Long and straight doesn't always pay on PGA Tour

By Brandel ChambleeMay 21, 2014, 12:40 pm

At Ben Hogan’s best, there was no more accurate driver of the golf ball. The makers of the 1951 movie about Hogan, “Follow the Sun,” had Hogan’s wife, Valerie, send him off to the course with the daily refrain of “Hit ’em far and straight, dear.” Back in real life, when Hogan was asked which was the most important shot in golf, he sternly replied, “The tee shot, of course; it sets up everything.”

Today, the tee shot still sets up everything that follows, but in a way Hogan would find hard to reconcile. As the PGA Tour prepares to descend on the course most closely identified with Hogan, Colonial Country Club, for the Crowne Plaza Invitational, this is the state of the modern tee shot:

Statistically speaking, long, straight driving on the PGA Tour gets you nowhere.

Here’s the evidence:

The PGA Tour keeps a statistic called total driving. It’s a combination of a player’s rank in driving distance and fairways hit. So someone who ranked fifth in one category and seventh in the other would have a total driving number of 12. The lower the number, the better. So for the Tour’s (and our) purposes, long, straight drivers are defined as those with the best total driving numbers.

PGA Tour stats: Total driving | Driving distance | Accuracy | Scoring avg.

You’d think total driving leaders would fare pretty well in overall performance statistics such as scoring average and money earned. But they don’t.

In the last dozen years, the top three finishers in total driving averaged a 77th-place finish in scoring. Only six of those 37 players (there was a tie for third in total driving one year) finished in the top 20 in scoring. Through the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Shawn Stefani is the leader in total driving, but ranks 80th in scoring. Stefani has played only seven events, though, so let’s look at No. 2 in total driving, Derek Ernst, who has played 19 events. He ranks 196th in scoring.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the 23 years from 1980 through 2002, the PGA Tour’s leader in total driving finished inside the top 20 on the money list 16 times. Among those leaders were such luminaries as Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Price, David Duval, Hal Sutton and Tiger Woods.

Which brings us to 2003.

That’s the year Titleist came out with the Pro V1X, and the doom of the wound, balata-covered ball was ensured.

But first, let’s back up to 2000, when Titleist introduced the Pro V1, a two-piece ball that promised – and delivered – startling distance. Short-hitting Billy Andrade, desperate to keep his card, won the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas, becoming the first player to win with a Pro V1. The golf-ball sea change had begun in earnest.

In 2000 one player – John Daly - averaged 300 yards off the tee, and 75 players hit at least 70 percent of fairways. Just two years earlier no one  had averaged 300 yards and 90 players hit 70 percent of fairways.

As more players switched to two-piece balls the accuracy numbers went down. Then in 2003 Titleist came out with the Pro V1X, a newer version of the Pro V1. With other ball manufacturers trying to replicate the characteristics of the Pro V1X, the number of players averaging more than 300 yards per drive spiked, to nine, and the number of players averaging 70 percent of fairways dropped 35 percent, to 40.

By 2005, 26 players averaged over 300 yards and only 19 hit 70 percent of fairways. That year, no player drove the ball better than Canadian David Hearn. He played in 24 events, missed 14 cuts and did not record a single top-10 finish en-route to finishing 196th on the money list.

Hearn was no anomaly, either. From 2006 to this year, no total-driving leader finished higher than 67th on the money list.

What was formerly a great predictor of success had become irrelevant, perhaps a better predictor of failure.

How is it that this skill has become so unessential? I have an opinion, based on long-term observation of the habits of Tour players.

Years ago, all players had a preferred shot shape – fade or draw. They would aim down one side of a fairway and try to work the ball back into the middle. They had the entire width of the fairway to work with. The workability of the wound balata ball facilitated this strategy.

The two-piece ball, however, launches higher, spins less and is harder to curve. Since today’s Tour players can’t curve the ball with ease, they aim more down the middle of fairway to allow for a push or a pull, but this effectively reduces by half their target area.

The question remains: Why doesn't the player who can hit this new ball straighter and longer enjoy the same proportionate benefit for his skill that the players 20 years ago did?

Two reasons – swing plane and putting.

Longer hitters are typically more upright swingers, such as Nicklaus, Bruce Lietzke or Woods (2000). Years ago, upright swingers who drove the ball straight began the downswing with a lateral lower body movement that helped with accuracy. Today, realizing the unlikelihood of hitting every fairway, players concentrate on distance, hanging back and spinning their hips and bodies to create clubhead speed. This makes them pop up on their toes. Seeking distance above all else they red-line every swing. Think Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and, in the LPGA, Lexi Thompson.

The resulting lack of accuracy doesn't cost them as much as it used to because even the straightest drivers are in the rough more than their counterparts of years ago. And hitting out of the rough, the upright swingers have the power and the angle to produce the trajectory and spin to control approach shots. Flatter swingers, several of whom have led the total-driving statistic in the last decade or so, are at a tremendous disadvantage hitting out of the rough.

Furthermore, it’s a curious fact that upright swingers have historically been some of the best putters and flattish swingers have been some of the worst. I believe this is because upright swingers tend to release the club from the top. Because putting strokes are typically smaller versions of full swings, this tendency helps to release the putter head. Conversely, flatter swingers have more bow in their lead wrist and more shaft lean at impact, and creeps into their putting strokes and can be ruinous. There are exceptions to this theory, but the total-driving leaders over the last 11 years, whose swings are flatter than the men of similar rank years ago, averaged 144th in strokes-gained putting.

Which brings us back to 2000. That year, Tiger Woods led in total driving, David Duval was second, Sergio Garcia third and Ernie Els seventh. It would be one of the last years that great driving mattered. Since then, it seems, the whole of professional golf is in the rough. Wild as the weeds they find there.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.