FALMOUTH — Charlie Saxon can crush it off the tee. The 28-year-old Oklahoman averages 310.3 yards with his drive, a figure that a decade ago would have ranked him eighth on the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA’s top developmental level.

In 2021, however, Saxon ranks 28th. He can bomb it. But so can everyone else.

“Guys realize they have to hit it far in order to keep up,” Saxon said Tuesday at a practice round for the inaugural Live and Work in Maine Open, the professional tournament that tees off this week at Falmouth Country Club. “If you look at the top 10 players in the world, they’re all probably top 30 in driving distance. That’s no accident.”

Golfers use the putting green at Falmouth Country Club, which hosts the Korn Ferry Tour’s Live and Work in Maine Open this week. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Distance and length have been on the rise in professional golf, and Saxon and his fellow competitors on the Korn Ferry Tour are no exception. In 2010, the average distance off the tee was 290.7 yards, and 43 players averaged over 300 yards with their tee shots. Today, the average is 300 exactly, and 81 have cleared that mark.

The numbers have an even greater disparity at the PGA Tour, where 12 players averaged over 300 yards in 2010 and 66 do now. As technological improvements and changes in philosophy have coincided, hitting the ball long has become a more important part of scoring than it ever has before.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Chad Ramey, 28, who ranks eighth in the Korn Ferry Tour points standings. “It seems like everybody out here is starting to hit it a long ways.”

Length has always been coveted in golf, but it became a hot topic after Bryson DeChambeau leaped from a tie for 34th in driving distance in 2019 to first last year and earned top-fives in two of the three majors, including a U.S. Open victory. Since then, players have been looking for ways to hit the ball far and therefore go into greens with shorter clubs, or turn par-5s into eagle or easy birdie chances.

Topsham native Caleb Manuel, 19, speaks to members of the media Tuesday at Falmouth Country Club. Manuel will compete in the Korn Ferry Tour this week at the club. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

“(It’s) simple math,” Saxon said. “With all of the strokes gained with the stuff that they’re doing, if you’re closer to the hole you’re going to score better, in theory.”

“Bryson obviously changed the game a little bit, everyone’s trying to get the speed going and drive it far off the tee,” added Topsham resident and University of Connecticut golfer Caleb Manuel, who qualified for the Open on Monday. “I hit it pretty far for my club back home, and then I go to school and all these guys are bombing it by me.”

In preparations for the Open, Falmouth Country Club had to adjust to accommodate the long hitters. The course added new tee boxes on five holes, and now plays at 7,326 yards for the weekend.

“The course was at 7,000 yards, which as far as amateur golf goes, I don’t think you really want much more than that,” said Falmouth Country Club teaching pro Shawn Warren. “Once the tournament was officially committed to coming out to Falmouth, that’s when they kind of, with the help of the Tour, made some executive decisions on where are we going to go, how are we going to make this place at a championship level?”

Golf has seen several breakthroughs to help in the pursuit of driving distance. One has been data, as TrackMan simulators have given players a better idea of optimal ball flight.

“Being able to optimize instead of just hitting balls on the range and saying ‘OK, that looks good to my eyes,’ we have a very definite answer with the TrackMan data,” Saxon said. “It’s easier for guys and quicker for them to really optimize their driver setup where they’re able to swing hard and hit it high, low spin, and that ball really goes out there.”

Fitness has taken over in professional golf as well.

“When Tiger first came out … it was Tiger and Vijay (Singh) in the gym, and that was it,” said Brent Grant, 25, who is second on the Tour with a driving average of 324.1 yards. “Ten years later, you have a few more, and another 10 years and now virtually everybody, for the most part, is in the gym. … A lot of guys, including myself, have seen what putting on muscle can do.”

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