Driving Distance vs Accuracy

By Frank ThomasJanuary 28, 2010, 1:31 am

So much effort has spent developing equipment and balls that go farther and farther. The USGA has placed limitations on some products such as compression limits on balls and volume size for driver heads. A few years back, some courses (like Augusta National) started lengthening courses in an attempt to 'Tiger proof' them. I have always wondered why they didn't shorten courses, narrow the fairways, and make the rough more severe. It would be somewhat like lowering the basketball rim to 8' which would mean being 8' tall would not be as advantageous. This also might reduce water and maintenance costs. What do you think?

–Greg, CA

I really do appreciate your question as it makes sense at a time when we seem to be running out of this faculty.

I have suggested on many occasions that there is truly no need to lengthen courses for the tour players just because some of them are able to hit the ball a long way but rather, as you have suggested, shorten them. There are more skills required to identify the best golfer than his ability to drive the ball a long way. However, we have placed a disproportionate premium on distance and unknowingly rewarded those who have developed this ability – at the expense of other skills – by lengthening courses.

If distance was the most important skill in golf, as we seem to have implied by our actions to continue to  lengthen courses for major championships, then we should build a course 8,000 yards long with only two holes. One hole 4,000-yard long  outward and the another 4,000 yards back. This would clearly identify and reward the longest hitters.

Course design and strategic set up are of utmost importance if the object is to identify the best golfers. The fact that golfers, not all of us but certainly the tour pros,  are able to hit the ball great distances has created a problem. The solution for coping with this, is not to lengthen courses  but as you have suggested, shorten them.

The driver is not sacrosanct, and if we decide not to use it – because the risk of not being accurate with a long drive is too great – we will not face a life in purgatory.

I reviewed the change in the average driving distance on the PGA Tour to find – as anticipated – that we have reached the predicted plateau. This plateau is governed mainly by the laws of physics – with a little help from the governing bodies – and the fact that the tour pros are launching the ball at its optimum launch conditions for their head speeds. This should be of some comfort to those who believe that increases in driving distance are never ending.

The major shift in average driving distance was between 1996 and 2004 when the USGA allowed spring like effect in titanium club faces and this, in combination with the multi-layered solid construction ball increased the distance on tour  about 25 yards without any increase in skill. A major contributing factor to this extraordinary increase is the fact that the new better performing ball and club allowed golfers to reach the optimum launch conditions of higher launch angles with lower spin rates.

The fear of any further increase in distance on Tour is over. For the rest of us, we may have a little more to go if we found the sweet spot more often. To help in this mission, a shorter driver may help not only keep us in the fairway but, on average, have longer drives.

As much as we don’t really want to believe it, the average golfer drives the ball close to 90 yards shorter than the average Tour pro but we think we are only 50 yards shorter. We also believe that every new driver we pay $500 for will make up 20 yards of this difference.

The thrill of looking for this magic club is part of the charm the game has to offer, and something the manufacturers thrive upon.

Greg, for those few events, when the Tour comes to town, we really need only change the course set up for appropriate risk/reward options and there will be no need to make the course any longer. This would allow more good golfers to exhibit their true skills and allow us to identify the true champion while increasing the entertainment value of tour events.

Our thrills can come from watching golfers – those long hitters – try to drive, if they have the courage, a green on a 350 yard par four with the potential of making a triple bogey. This is a form of entertainment, similar to but not as disastrous, as going to a NASCAR race to see the accidents.

For those of us who want to enjoy our game more, we need to find the sweet spot on our driver more often with a shorter driver and play from shorter tees. Unfortunately we fantasize about more distance and as a result it is has become the magic word in marketing. We buy hope and there is a lot of it for sale.

Thanks, for your question about which many will agree and I am sure you will enjoy my book “Just Hit It” where I discuss similar issues and other thought provoking topics as well as guide to golfers in their selection of new equipment to increase their distance and allow them to enjoy their game a little more.

– Frank  

Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com

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By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

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There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”