Since the last time the U.S. Open went to Olympic, in 1998, Tour pros have lost control, literally. That year 90 players hit at least 70% of the fairways in PGA Tour events, but since '99 there has been a steady decline. By 2001 the number of players hitting 70% of fairways had dropped to 69; by '03 it was 40; by '10 it was 19; in '11 it was 12; and this year there are only three players hitting that mark. Some will say the loss of accuracy is explained by the increase in driving distance, but I don't think so. In '98, David Duval
(below right) averaged 286.8 yards off the tee and hit 71.95% of the fairways. At present Jonas Blixt is averaging 286.8 yards off the tee but hitting only 58.04% of the fairways.
Why the drop-off? It used to be that clubs and balls were made for better players and the masses had to adjust, but now it is the pros who must adjust to equipment that's made for the average player. Perimeter-weighted clubs, oversized drivers and harder golf balls make the ball curve less—a good thing for duffers but a terrible thing for touring pros. As they have transitioned to this new gear, pros have lost some of the art and strategy of playing at a high level. No longer can they use the entire fairway or green while shaping shots, which increases the margin of error. Instead, pros must aim more down the middle of the fairway, reducing the effective target by half. So the loss of accuracy is not because of increased distance but because pros are using equipment that makes the game easier for everyday golfers but harder for them.
Brandel Chamblee is a Golf Channel analyst and 15-year PGA Tour vet.