Driving for Show and Dough
We're talking about the fact that nine events into the 2004 PGA Tour season Hank Kuehne is once again hitting it farther off the tee than anybody else. But his average of 306.2 is more than 15 yards less than his season-ending average of 321.4 in 2003.
And, please, no jumping to conclusions about the fact that voluntary testing for hot drivers is behind the drop in the numbers for Kuehne (or anybody else). This is golf, not baseball. And besides, golf manufacturers have much more to lose than players if somebody gets caught with a hot driver that has their brand on it.
'Let the sample run out,' says Joey Sindelar.
What Sindelar means to say is that it's too early in the year to draw conclusions. The players need to play on more courses and under different conditions for the numbers to come back into line.
Still, it's interesting to note that John Daly, who finished second to Kuehne last year at 314.3, has dropped to fourth so far this year at 303.8. That's more than nine yards. Yet Daly, who has already won once in 2004, is having his best year in almost a decade.
Phil Mickelson is having an even better year than Daly. He won the recently completed West Coast Swing on the strength of five top seven finishes in five events including a victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Last year Mickelson wound up fourth in driving distance. This year he ranks 26th.
The conclusion: Mickelson is hitting it shorter, but much straighter.
Tiger Woods, convinced in 2003 that there were drivers on Tour exceeding the legal coefficient of restitution limit of .830, has gone in the other direction. Woods finished last season 11th in driving distance. Currently he ranks second behind Kuehne at 304.7.
Woods 'flies' the ball farther than all but a very few. Wet conditions have been frequent so far on Tour in 2004. The cause and effect here is clear.
The 45-year-old Sindelar may be the most interesting case of all. He has picked up approximately 12 yards off the tee this year since switching from a TaylorMade 360 driver to a TaylorMade 510 Tour model. That gain in distance had jumped him from 109th at the end of last year to 10th so far in 2004.
'The ball,' Sindelar says, 'rolls farther in the fairway.'
In other words, he is hitting it straighter since the switch. 'For the first time,' he said Tuesday at Doral, 'I have a driver that is my 'go to' club.'
Sindelar still isn't sure how the measuring process works. And he says there are a lot of players who love the Tour's Shotlink yardage system but don't completely trust its distances yet.
'I'd also like to know if these number are for when I hit driver or not,' he said. 'Or do they count it as a driving distance stat when a player hits a 1-iron or a 3-wood off the tee?'
To that end, the Tour has requested that caddies fill out cards after rounds recording a player's club selection on every hole. Sindelar's caddie is complying with the Tour's request but said not all caddies are. The Tour has threatened to fine the caddies who don't cooperate. Sindelar's caddie said nobody he knows has been fined yet.
Expect the Shotlink issues to be cleared up by the middle of the year. But don't expect the kind of interesting stories you can find by crunching the driving stats to end any time soon.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.