Flogging: It Works For Tiger

On Mike Vitti's PGATour.com ShotLink blog (scroll down to find the post), he breaks down an interesting new "percentage-of-distance-covered-by" stat that validates the flogging approach, at least for Tiger Woods.

So, for example, if a player hits a 300-yard drive on a hole measuring 450 yards the percentage of drive covered is 300 yards/450 yards or 66.7 percent. The 2006 TOUR average for this statistic is 61.7 percent for all driving holes. On par 4s the percentage rises to 65.6 percent, while on par 5s it drops to 52.1 percent.

He brings the stat up to look at Tiger possibly using driver less often: 

Judging by his results at Royal Liverpool, it appears that Woods should do whatever he can to find the fairway, and not worry about distance. However using the distance covered percentage on par 4s as the counter to this argument, accuracy in lieu of distance may not be Woods' best option. Consider the following from par-4 statistics by Tiger Woods:

2005-2006 Tiger Woods Par-4 Scoring
Drive Covers at least 67% of Hole Yardage   Drive Less than 67% of Yardage
Total Drives                 465                                                 341
Under Par                    130 (28.0%)                                     47 (13.8%)
Over Par                      45 (9.7%)                                        62 (18.2%)

In 2005-2006, Woods had 465 drives on par 4s where he covered at least 67 percent of the distance of the hole from off the tee. In these instances, he was able to make birdie or better 28 percent of the time. On the drives where Woods did not reach this mark, he only made birdie or better 18.2 percent of the time, and he also had a higher rate of over-par scores in these situations.

Then he looks at drives landing in fairway v. rough.

2005-2006 Tiger Woods Par-4 Scoring
Drive Covering at least 67%, Out of the Fairway  Drive Less than 67%, In Fairway
Total Drives                         211                                               193
Under Par                            41(19.4%)                                      36(18.7%)
Over Par                             30 (14.2%)                                     16 (8.3%)


2005-2006 Tiger Woods Par-4 Scoring
Drive Covering at least 67%, In the Fairway   Drive Less than 67%, Out of Fairway

Total Drives                           254                                               148
Under Par                              89 (35.0%)                                     11 (7.4%)
Over Par                                15 (5.9%)                                       46 (31.1%)

The conclusion:

Out of the rough on longer drives Woods has about as good a chance of making birdie as he does from the fairway on shorter ones, and more importantly, if he misses the fairway on a shorter drive he has a much greater chance of making bogey. If you are thinking that his accuracy with the shorter club should be greater than with the longer one, look at the numbers again. Woods' accuracy on drives that travel at least 67 percent of the fairway is around 55 percent while the accuracy rate for drives less than 67 percent is only around 43 percent. So why bring a greater risk of bogey into play if you can avoid it?

So Vitti concludes:

Back to the original argument, on whether Woods should change his strategy, I would say yes - every time he plays Royal Liverpool or a course that dictates that would be the best way to win. Otherwise, I think with 49 career victories, including 11 majors, Woods already knows what approach is best for him. 

Bomb and Gouge!?!?!

bombers1.jpgPeter Morrice has the first Golf Digest feature/instruction story on flogging, only he employs Chuck Cook's "Bomb and Gouge" label instead of Johnny Millers' "just flog it out there" line. 

I guess flog does have that negative semordnilap thing going against it, after all, it is...golf backwards. And why ever contemplate the negative when you can milk it for an instruction piece AND run photos of pros from the 18-34 demo! 

Today's tour bombers are not only crushing drives, they're establishing a new style of play: Bomb & Gouge. The thinking goes, bomb driver as far as you can and, if need be, gouge the ball out of the rough and onto the green. Golf's long-held ideal--fairways and greens--is giving way to this aggressive new style. Even from the rough, these power hitters say they can take advantage of shorter approach shots and create more birdie opportunities.

"I like hitting driver as much as possible because it gets me closer to the hole," says J.B. Holmes, another super-long rookie and winner of the FBR Open in February in just his fourth start on tour. "Hitting driver gives me the advantage of being 50 yards past other guys. If I hit 3-wood, I'm back where everybody else is."

Here's where it gets fun:

"The biggest factor in distance is that players are just now learning how to launch the ball at optimum conditions," says Tom Stites, chief of product creation at Nike Golf. "It's the technology of the equipment, yes, but it's also the technology of the selection process."

Another major factor is the modern ball. Tour players today hit multilayer, urethane-cover balls that spin less off the tee than wound balls of a decade ago. With the right impact conditions, players launch the ball high but with a lower spin rate, which lengthens but also straightens the flight (reducing spin reduces sidespin as well).

"With the [Titleist] Pro V1, the longest hitters went to bed one day and woke up the next 20 yards longer," says Jim McLean. Ball manufacturers continue to isolate the best flight characteristics, and ball-fitting has become a standard part of the equipment-fitting process. "Matching the ball to the driver being used has been a bigger variable than the equipment itself," says Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute.

Of course, these people are all delusional if you believe the USGA. bomberchart.jpg

Speaking of them, to your right is a Golf Digest chart that the Far Hills group would look at and say, "it's the grooves." (Instead of understanding that greens in regulation will go up when you are hitting more lofted clubs into the holes!):

Then there's this from Morrice and Jack Nicklaus:

As hot as the power game is, it's hardly new. Top players have often had a distance advantage, but they've usually used it cautiously. Jack Nicklaus was the bomber of his generation, but he played a decidedly conservative game. Nicklaus was famous for plodding his way around with 3-woods and 1-irons off the tee until he needed a big drive. Then he'd hammer one 50 yards by his playing partners. "I played a power game," Nicklaus says, "but I always believed the game of golf was a game of power when you need it, but placement and positioning was the more important part of that game. Today, the game to me is power. I don't think the other part is even there."

And this from Hank Haney:

"A few wild shots have always been an acceptable price for Tiger to pay in exchange for dominant length," says Woods' coach, Hank Haney. "The top players play the power game--and prove over and over that distance is king, especially when you have the ability to hit great recovery shots."

This is where things get weird:

Many golf insiders argue that course setups play right into the power player's hands. "Until the tour and other events narrow the fairways to 25 yards and grow the rough to four or five inches, they'll continue to bomb it," says Butch Harmon. "Golf used to be driving and putting, and it still is, only getting the ball in play doesn't matter anymore."

I guess Butch hasn't been watching, but uh, the more they narrow the fairways and grow the rough, the more it encourages flogging!

Don't you just love watching golf turn inward on itself, all to protect the...ah I won't go there.

One idea for putting a premium back on driving accuracy would be to "lower the floors of fairway bunkers so that they're real hazards," says White. "We can't just grow up the rough to six inches. The members at [our tournament sites] would not be able to play their own golf course."

Hey, those will drain well!

Really, how long before we start putting alligators and snakes in the roughs all to protect the...I said I wouldn't go there, and I won't.

Television analyst David Feherty, a former Ryder Cup player, agrees that shotmaking has changed but thinks it's for the better. "I stand up on the tee [at tour events] and look out at a fairway 350 yards out. I put my thumb on one edge of the fairway and my finger on the other--it's like 2 1/2 inches, and these guys are ripping it down the middle," says Feherty. "If that's not shotmaking, I don't know what is."

Now, wasn't he the guy who just last week advocated changing the ball to restore shotmaking?

The Big Bang

gw20060324_smcover.jpgFor over a year now flogging (or Tigerball) has been a much-debated topic on this site and written about on Golfobserver.com, so it was nice to see the Golf World cover story on this radical new approach that younger players are taking.

Ryan Herrington and Tim Rosaforte explore the concept with excellent sidebar support from Dave Shedloski, Matthew Rudy and E. Michael Johnson, focusing on the how the players are able to power the ball via equipment and improved physical conditioning (though in lumping J.B. Holmes in here, they appeared to ignore his comments earlier this year that suggest physical conditioning has little to do with his prodigious length).

The main story is a solid overview with several interesting anecdotes. Though I was disappointed that they didn't explore the role that course setup may be playing in all of this. (The narrower they get, the more pointless it becomes to worry about hitting it in the short grass...).

Loved this from Bubba Watson:

My goal is to hit it inside the white stakes. No matter where it is, fairway, in the trees, as long as I have a swing [I'm happy].

More worth your time is Herrington's blog post on the story. He looks at who in college golf will be the next wave of floggers ("big bangers" just doesn't quite work).

He includes more comments from a coach quoted in the story who talks about the mindset of younger players:  

 “A lot of people look around and say, ‘that’s really different,’ ” says Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler. “Well, not to [them] it’s not. It’s second nature. [They've] done it [their] whole life.

“It’s just crank it on down there and deal with it,” he continued. “Because I think they feel like short shots, no matter how hard they are, they’re really not that hard any more. You heard growing up ‘Don’t get that in between yardage. Don’t get that finesse shot.’ Well they laugh at that now. There are no hard shots if you know what you’re doing. They’ve figured out how to get it up and down and how to hit the flop and how much better the wedge is. How much more spin … now you’re reading you can get too much spin. So there are no hard shots if you know what you’re doing. So it just becomes an absolute birdie fest.”

“I think it’s a culture. Guys just play different. I mean I can go up and down my team and it’s little guys and it’s big guys. To see where we play from … that’s one thing about being at a place where you play the same place all the time. We’ve been at Golf Club [of Georgia] for eight years, nine years now. I can’t tell you how different it is. There were par 5s initially they didn’t go for. And longer par 4s now that they just try to knock it on, shorter ones now. Or just get it up there around the green and get it out of the bunker rather than with a wedge.”

And Herrington ends his post with this:

One last point … this philosophy of play in many respects is much like baseball catering to home runs and basketball evolving into dunk contests. Yet while people dig the long ball, that doesn’t mean it’s good for the game. Just as each of the coaches said that the Big Bang theory is practiced in college golf, they all each lamented this fact, longing for the time when shot-making was still important. I have to say I agree with them. By becoming infatuated with distance, players aren’t necessarily better, just longer.

Oh boy, another one to the add to the converted list. This media bias is contagious! 

Distance v. Accuracy

Thanks to reader Pete the Luddite for these graphs from the PGA TOUR's 2005 statistics on money leaders, driving accuracy, driving distance, and ball striking. He writes: 

230136-297828-thumbnail.jpg
Distance v. Accuracy (click to enlarge)
The graphs show, not surprisingly, that there is a strong link between distance and accuracy.  The long hitters rank very low in accuracy and the opposite holds true for the accurate drivers - they're short off the tee. 

The best examples are the two extremes, Tiger Woods (Distance -2nd, Accuracy - 188st) and Fred Funk (Distance - 197th, Accuracy - 2nd).  When you graph up the data for the Top 25 Money Leaders for 2005 (I had to pick a subset), you see that only 3 players in the Top 25 for money rank in the Top 100 for both distance and accuracy.

Graphing distance vs. ball striking shows that the long hitters who win the money also know how to use their wedges. 230136-297832-thumbnail.jpg
Distance v. Ball Striking (click to enlarge)
 
Graphing accuracy vs. ball striking shows that the short hitters who win the money also have good iron games.
 
Yes, the overall picture is that Grip It and Rip It is a fact - accuracy doesn't matter if you can use your wedges. 
 
230136-297838-thumbnail.jpg
Accuracy v. Ball Striking
But I don't think the war is lost yet.  10 of the Top 25 Money Leaders for the year were in the bottom 100 for distance, but are still up there with the bombers.

Ferguson On Flogging (Or Lack Of?)

Doug Ferguson warned me that he wasn't buying into the flog branding that has been sticking to certain players, and he wrote about it in this dispatch from Bay Hill.

"If you hit the ball a long way, you should be reasonably accurate," [Ernie Els] said. "Not one player on tour has the philosophy of just going out and hitting all over the place. It might work out that way, but we try and aim and get it in the fairway and give yourself the best opportunity to make birdie."

It looks that way at times, especially considering the driving statistics.

Woods is hitting 47.9 percent of his fairways, which puts him at No. 179 in driving accuracy. The feeling is that big hitters blast away, believing it's easier to hit the green with a wedge in the rough than a 7-iron from the fairway.

But that isn't always the case.

Woods had a solid week off the tee at Doral, even if the statistics don't bear that out. He rarely missed the wrong side of a fairway, sometimes dribbling into the first cut or barely into the rough, but usually leaving himself the perfect angle to approach the pin.

He and his caddie, Steve Williams, went over his drives and found that Woods was in the first cut 13 times.

"If you add that into the fairway mix, it's not that bad," Woods said. "So it depends on your perspective. I feel like I'm driving the ball much better now than I was earlier in the year, because things we've been working on are starting to come together."
 

FlogWatch, Tiger At Doral

FlogGolf2.jpgTiger Woods en route to victory at Doral:

                               Total      Rank

BIRDIES                        25        1
DRIVING ACCURACY    46.4     T59
DRIVING DISTANCE     304.3     9
PUTTS PER ROUND     28.8      T56
PUTTS PER GIR          1.690     T33
GREENS IN REG           80.6      T1 

Flog Talk at Doral

FlogGolflow.jpgIt is becoming a new rite of (early) spring: flog talk at Doral.

While Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson waited on the 18th tee during Saturday's third round, Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks discussed the play:

JOHNNY MILLER: Tiger Woods, the odds of him hitting this fairway are no more than 30%.

DAN HICKS: Tiger, 6 of 13 today, Mickelson 4 of 13 and both those golfers are right in among the leaders here.

JOHNNY MILLER: It’s hard to believe, really when you look at these numbers.

DAN HICKS: Yeah it is.

JOHNNY MILLER: Especially Phil, 4 fairways, come on Phil, you’ve been hitting a lot of 3 woods, 3 metals and still not hitting the fairways.

DAN HICKS: This has been the trend here at Doral. We saw a lot of the same thing last year with Phil and Tiger.

JOHNNY MILLER: It’s not like these guys are missing them by 3 feet or 2 feet. They’re out there pummeling their gallery.

DAN HICKS: Davis Love remarked earlier this season that “our game is about hitting out there as far as you can and you take your chances from there.”

JOHNNY MILLER: Well, that’s why I’d like to see the USGA—if you’re listening—let’s go back to V grooves. And then all of a sudden if you’re missing fairways, you’re not going to take advantage of all these lies in the rough. You’re going to have to play maybe, you know hit it on the face or it’ll float up the face or maybe you’ll get a zinger. That was really a big part of the game of golf. I’m telling it’s been eliminated by these square grooves. Some of these players are switching wedges every two months just to they can take advantage of the rough.

I'm all for investigating the groove thing.

But it's like a kid with a cavities having their dentist suggest a new toothbrush to prevent future problems.

Nice start, but something is causing the cavity besides an old, soft brush.

In golf, flogging started with the newfound ability to carry a ball 300-330 yards, all courtesy of optimized launch conditions. This change, caused by the USGA opting to stick with Iron Byron instead of updated testing, allows elite players to get on a machine and pick up 25-40 (at least) yards without lifting a single weight. It remains the root of the problem. 

It seems that the question of distance off the tee must be addressed before delving into the issue of whether grooves are an issue.

Think of it another way. If the USGA gets rid of square grooves, do you think Tiger and others are suddenly going to start using irons off the tee to hit more fairways on some 7,500 yard course?

Doubtful. 

Verplank On The Changing Game

At Doral Friday:

Q. There's been a couple of guys in the last two or three years who have gone out looking for extra distance, you don't seem to be one of them; "This is my game, let's see what I do"?

SCOTT VERPLANK: I can't do it. I mean, I can't hit it any harder. I can't swing any harder. I've tried. I don't hit it as straight. I can hit I can use the different golf ball that goes 10 or 15 yards further off the tee, but I can't hit it close to the hole with an iron shot. So I just kind of take what I have.

If I play like I think I can and think I should, then, you know, I don't have any problem with it.

Q. I was going to say, you birdied all of the par 5s today.

SCOTT VERPLANK: Yeah, you know, I think last year I probably finished in the Top 10 in birdies on the par 5s. But I kind of look at a par 5 as, you know, an opportunity. It's obviously a great opportunity to make a birdie, but sometimes if I can't knock it on, then I make sure I put myself in a spot where I know I'm going to be in good shape to still have a good putt at it.

Q. Do you have a strategy on all of the par 5s here or does it depend on where you drive the ball?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Depends on where I drive it, and if it's downwind on some of the holes, I'm going to try to hit a good drive so I can knock it on the green in two. Obviously, I can't knock it on 12, but I can get it up there pretty close where I'm hitting. Sometimes I chip better than some other guys putt.

So it's just it is what it is. I don't think I can hit it significantly further. I've tried. When I do I either hit it crooked or I get hurt. I'd just as soon keep it in the fairway. If I continue to improve, I'll pick up some more distance as the tournament goes on, and as the year goes on, too, pick up more confidence and how solid I'm hitting it. I end up getting it out there far enough to compete.

Q. You said earlier that you haven't really been striping the ball for two days, yet you're sitting here tied for the lead. What do you think that says for how things set up for you this weekend?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Well, hopefully good. I mean, if I continue to make the little strides the next couple of days like I'm hoping I will, you know, I know how to play my game. The way golf has changed, my game still works, just barely, you know. The way they have changed the equipment and the setups and all that, such a demand on bombing it. But there's just barely enough skill left in the game where I can still play (laughter).

Q. It seems like we come into this tournament quite a bit talking about the bombers and the guys that hit it long, and on this course, is that really necessarily a big advantage? You talked about navigational control here a few minutes ago.

SCOTT VERPLANK: No, you don't have to have it. Obviously you can still play. But it's more and more of a factor. If you can hit it straight, I guess I read yesterday that Tiger hit 12 fairways or something. As far as he hits it, that's pretty good. He's going to have a big advantage if he's 30 or 40 yards past me and he's in the fairway, as well.

Most guys don't hit it that straight, though, when they hit it that far.

Diaz: Big Ball

Regular visitors to this site know I've been calling it flogging for a year now, thanks in large part to Johnny Miller's comments at the 2005 Doral (wow a lot has happened in a year!).  And I wrote about it here, here and in the 2006 season preview, declaring this the year that flogging goes mainstream. Shoot, I even proposed on a book on it exploring the causes, ramifications and other good stuff. (Hint: it won't be coming to a bookstore near you anytime soon!)

Well I feel a whole lot better now that Jaime Diaz writes in Golf World about what he's calling "big ball." I do like Tigerball better (New York didn't!).

Increasingly, the PGA Tour has become the land of driver-wedge.

Not just piping it and pinching it, but even spraying it and flaying it. The majority of players have decided that most weeks, a sand wedge from the rough beats an 8-iron from the fairway. What's different is that more than ever, "big ball" is the percentage play in which even long and wrong can be right.

The movement's founders are Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh who, it's safe to say, arrived at their conclusions independently. (Their forerunner was John Daly, but he made too many 11s to be a model.) Mickelson went overboard in 2001 when he came out talking about trying to birdie every hole and seemingly rebutted himself by eventually riding an educated cut to his first two major titles. But his current experimentation with a 47-inch driver shows where his heart has always been. Singh has never vacillated in letting the big dog eat.

With Hank Haney's encouragement, Tiger Woods has bought in.

And...

Like all drastic style changes in the history of the game, this one started with advances in equipment.

Oh, it wasn't the athleticism that led to the new equipment?

Specifically, multilayered balls that go farther and curve less and 460cc clubheads that increase distance and mitigate misses (Holmes frighteningly claims the driver is his straightest club).

The new tools have emboldened players to attack from the tee, knowing that even if their ball does end up in the rough, their increased strength and the latest square grooves will usually allow them to get the wedge or short iron they have to hit to stay on the green. At the same time, firmer greens with increasingly remote pin positions have raised the incentive to make the approach shot as short as possible.

But maybe if they just narrow the fairways some more...eh, we know that's doing a heck of a job!

Here's the fresh material: 

Statistics from ShotLink further tell the tale. Average PGA Tour driving distances keep going up, reaching 288.9 yards last year, when for the first time, more than a fifth of all measured drives (22 percent) traveled more than 300 yards.

Average driving accuracy keeps going down, reaching a low of 62.9 percent in 2005, with the numbers in the last two seasons representing the biggest single-year drop since the tour began keeping such stats in 1980.

And according to extensive information gathered from their caddies for the past two years, most tour players hit some kind of wedge to an average of at least four of the 10 par 4s on a par-72 course.

An average of 40% of the par-4 approaches are with "some kind of wedge." Wow. Now that's a juicy stat.

But my favorite, the dreaded tennis analogy that is so commonly scoffed at by our Far Hills leadership and manufacturer shills. And this time, from of all people...

But still monster-long Davis Love III said that during last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, he got frustrated watching 7-iron approaches fail to hold greens and successfully switched to a long-ball strategy on the weekend to produce as many wedge approaches as possible.

"It's a lot like the way tennis players today really need to burn that serve," he mused. "Sure, [Roger] Federer has all the shots. But if he didn't have a big serve, he wouldn't be winning. In our game now, it's try to get it down there as far as you can, and if you have a good driving week, you should make a bunch of birdies. If you hit it in the rough, you might get by anyway. It all starts with hitting it long."

As the tour heads to Florida, and soon to the further-lengthened Augusta National, the analogy with a sport made less interesting by the proliferation of power should give pause.

Not one reference in the piece to this happening because of improved athleticism. 

Oh times, they are a changing. 

ShotLink: 12 at Riviera

shotlink_hdr.gifRiviera's 480-yard par-4 12th featured the most penal rough during the 2006 Nissan Open, so it was the first hole I've looked at with the PGA Tour's incredible ShotLink system that is available to the media during tournament week. 

Besides 3 inches of healthy rye, the 12th fairway was 25 yards wide. The combination of prevailing wind, rough and a narrow landing area made it play as the 3rd toughest hole, with a scoring average of 4.232. (The par-5 first played to a 4.299 average.)

However, a case could be made that the rough added very little in terms of defining skill or rewarding accuracy.

According to ShotLink, the scoring average from the fairway was 4.13. From the left rough, it was 4.28, and 4.26 from the right rough.

230136-277468-thumbnail.jpg
12th Hole at Riviera data
Looking at the scoring numbers provided in the screen capture  to the left (click on image to enlarge), the rough on 12 did not seem to impact scoring  much despite the obvious attempt to penalize those missing the fairway via narrowness and tall grass.

I've taken the left and right rough numbers and combined them to get these percentages:

7% of tee shots finishing in the rough made a birdie 

9% of tee shots finishing in the fairway made a birdie

63% of tee shots finishing in the rough made a par

70% of tee shots finishing in the fairway made a par

30% of tee shots finishing in the rough made bogey or worse

21% of tee shots finishing in the fairway made bogey or worse

And according to ShotLink, here's the scoring average by distance off the tee:

320+yard drives averaged 4.04

300-320 drives averaged 4.15 

280-300 drives averaged 4.19

260-280 drives averaged 4.33

240-260 drives averaged 4.57

<240 drives averaged 4.70

230136-277471-thumbnail.jpg
12th at Riviera "proximity to the hole" data
Not surprisingly, the idea of hitting the ball as far down the hole as possible seems to be the percentage play, with the rough not having enough of an effect to reward accuracy.

The "proximity to the hole" data from ShotLink would also seem to indicate that flogging is an intelligent strategy. (Click on image to enlarge.) 


 

"Just The Way It's Going Now"

J.B. Holmes in this USA Today story on the shift to power/flogging:

"It's better to have a wedge in the rough than a 7-iron in the middle of the fairway. That's just the way it's going now."

And this, which is hard to imagine since he seemed to have wedge into every par-4 at Scottsdale:

"I'm not overswinging or anything. That's just my normal swing to try to get it in the fairway. There's probably been times I've hit the driver better. When that happens, I can go low because I have so many wedges in my hand."

Sirak on Long John (Holmes)

Ron Sirak writes about the emerging youth in men's and women's golf, with J.B. Holmes as his prime example of the next generation inspired by Tiger Woods.

While there is no doubt that the occassional power player that comes out of no where and drives it insane distances proves fascinating (as Sirak says), there does not seem to be much consideration for the ramifications that this equipment-aided boom might be having on say, course design or setup.

Nor is there acknowledgement that this phenomenon is in large part the product of improved equipment, not necessarily improved skill.

It would seem the question of skill and what exactly it means is one worth debating. Because if nothing else, it would be an interesting debate. No?

 

True Bomber's Paradise

From an AP story on Justin Leonard and David Toms at Scottsdale:

One explanation for the two's demise on Sunday is that the TPC of Scottsdale course is a true bomber's paradise. The fairways were hard and fast and the rough thin, both caused by 109 consecutive rainless days.

Remember that last comment.

Consider the last six golfers who have won this event: Phil Mickelson, Jonathan Kaye, Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco and Mark Calcavecchia. All but DiMarco are ahead of Leonard and Toms in driving distance average and are plenty capable of bombing it well past 300 yards.

"I think [length] is a huge advantage," Leonard said. "You can carry the bunkers and the water and avoid the trouble."

Can carry the bunkers and water. Not roll it through the bunkers and around the water. Carry it. Hmmmm...

Toms was resigned to his lack of length, but is concerned that it is starting to overrun the game.

"Some guys have to work between the bunkers like me," Toms said. "Other guys can blow it over. That's just the way it is."

Just blow it over? Wait, what about the roll? The agronomy?

This year's event provided more evidence that long drivers rule in the desert.

The final threesome of the day averaged more than 300 yards off the tee.

Holmes was first in driving distance average at 319.7 yards. His longest drive was 365 yards on No. 13 in round two. Henry was averaging 303.9 yards and was ranked 12th. His longest drive was 353 yards on the ninth hole in the first round. Palmer was the short hitter of the group, only ranking 16th and averaging 301.5. His longest drive was a paltry 340 yards on the 13th hole in the final round.

Conversely, Leonard averaged 284.1 yards off the tee, 67th out of 72 players. Toms was 47th, averaging 290.8 yards.

Holmes Post Round Talk

J.B. Holmes after his round: 

J.B. HOLMES: Yeah, 13 was in the fairway. I was in between clubs, picked the wrong one, hit a great shot and just landed in the middle of the green and went over. Then went over in about the worst spot it could be. I played an okay shot, really wasn't that great of a shot to 25, 30 feet.

Then hit a great putt and it went in. So that was all the way around.

Q. What was the club on that?

J.B. HOLMES: I hit a 6 iron.

Q. What was your number in, do you remember?

J.B. HOLMES: I think it was it might have been 216 to the pin or something.

JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: 15, you had eagle?

J.B. HOLMES: I hit a good 3 wood. That was probably one of the bigger swings of the day, just getting it in that fairway. It's so firm and the ball can take off to the left there. Then just hit a great 4 iron right where I aimed it and just smoked it. It went up there, rolled right up there and then made a great putt.

Q. You had 257 to the flag and you hit 4 iron over water?

J.B. HOLMES: Yeah. It was only 230 to the front. It flew like 235 or something.

Q. Was that the second best shot of the day?

J.B. HOLMES: Yeah. The putt was probably the second best shot. The 4 iron was definitely huge. Ryan being in the water and then hitting it up there like that, that was a big change for me.

JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: 17, you had a birdie.

J.B. HOLMES: 17, just aimed middle of the green, hit it out there pretty good, and it started turning a little bit towards the hole and bounced up. I thought I made my first one, just didn't hit it hard enough, and tapped in for birdie.

Q. 3 wood?

J.B. HOLMES: Yeah.

Uh, that's a par-4 he's talking about, in case you were unsure. 

Oh and nice 77-yard approach into 18! Wow. 

Flogwatch: J.B. Holmes at the FBR

FlogGolf2.jpgAnother week, another flogger is born (and wins!). J.B. Holmes at the 2006 FBR Open:

Driving Distance   308.0 yards (13)
Driving Accuracy   31 of 56  (55%, T62)
GIR   50 of 72  (69%, T33)
Putts Per Round   27.0 (T1)
Putting Average (GIR): 1.660 (T8)

Oh, and he leads the Tour with 72% (128/168) of his drives finishing over 300 yards.  

Tiger 2000 v. 2005

George White compares 2000 Tiger to last year's edition.

OK, let’s go to a stat which is fairly meaningless when you are bombing drives out there that distance. Let’s compare driving accuracy. He hit 71.2 percent of his fairways in 2000. And last year he hit – just 54.6? His ranking last year was 188th, while in 2000 he was 54th.

OK, fair enough, but the fairways-hit figure is fairly inconsequential when one is hitting wedges and 9-irons into virtually every par-4 green. So let’s compare greens hit. In 2005 he hit 70 percent, good for sixth on tour. And in 2000 he hit – a little better than 75 percent, which was first on tour.

This has probably been covered before on this web site, or maybe it was just something I obsessed over in a book proposal that was met by some of the most hilarious rejection excuses of all time. Anyway, his fairway hit percentage drops nearly 17% in 2005 and his green in regulation number only drops 5%.

Flogging man, it works!

White also writes:

Now, let me tell you what is wrong with all this analysis: golf courses have gotten longer and tighter than in 2000; and equipment has changed dramatically. Not to mention that the men who are playing this year – heck, the men who were playing LAST year – are much different from 2000. Are they a better group than 2000? Undoubtedly they are. Golf in 2006 is not the same game as Golf 2000. 

At the pace we're on, imagine how much different golf in 2012 will be than golf 2006?

The Bashers vs. The Artists

SI's Chris Lewis takes on the Bubba Watson and his eye-opening drives, but instead of focusing on Bubba and what car he drives or what he thinks of yoga, Lewis actually explores the concept of how the game is played (really!). Even more scary? He considers the ramifications.

Lewis says the main 2006 PGA Tour plotline will be "the Bashers vs. the Artists."

Subtitle: In which the ever-growing ranks of PGA Tour dogleg-cutting, tree-flying, dimpled-ball bombardiers finally and forever vanquish the ever-shrinking number of short-hitting, fairway-dwelling, shot-shaping sissies.

Besides Bubba, he looks at other bashers and artists. And he explores why John Holmes changes his Tour name to J.B. 

Reporter: Why go from John B. [Holmes] at Q-school to J.B. [Holmes] here?

Holmes: You know the answer to that.

Flogging To Be Studied

FlogGolf2.jpgThere have been (not too subtle) hints that the governing bodies believe improved grooves encourage the flogging approach to championship courses.

The USGA's David Fay recently told a gathering of regional golf association heads that grooves may even pose a greater threat to golf's integrity than optmization-fed distance increases. He also shrugged off the distance issue as something only impacting the sport at the "highest level." (As opposed to grooves having an effect on all levels!?)

And now according to Douglas Lowe in The Herald, the USGA and R&A are going to study grooves. And all because of 2005's hip, edgy, cool and might I say, quite 18-34 approach to golf, better known as flogging.  Lowe writes:

To make it more difficult for the world's top players to reach for the stars, the R&A is using specially modified missile-tracking equipment to keep a check on the progress of the ball, with the help of Dr Steve Otto.

Dr Otto said the radar had revolutionised equipment research, despite the difficulties. "Tracking a small, white ball with very little metallic compound is a lot harder than tracking missiles."

The profile of a winning golfer 20 years ago used to be one whose drives found the fairways and whose iron shots found the greens. Now the world's top golfers are blazing away with abandon from the tee, with scant concern about direction, and more often than not getting safely on to the putting surfaces from long grass.

In a free market world, what's wrong with a new progressive approach? You can't legislate progress!

Dr Otto, the R&A's assistant director with responsibility for research and testing, said: "Players are not worrying so much about whether the ball is on the fairway. That has led us to look at different aspects of the game, and not just distance.

"We are looking at a player's ability to recover from the rough and whether that is based on their skill and strength, or whether equipment changes have helped."

Backspin imparted by the grooves on a club allows a player to stop the ball on the green, but top golfers have been making a nonsense of the idea that it is more difficult to do that from long grass.Dr Otto said that, in the 1980s, about 50% of a golfer's earnings could be credited to accuracy from the tee. By the 1990s, that figure had fallen to 25% and currently it is running at as little as 5%. As a result, there is concern that brute force in golf is taking over from skill.

And it's all the grooves fault!? 

"This trend has made us look more carefully at how grooves on the face of wedges are evolving," he added.

"They used to be basically ground out, but now they are milled with much greater accuracy, using computers. Perhaps they [manufacturers] are able to make sharper edges and better groove profiles."The current rules on the grooves on wedges have been in place for more than two decades when non V-shapes were allowed, but the distances between them were at the heart of a legal dispute with the Karsten Manufacturing Company.

Sales pitches of greater length and control and the need to maintain skill levels have always been a conflict. Now the possibility of limiting the shape and the distance between grooves is under the microscope again.To monitor the latest advances, the R&A and its partner organisation, the United States Golf Association, have employed this radar device developed by a Danish company that specialises in missile tracking.

Yes, I think it's safe to say the game is in trouble when you are using missile tracking radar to determine how the ball is coming out of the rough.

Hate to break this one to them, but golf did fine for 300 years without crops of rough being harvested to keep golfers gingerly teetering down a narrow center line.

I've started a thread over on the Discussion Technology page asking if you think grooves are significantly better than a few years ago and if you think it's something the USGA/R&A should be studying. 

Tiger On Target

TargetWorldLogo05.gifTiger Woods met with some of the games great scribblers on Tuesday to kick off the Target World Challenge week. Beforehand, he bombed drives out of the Sherwood Country Club range despite a headwind. More impressively, he then hit slice and draw wedges on the range for a handful of lucky folks, including his mom who had endure some annoying instructor telling her his life story. She's a saint. 

Anyway, I've never seen anyone draw or slice a wedge. These were not gently falling cuts or slight right-to-lefters helped by the wind. Draws and slices to a target 80 yards away. Amazing stuff.

The relaxed press conference took place in the claustrophobic Sherwood cart barn, where yours truly was on hand to take in the proceedings. The highlights:

Q. When did you know you wanted to open the learning center? How old were you and why is it so important to you?

TIGER WOODS: I really wanted to do it once I got out here. I wanted to have something tangible that kids could touch, kids could feel, they could be inside of. I thought what we were doing by going around the country and trying to inspire youth was great. We're just starting. We're in infancy stages. But I didn't think we were doing enough. We were kind of a circus, coming in for one week and we're gone. What about the other 51 weeks?

I wanted to do something that was going to be there permanently, something we could call home as a foundation for kids to come in, for kids to learn and grow, and I wanted them to create their own programs. The entire curriculum is based on their wants, their desires and their needs.

Now, some of us have been a bit skeptical about the learning center because of its cost ($25 million). Listening to Tiger talk about it in person and hearing his passion for the project, it is clear he has genuine pride in the Learning Center and how it has a chance to impact young people.

So yes, I feel like a jerk.

Later, a few questions were asked about the bomb-it-out-there-and-worry-about-the-consequences-later approach to golf, better known as flogging.

TIGER WOODS: It's how the game has changed. It's evolved. In essence, it's evolved in the fact that we're able to hit the ball greater distances. But again, the long hitters are still able to carry bunkers that the average guy can't carry. And that's how it used to be anyway.

I think technology now has spread out the guys a little bit more with the added physical strength of guys, too, guys getting to the gym and really working on becoming stronger and more flexible, are able to get a lot more speed. Add to that technology, in the shaft and heads. And more importantly, be able to marry up the shaft, the head, and the ball, because that was never the case. We all had persimmon drivers and let's just go play and hopefully we can get it out there.

After a few more questions about turning 30...

Q. There was a story in Golf World last week about performance enhancing drugs and steroids in golf and the possibility of it. Do you think there is a possibility that players are using anything and should there be perhaps a Tour policy or testing on that, either steroids or any kind of enhancing drug?

TIGER WOODS: There's always a possibility. Unless you're tested, there's always going to be a shadow of doubt on any sport. I don't see anyone out there who I would think would have finds of it, but who's to say there aren't. We don't know. We don't see any guys out there, 6 5, 240, 250, in shape, cut up, all ripped up. We don't have guys out there like that.

Q. Are you in favor of testing or do you think that's something that should be treated with a little more study?

TIGER WOODS: I think we should study it a little bit more before we get into something like that. Obviously it's a path that where do you draw the line? Do you do it on the PGA Tour nationwide but don't do it on any other tours leading up to that, or all professional golf.

Obviously there is a lot to it than just, okay, there's mandatory testing. Where does it start? Who does it? Who is in control of it? What are the substances that you're looking for. In the Olympics you can't take aspirin. A lot of guys live on aspirin out here.