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.

Getty Images

How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)


Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Getty Images

First-, second-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

Three-time champion Tiger Woods is playing in The Open for the first time since he missed the cut in 2015 at St. Andrews. Woods will begin his first round Thursday in the 147th edition at Carnoustie at 10:21 a.m. ET, playing alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Russell Knox.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth delivered the claret jug to the R&A on Monday at Carnoustie. He will begin his title defense at 4:58 a.m. ET on Thursday, playing with world No. 2 Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Other notable groupings:

  • Rory McIlroy will look to capture his second claret jug at 7:53 a.m. Thursday. He goes off with Marc Leishman and Thorbjorn Olesen.
  • World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is playing with Alex Noren and Charley Hoffman. They will play at 8:04 a.m. ET in the first round.
  • World No. 2 Justin Thomas goes at 8:26 a.m. with Francesco Molinari and Branden Grace.
  • Masters champion Patrick Reed will play with Louis Oosthuizen and Paul Casey at 5:20 a.m. ET.
  • U.S. Open champion and world No. 4 Brooks Koepka is grouped with Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith (9:59 a.m. ET).
  • Phil Mickelson, the 2013 Open champion, will begin at 3:03 a.m. ET with Satoshi Kodaira and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Here's a look at the full list of times for Rounds 1 and 2 (all times ET):

1:35AM/6:36AM: Sandy Lyle, Martin Kaymer, Andy Sulliva

1:46AM/6:47AM: Erik Van Rooyen, Brady Schnell, Matthew Southgate

1:57AM/6:58AM: Danny Willett, Emiliano Grillo, Luke List

2:08AM/7:09AM: Mark Calcavecchia, Danthai Boonma, Shaun Nooris

2:19AM/7:20AM: Kevin Chappell, Oliver Wilson, Eddie Pepperell

2:30AM/7:31AM: Ross Fisher, Paul Dunne, Austin Cook

2:41AM/7:42AM: Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Cantlay, Shane Lowry

2:52AM/7:53AM: Thomas Pieters, Kevin Kisner, Marcus Kinhult

3:03AM/8:04AM: Phil Mickelson, Satoshi Kodaira, Rafa Cabrera Bello

3:14AM/8:15AM: Brian Harman, Yuta Ikeda, Andrew Landry

3:25AM/8:26AM: Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Nicolai Hojgaard (a)

3:36AM/8:37AM: Stewart Cink, Brandon Stone, Hideto Tanihara

3:47AM/8:48AM: Gary Woodland, Yusaku Miyazato, Sung Kang

4:03AM/9:04AM: Ernie Els, Adam Hadwin, Chesson Hadley

4:14AM/9:15AM: Pat Perez, Julian Suri, George Coetzee

4:25AM/9:26AM: David Duval, Scott Jamieson, Kevin Na

4:36AM/9:37AM: Darren Clarke, Bernhard Langer, Retief Goosen

4:47AM/9:48AM: Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Peter Uihlein

4:58AM/9:59AM: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Kiradech Aphibarnrat

5:09AM/10:10AM: Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Chris Wood

5:20AM/10:21AM: Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey, Patrick Reed

5:31AM/10:32AM: Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jhonattan Vegas

5:42AM/10:43AM: Yuxin Lin (a), Alexander Bjork, Sang Hyun Park

5:53AM/10:54AM: James Robinson, Haraldur Magnus, Zander Lombard

6:04AM/11:05AM: Kodai Ichihara, Rhys Enoch, Marcus Armitage

6:15AM/11:16AM: Sean Crocker, Gavin Green, Ash Turner

6:36AM/1:35AM: Brandt Snedeker, Sam Locke (a), Cameron Davis

6:47AM/1:46AM: Patton Kizzire, Jonas Blixt, Charles Howell III

6:58AM/1:57AM: Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis

7:09AM/2:08AM: Alex Levy, Ryan Moore, Byeong Hun An

7:20AM/2:19AM: Michael Hendry, Kelly Kraft, Lee Westwood

7:31AM/2:30AM: Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood, Jimmy Walker

7:42AM/2:41AM: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley, Jovan Rebula (a)

7:53AM/2:52AM: Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen

8:04AM/3:03AM: Dustin Johnson, Alex Noren, Charley Hoffman

8:15AM/3:14AM: Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Brendan Steele

8:26AM/3:25AM: Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Branden Grace

8:37AM/3:36AM: Jason Day, Shota Akiyoshi, Haotong Li

8:48AM/3:47AM: Todd Hamilton, Beau Hossler, Jorge Campillo

9:04AM/4:03AM: Ryuko Tokimatsu, Chez Reavie, Michael Kim

9:15AM/4:14AM: Kyle Stanley, Nicolas Colsaerts, Jens Dantorp

9:26AM/4:25AM: Tom Lehman, Dylan Frittelli, Grant Forrest

9:37AM/4:36AM: Lucas Herbert, Min Chel Choi, Jason Kokrak

9:48AM/4:47AM: Padraig Harrington, Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace

9:59AM/4:58AM: Ian Poulter, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka

10:10AM/5:09AM: Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Shubhankar Sharma

10:21AM/5:20AM: Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Russell Knox

10:32AM/5:31AM: Jason Dufner, Ryan Fox, Keegan Bradley

10:43AM/5:42AM: Ryan Armour, Abraham Ander, Masahiro Kawamura

10:54AM/5:53AM: Jazz Janewattananond, Fabrizio Zanotti, Jordan Smith

11:05AM/6:04AM: Brett Rumford, Masanori Kobayashi, Jack Senior

11:16AM/6:15AM: Matt Jones, Thomas Curtis, Bronson Burgoon

Getty Images

The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 5:25 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.