Length Still Doesnt Equate to Wins

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OK, theyve teed it up 10 times on the PGA TOUR now ' 10 times plus the Match Play Championship. This is the year when all the talk has been about the guys who bomb it into outer orbit ' Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes and Camilo Villegas and everyone who sends out 310-yard drives in a ho-hum, what-else-is-new fashion.
 
So, lets peek in on the tour money race and see how these stratospheric launchers are doing.
 
Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson leads the PGA TOUR in driving distance but ranks only 34th on the money list.
The tours courses, remember, are all scrambling to increase their yardage by whatever means possible. A course that isnt at least 7,000 yards is as rare as your brown baggy golf slacks. Dont want to be embarrassed by someone shooting 20-under par, you know.
 
An aside: Watson, Holmes and Villegas are all having nice seasons. But, is extreme length a positive indicator of success?
 
OK, on with the statistics. Lets put Tiger Woods up at the top by himself. Tiger, as could be expected, has competed to the culmination in only two stroke-play tournaments. He withdrew due to illness at the Nissan. And he won his two stroke-play attempts, the Buick Invitational and Doral. He won a third, at Dubai, but that one was on the European Tour and thus doesnt count in the PGA TOUR statistics.
 
Tiger, of course, is a bona fide launcher. He stands eighth in driving distance at just about 305 yards a pop, tied with John Daly. He stands only fourth in tour earnings, but simply because he has played so sparingly thus far.
 
Take out Tiger, however, and you cant find a big launcher in any of the top five positions. Huh? Wait, how about the long courses, the par 70s for the shorter tracks? Where are all the Paul Bunyans.
 
Well, they arent in the top five. Except for Woods, there isnt a top-five player who is amongst the 50 longest drivers.
 
Chad Campbell is the longest, and he stands 52nd. And though he is No. 5 on the money list, he certainly cant be classified as a bomber.
 
Rory Sabbatini leads the tour in money earned, and he is only 60th in driving distance. Geoff Ogilvy is second, and he is only 62nd in length. David Toms, in third place on the money rankings, stands way down at No. 92 in driving distance. And look at Luke Donald, who won last week at Honda. Luke is way down at No. 156, though he stands sixth on the tour in money won.
 
Donalds average drive goes 280 yards. By comparisons sake, that is 40 yards behind Watson, who is No. 1 off the tee at 320.9 yards. Hmmm, something tells me that course owners have it all wrong here if they are insisting on making their courses longer.
 
Well, which statistic is a good indicator of the good players? Putting, perhaps?
 
Putting is a better indicator than most. But there are only two of the top six who among the best putters ' if you go solely by statistics. Toms is No. 2, Sabbatini is No. 6. Ogilivie is down at 82. Campbell is 16th and Donald 18th.
 
Maybe the mark of a good player is the greens in regulation. Uh-oh ' Ogilvy, who is second on the money list, is 123rd in GIR.
 
As a rule, though, these guys do hit greens with a lot of regularity. Sabbatini, No. 1 in money, is No. 17 in greens in regulation. Toms is 30th. Donald - remember his No. 156 in driving? ' is tied with Sabbatini at 17th. Campbell is 56th.
 
Donald, incidentally, is having a remarkable year with his irons. For one thing, a player who only drives it 156th longest on tour but gets it on the green the 17th most times is an absolute genius with the irons. But for another thing, hes having to hit at least 2-3 clubs longer than the better drivers. And hes still hitting greens at a high clip.
 
Woods, by the way, leads the tour in GIR.
 
The only category where almost everyone places highly is, not surprisingly, scoring average. Toms is first, Sabbatini is second, Woods is third and Donald is fifth. However, Campbell is 14th and Ogilvie is 16th. So sometimes, even the scoring is not an absolute indicator of money won.
 
Driving accuracy, of course, is the worst indicator of all. Heres the accuracy rank of the top six: Toms 35th, Ogilvie 62nd, Woods 79th, Campbell 124th, Donald 131st and Sabbatini 154th. To make this statistic meaningful, you would have to play in an African savannah with hip-high grass.

What do these early statistics indicate about pure length, though? It indicates that length is still a poor indicator of money won. Woods, of course, will still be the leading money winner at the end of the year, but thats because he does everything else equally as well. But the myth about the big bashers getting it into the hole the quickest? Not even close.
 
In other words, the few courses under 7,000 yards are still holding their own. Maybe its time for the tour to just relax and play golf. NO statistical indicator is going to point to the best players.
 
Email your thoughts to George White
 
Related Links:
  • PGA TOUR Driving Distance
  • PGA TOUR Statistics Section