One such small package was unwrapped last week in suburban Chicago as the Chicago District Golf Association, LaSalle Bank, Kemper Lakes Golf Course, and the Buy.Com Tour joined forces and culminated in a pleasant present given to the players'the LaSalle Bank Open.
Kemper Lakes is the only course on the Buy.Com schedule to have ever hosted a men's major championship - the 1989 PGA Championship. Coincidentally, the winning score for both tournaments was identical. Twelve-under-par was good enough for the late Payne Stewart to earn his first of three majors, and it was good enough for Marco Dawson to grab his first-ever PGA Tour sanctioned title.
First year events on the Buy.Com Tour occur about twice as often as Santa's visits; that's not the surprise. But when they're as good as this one was, everyone feels as if Christmas came a little early. Not one negative word was uttered about the course or the tournament all week long. Unless, 'This course is just too tough for me,' is considered negative.
The fact that Marco Dawson won would never qualify as a surprise. Those who know him and have competed against him over the years will tell you that his victory was as overdue as Kraig Kann's American Express bill. Of the various superlatives that the professionals use to describe a good player, the one most often heard when Marco is the topic of conversation is 'solid'.
The guy looks like a linebacker, treats people like Santa himself, and swings the golf club with the graceful power of a Kentucky Derby champion. At 38-years-old, the real surprise is that he hasn't established himself as a star on the PGA Tour. If sheer talent equated directly to dollars, Marco would be able to call Bill Gates 'neighbor.' Heading into the LaSalle Bank Open, Marco was the number one ranked all-around ball striker on the Buy.Com Tour.
The ball striking stat is a bit confusing, but here's a shot at it: Driving accuracy and driving Ddistance are combined to form the total driving stat. That is then added to the greens in regulation stat to derive ball striking. In short, it's everything that is practiced on the range, and excludes all that is learned on or near the practice green. It's the fun part of golf, the part that the majority of golfers are told they spend too much time doing. Drive for show and putt for dough is the old adage; however, at Kemper Lakes, old adages became old news.
When I called the course a ball strikers' course during a production meeting, I was asked to explain. 'Good players always prefer tough, demanding courses,' I said. 'In the players' minds, difficult courses that aren't tricky separate the field. Everyone hates the courses that are considered 'putting contests' and on courses like this, there's a feeling that the best player wins.
Certainly there's much more to championship golf than what goes on at the driving range, but the better ball strikers always gain the respect of their peers, even if they aren't at the top of the money list.
To prove my point, I did a little digging. Another old adage ' numbers never lie. I analyzed the top 10 players from a few of the yearlong statistical categories and compared those numbers with how they performed at a 'ball strikers' course. Here's what I found:
* The top 10 ball strikers stroke average last week was 71.50.
* The top 10 in scrambling averaged 72.25.
* The top 10 in putting average averaged 72.235.
The ball strikers beat the others by about three strokes for the tournament.
* The top 10 ball strikers took home 37.5% of the total purse.
* The top 10 in scrambling took home11.9%.
* The top 10 putters took home 7.2%.
* Five of the year's top 10 ball strikers finished in the top 15 in the tournament (including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place).
* Only two of the top 10 putters finished in the top 15. (9th, and 14th)
* Three of the top 10 scramblers finished in the top 15. (3rd, 7th, and 9th)
Eight of the 11 players who finished in the top 10 last week (three players tied for 9th) ranked among the top 40 in ball striking this year.
Last week illustrated the importance of proficient ball striking. However, the yearlong money list also opened my eyes a bit as to its importance.
* The average earnings of the top 10 in ball striking is $133,852, or equal to 12th position on the money list.
* The average earnings of the top 10 in scrambling is $78,637, or equal to 33rd on the money list
* The average earnings of the top 10 in putting average is $73,418 or equal to 38th on the money list.
Does this prove anything? Perhaps, but perhaps it's just coincidence. When I prepared for the final group on Sunday and noticed that they ranked first, second and eighth in ball striking, I had a hard time thinking it was just happenstance.
All four majors typically defend their course set-up as trying to identify the best player. What defines the best player is undoubtedly more than just ball striking stats, but when a major championship venue hosts a Buy.Com event, the ball strikers had the edge.
There is one last little bit of irony though as the No. 1 ranked ball striker won the tournament, and he fell to number two.
How could that be? I'm glad you asked. Lucas Glover played in his seventh Buy.Com tournament last week. In doing so, he reached the required minimum number of rounds for the year to qualify for statistical ranking and narrowly edged out Marco Dawson.
Somehow I get this feeling that Marco doesn't mind.
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