September 3, 2019

Would you rather be a great Driver or great Putter?

There's an old adage in golf that says, "You drive for show, but you putt for dough." I have always thought that to be a correct concept. But lately I have come to question this belief. Rory McIlroy used his driver as a weapon to convincingly win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup this past week in Atlanta, Georgia. His driving distance and accuracy were the main reason for his dominance.

If you had to choose one quality to compete successfully on the PGA Tour the answer is overwhelmingly driving excellence. Rory, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and Gary Woodland are a few of the bombers that are on top of the world rankings. In the final pairing last Sunday, Rory drove it straighter than Brooks and that ultimately was the difference. The game is much tougher when you are hitting out of thick rough. You can make pars, but birdies are not going to happen. Brooks had a fantastic driving week at Bethpage. The same for Gary Woodland at the US Open and Shane Lowry was outstanding at Royal Portrush. With the super long drivers like Rory, Brooks, or Dustin the difference sometimes can be as much as fifty yards ahead of their playing partners. Fifty yards can be the difference between hitting a wedge or a six iron. Who's going to hit it closer on average with a wedge than any higher club? Rory McIlroy ranked 86th on Tour from 100 to 125 yards, but still averaged 19'9" from the hole. From 150 to 175 yards the 50th ranked player averaged 26'6" feet from the hole. The Tour average "make" from 20 ft. is 14% and 9% from 27 ft. Statistically, the big advantage goes to the longer straighter driver.

Rory has improved his putting, but he is not considered an elite putter. He is streaky at best and many times looks lost on the greens. Most of the long hitters are adequate putters, but only Brooks has shown great potential with his putting, especially in major tournaments. On the other end of the top player spectrum is Jordan Spieth. Jordan is a great putter, but below average driver and ball striker. He has been in a slump for him these past two years, mainly because his putter has been off. However, lately he had found his putting form and has had some strong finishes. Unfortunately, he gives up distance off the tee to the elite drivers and though shorter he isn't as straight. If he's in the fairway, he's a world class player, but most times he's in the rough fighting hard to make pars.

The great players, going back to Bobby Jones have been long hitters. Jones, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods have all been long off the tee. Only Gary Player, Billy Casper, and Nick Faldo are multiple major winners that where not exceptionally long off the tee. The modern game demands accuracy and length. No golf course can survive a consistent 320 yard drive that finds the middle of the fairway. A formerly real tough 450 yards par four is now reduced to a 130 yards wedge or less. Forty years ago, if you hit it real well, you could get on with a five iron.

When I teach juniors, I want them to swing with as much force as possible. I help them with the most efficient technique as possible to achieve greater clubhead speed. It is easier to take power away then to add it at a later date. Besides, it's always fun to "tee it high and let it rip" and to find the fairway a long ways away. Distance is today's game. Sure you have to be a reasonably decent or average putter like Rory, but driving it longer and straighter makes the game much easier and is now an essential component for greatness on the PGA Tour.


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