Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's

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.

July 24, 2019

Two Major Championships and Two Great Stories!

You miss a lot when you take a long vacation. Our travels took us 9,400 miles through 16 states (some twice) and five provinces of Canada to the very northern tip of Nova Scotia and back with our trusty 22 foot travel trailer. We usually take one good trip a year with our trailer, but this one was the longest both in miles and time. We definitely were not "roughing it", because we stayed in nice RV parks with electric, water and sewer hook-ups. Even so we didn't always have good wifi and television connections. We went through one stretch of not seeing television for two weeks straight. You miss it, but then you realize it's not that important, unless you want to see the US Open or other PGA tournaments.

I saw highlights of the first three rounds of the US Open, but saw nothing of the last round where Gary Woodland won in convincing fashion. I can't really comment on his victory other than his physical stature and game match what I consider the ideal attributes to win a major championship with the exception of the Masters. He is a Brooks Koepka clone that had his "A" game going all week. I have seen Gary Woodland play on a few occasions. What impressed me the most was how strong and solid he struck the ball. Putting and short wedge game was only average on the times that I saw him. Not surprised that he could win a major, but as much as I like him as a person, I don't see another major in his future. It was his week and he made the most of it.

During the time I was on the road there were two events that I would have loved to watch. Nate Lashley's victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and Matthew Wolff's win at the 3M Open in Minnesota. Both had great story lines. Lashley had been fighting the trauma of losing his parents and girlfriend in an airplane crash over fifteen years ago. He readily admits this has haunted him and held him back personally and as a golfer. He was the last player to be added to the field for this tournament and he ran away with the title by six shots. Emotional win, I hope there are many more wins for him.

The other tournament that I would have loved to have seen was Matthew Wolff's dramatic win in Minnesota. He turned professional only three weeks before and played like a seasoned veteran by making eagle on his last hole to win by one shot over Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa. Matthew has a strange backswing that would make you believe that he couldn't be a consistent ballstriker, but he is the reigning NCAA champion and has made the cut in three of the four PGA Tour events since turning pro. As far as the unorthodox backswing in concerned, you DON'T hit the ball with your backswing! Getting the club in the right position at the top of the backswing is the main objective. Getting it there can be easier than how he does it, but if that's the way that works the best for him, then that's the right way. Look for great things from Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland, two other recent college standouts, that both turned pro this past month. Each has made the transition to high level professional golf in a smooth and remarkable way.

I did get back home to see the last three rounds of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. It was disappointing that Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods could not be around for the final two rounds. In Rory's case, it was too much pressure to be the hometown and country favorite on a course that he knows very well. Say what you want, the first round for Rory was a choke. The next round of 65 was brilliant, but after you choke, then you are free to play your real game. Tiger was a different story. The golf pundits have speculated that something wasn't quite right with Tiger's health. After he missed the cut, he confirmed that he is having good and bad days with his body. He can't rely on his back cooperating on a regular basis. Sadly, what he once took for granted now is a day to day situation. The body has gone through a lot in the past six years. What we witnessed last summer and at the Masters was truly a miracle, now the reality must be addressed. Will we see Tiger win again? Probably, but we must also expect more missed cuts and non-tigeresk performances. That he is playing and still competing is a big bonus for all golfers.

Shane Lowry was the best player this week at Royal Portrush. He handled all adversity better than anyone else. His swing and game were a perfect fit for this type of weather and golf course. Others have similar capabilities, but only Shane was able to handle the pressure and hit the right shots at the right time. His third round 63 was a masterpiece of precise shotmaking. History should note that this round was one of the best of all-time. His last round of 72 was the second best score from the last eight groups that battled through the toughest of the weather conditions. It was an impressive show of grit and determination, especially when you are trying to hold on to a four shot lead and have an entire island pulling for him. Ireland and Northern Ireland should be celebrating for a long time. Is more glory in store for Shane? His confidence should be sky-high and he should be able to carry this new composure to future wins. Will that translate to more major wins? I don't think so, but that should not take anything away from this victory. The Open of 2019 at Royal Portrush will long be remembered and celebrated and Shane Lowry will always be the deserving winner.



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