by Jeff Skinner
Golfers over the years have always been captivated by the long ball. From Old Tom Morris to Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods, hitting the ball a long way has been a major goal of any golfer. No golfer has ever said,”I want to hit it shorter.” The evolution of the game from hickory shafts to steel and to graphite has enabled golfers to hit the ball much longer distances, especially with the newer drivers. Jack Nicklaus was hitting his driver longer at sixty years old than he was at twenty five. The professionals are driving the ball farther than ever before, but with that length comes a decrease in accuracy. Rarely do you see the driving distance leaders near the top of the leaders in driving accuracy. The leaders in driving accuracy and fairways hit are always the shorter hitters.
This past week on the PGA Tour and the LPGA the long drivers were on their way to the airport when a couple of shorter hitters were collecting their trophies. Both winners, Zach Johnson and Ji Young Oh, are shorter hitters but both rank higher in driving accuracy than they do in distance. Ji Young Oh, who won by four strokes at the Sybase Classic in New York, was out-driven by an average of thirty yards by her nearest competitor, Suzann Pettersen. Oh was hitting her driver an average of 237 yards and ranks 122nd on tour in distance. Pettersen bombs the ball over 262 yards on average and is ninth on tour in distance. As far as their accuracy ratings: Oh has a 71% ranking which is T57 on tour. Pettersen has a 67% rank and is the 100th ranked player in driving accuracy. Oh drove the ball very straight and was able to shoot an under par round while her longer foes played from the rough and couldn’t catch her. She beat the longer Pettersen for her second win on tour. Zach Johnson isn’t a terribly short hitter, but he’s not going to win any long drive championships. He has a 281 yard average and is 133rd on tour, but he ranks 16th in driving accuracy for a 70% rating. Johnson defeated James Driscoll in a playoff at The Valero Texas Open. Driscoll has a 287 yard average and is 76th in tour rankings. His accuracy numbers are low. He has only a 57% success rate and is 142nd on tour. Again, the shorter hitter comes out on top. So, maybe we need to think again about what’s more important off the tee. Is it the longest ball, no matter where it lands? Or is it a ball in the fairway with a longer approach to the green? Unless you’re Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson who can bomb it and then wedge it on the green from anywhere, and recently that doesn’t work anymore, isn’t it better to have a shot from the short grass? Ji Young Oh and Zach Johnson obviously think so, and they have two new trophies to show for it.