titles won across a span of 23 years. Seventeen straight PGA TOUR seasons with a win, tied with Arnold Palmer for most all-time. An incomprehensible 73 top-ten finishes in the majors, 25 more than any other player.
But there’s one lesser-known statistic that might be just as untouchable. In 1980, Nicklaus had arguably the greatest season in recorded PGA TOUR history driving the golf ball.
Before the ShotLink era ushered in countless metrics to quantify ball-striking performance, a statistic called ‘total driving’ was the best way to measure a player’s combined acumen in distance and accuracy off the tee.
A player’s total driving number looks at his season-long ranking in both driving distance and accuracy. Added together, you get a total driving number – the lower that number, the better you are overall driving the ball (i.e. a player who ranks 10th in driving distance and 50th in driving accuracy would have a total driving number of 60).
Forty years ago, the TOUR started compiling reliable data to calculate this metric. In 1980, Nicklaus had just turned 40 and was coming off his first winless season on the TOUR. His bounce-back campaign was remarkable: The Golden Bear won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, becoming the first forty-something to win multiple majors in the same season since Ben Hogan in 1953.
But his performance off the tee was an even greater statistical anomaly.
In 1980, Nicklaus ranked 10th in driving distance and 13th in accuracy, giving him a TOUR-leading total driving figure of 23. To this day, that remains the best single-season total driving performance ever recorded.
Source: PGA tour