Drive for show, putt for dough: exposure to stress and skilled performance in golf

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Objective: To explore how golfers’ putting and driving performances change with exposure to stress (years on tour). These data ecologically test models of psychological toughness (Dienstbier, 1989) proposing that exposure to psychological stress develops an individual’s ability to cope. Putting, considered the more stressful of the two activities, should benefit more from exposure to stress than driving.

Design: A repeated-measures design explored changes in golf performance in a 30-year period since turning professional.

Methods: Data were collected from the US PGA tour website ( The sample comprised 49 golfers listed on the website who had won a major golf tournament between 1986 (the year full performance statistics became available) and 2009. Data were coded for each year following the golfer turning professional and an average score for each year across the sample obtained.

Results: Driving accuracy r(30) = .45, p = .014 and driving distance r(30) = 0.46, p = .010 were positively correlated with years on tour. Birdie conversion r(30) = -.43, p = .018, was negatively correlated with years on tour. No relationship between the years on tour and putting average or putts per round emerged.

Conclusion: Golfers’ improved driving distance and accuracy, but declined on birdie conversion, with more years on tour. These findings do not support models of psychological toughness for putting but rather support anecdotal evidence that golfers find putting harder over time. Possible explanations for this based on the Theory of Challenge and Threat States in Athletes (Jones et al., in press) are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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