For more than a decade, the hot topic of conversation in golf has been driving distance. Members of the media have been asking the USGA and the R&A to address the issue of driving distance and the governing bodies have essentially refused to address it to any degree… until now.
The USGA recently released their statistical analysis on driving distance and how it’s affecting the game. Their results? It’s not. The USGA claims that the increase of driving distance has been marginal since 2003 and should not cause alarm.
I think, much like the sentiment with anchored putters, the real concern is that the fabric of the game will change, or already has changed and that it’s not the same game it was 20 years ago.
As the discussion ensues about driving distance and how the USGA is handling it (or ignoring it), I think the discussion is going in the wrong direction. The primary argument is that iconic courses are becoming obsolete because there is only so much real estate for those courses to lengthen. Or that it’s becoming more and more difficult to build new courses that can cater to the PGA Tour. The second half of that argument is that, if they continue to lengthen courses, then they are essentially eliminating players who don’t average 300 yards or more off the tee. At this point, I agree with the sentiment that courses don’t need to be any longer. But there is more to the story.
I think, much like the sentiment with anchored putters, the real concern is that the fabric of the game will change, or already has changed and that it’s not the same game it was 20 years ago. It’s a game that doesn’t reward shot making and short-game abilities, or the best putters on the planet. It’s a game that rewards power and the “bomb and gouge” mentality. And the argument is the bomb and gouge mentality is bad for the game.
I disagree. The game has changed because that’s what games do. They evolve.
Before we talk about the evolution of the 3-point line, let’s talk about course conditions. As lawn care advanced over the decades, golf courses have changed dramatically from tee to green. Greens haven’t always been 12 or 13 on the Stimpmeter week in and week out. With the change of the green speeds came the change of putting strokes. It also changed the way players had to fly the ball into the green for approach shots. Faster and firmer greens meant that it was harder to get the ball to stop. Grooves in irons and wedges changed, as did the ball.
The same thing happened to the fairways. When the greens became firmer and faster, so did the fairways. In a 2011 article from Golf Digest, David Toms talks about this at great length.
“[The tour has] tried to do the best they can to get the fairways firmer,” said Toms. “Guys wanted firm, fast conditions. That’s what the tour’s supposed to do. That’s part of their setup plan. So if the weather stays dry, I know they’ve tried to get them to firm up. Perhaps that translates into overall distance being a little longer.”
So, my question is, why is all the focus on the equipment? Rioting about equipment is a fruitless effort. Changing the entire marketing principle for the golf industry — Distance! Distance! Distance! — is infinitely more difficult than trying to change the set-up plan for the tour.
If people really believe that distance on the professional circuits is a problem, then we should be talking about course conditions. Let the fairways and the rough grow a little higher so that the ball doesn’t run 40 yards on a high draw. If a player wants his ball to run out, make him do it from the tee box by controlling his trajectory. A simpler solution is altering course conditions, but what if distance isn’t actually a problem? I mean, we’re really only talking about 1,000 players, right? Not the 30 million amateur golfers.
So, let’s think about it this way.
In 1967 there was no 3-point basket in the NBA, NCAA, or high school basketball. There was, however, a 3-point basket in the American Basketball Association. In an attempt to compete with the NBA, the ABA tried to spice things up in their league and one of the main ways they did that was by adding the 3-point line.
The coaches at the helm of ABA teams had coached basketball their entire careers based on a game without 3-point shots. Throwing in a basket that counted more than any other on the floor caused the coaches to rethink their entire philosophy of how the game was played. It caused the strategic problems that even lead to one game being decided by a 92-foot shot just before the buzzer. The problem was, the score before the shot was 116-118. The players on the team that made the basket didn’t realize they’d won because they weren’t thinking about the 3-pointer.
The ABA would be relatively short lived and eventually merge with the NBA. And like all established organizations, the NBA was slow to adopt change, but it finally added the 3-point line in 1979. And though it didn’t happen overnight, the game would change drastically over the course of the next three decades.
It took nearly 40 years for the game to evolve into a game where the 3-point shot was built into the repertoire of the best players in the game.
In the days before the 3-point line, basketball was played as close to the rim as possible. Big guys like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain dominated the game down low. It was physical and focused on driving in the paint and scoring either by short lay-ups or drawing the foul inside.
When the 3-point line was added, it gave smaller guys, who didn’t stand a chance at the physical game, an opportunity to score big points from beyond the arc. In the ’96-’97 season, the leading scorer was Michael Jordan; in that season he made 111 three-point shots. In the 03’-’04 season, the leading scorer was Kevin Garnett; that season he made 88 three-point shots. In the ’15-’16 season, the leading scorer was James Harden; he made 236 three-points shots. The second leading scorer in that season was Steph Curry who made 402.
It took nearly 40 years for the game to evolve into a game where the 3-point shot was built into the repertoire of the best players in the game. It takes time for people to accept change, but it will happen.
Maybe that’s the thing that has golf enthusiasts scared; maybe they don’t want the game to change, but the problem is that it’s inevitable. It’s already happened. It changed when players stopped putting hickory shafts in their irons and using steel. It changed when players stopped using putters that looked like 1-irons and started using the mallet. It changed when Gene Sarazen invented the sand wedge.
The game has evolved, but just because we see players hitting it 330 yards, does that mean those players are the one’s winning all the tournaments? Let’s look at some numbers.
Between 2003 and 2015 the average driving distance of all winners in that period (a total of 500 events) was 293.3 yards. The average driving distance on tour was 287.8 yards. That means that, on average, the winner of a PGA Tour event was driving the ball 5 yards longer than the rest of the field. But the problem is not the average distance; it’s the top 10 percent that has everybody worried. It’s also not the majority of the tour players who take that average to new heights. What we’re seeing are about 10-12 guys that hit it over 20 yards longer than the tour average.
Can we really make huge changes in the game because we have about 15 players that are just that much longer than the rest of the field? I don’t know. Maybe we can, but like so many have said about the USGA Driving Distance Report, “It doesn’t pass the eye test.”
Out of the 500 events between ‘03 and ‘15, 160 winners averaged fewer yards off the tee than the tour average. And you have to remember that in that same span 44 events were won by Tiger Woods, 21 events were won by Phil Mickelson, 23 were won by Vijay Singh and nine were won by Dustin Johnson. Four players account for nearly 20 percent of the wins between ’03 and ’15, and all four of those players hit the ball longer than the tour average (by about 11 yards).
From of the remaining 403 events, 160 averaged less than the tour average in driving distance. That gives us right at 40 percent of the winners on tour from ’03 to ’15 averaged less than the tour average in driving distance. Even further, out of all 500 events in that time, only five players averaged more than 303.3 yards. That’s one percent of the winners averaging over 303.3 yards.
The current proposed solutions are as follows: increase the ball size (or dial the ball back) and increase club regulations. Both of those solutions are going to punish the average golfer, which is completely the wrong thing to do. The golf industry is unlike most other sports; it doesn’t make its money from the professionals, it makes its money from the amateur. So why punish the target audience for revenue? (A surefire way to hurt the game.)
The solution is much simpler. Alter the course set up. If you’re tired of players being able to hit every par-five in two, then grow the rough up and narrow the fairway at 300 yards. Dustin Johnson didn’t win at Oakmont last year because he hit the ball further than everyone else, he won the U.S. Open because drove the ball in the fairway and hit his irons close to the hole. If you look at DJ’s stats from last year, from the rough at 150-175 yards, he was T164. From 50-125 yards, he was T103.
What does that tell you? If the long hitters drive the ball in the rough, they have a harder time getting the ball close to the hole. Like everyone else.
Dustin Johnson didn’t win at Oakmont last year because he hit the ball further than everyone else, he won the U.S. Open because drove the ball in the fairway and hit his irons close to the hole.
The USGA and the PGA Tour are offended that players are hitting the ball 330 yards. And they’re even more upset by the fact that there are 30 guys who can hit it that far. That’s a PGA Tour and USGA problem; it’s not a player or a manufacturer problem. Up to this point, those entities have tried to solve “their” problem in the least creative way possible: lengthening courses. It’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s also the wrong way to look at it by assuming it’s actually a problem. Things change. Games evolve. Players get better. Equipment gets better.
So what are we so worried about? If the score of the average tournament is 20- or 21-under par, who really cares? There are only a couple of times a year that anybody wants to really see PGA Tour players struggle; the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. And players struggle for completely different reasons at those tournaments. The rest of the year just let the drama be that players are trying to beat each other. Not that they are trying to beat the course.
Let’s stop whining and enjoy watching the best players in the world do what they do. Use the ProTracer function more on your coverage. Let’s take advantage of the technology we have and show the types of shots players could hit when they are stuck behind the tree and stop complaining that they’re behind a tree because they tried to cut the corner and failed.
Driving distance is only a problem for the people who refuse to admit that the game is going to change. It’s only a problem for those who refuse to be creative with course setup and think the only way to even the playing field is to lengthen the course. If anything, they are only reinforcing what they call a problem. Players have to hit it farther to be consistently competitive if you stretch all the courses to 7,500 yards or longer. It’s a circular logic that has created an entire subcategory of “searchable problems” in golf. We don’t need any more problems, we already have the most difficult one to overcome: expense.
We’re trying to solve a problem that is only a problem based on the data points for 0.01 percent of the players who play the game. In any other industry that would be considered lunacy. Like the 3-point line changed the way basketball was played, so too will distance in golf. It’s inevitable.
You can scrutinize my calculations here.
Is golf actually a team sport?
Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.
“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”
My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?
From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.
To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.
So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.
Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.
For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.
The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.
So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”
Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.
What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?
You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.” That brings up two issues:
- How did they arrive at that number?
- How is that information valuable to me?
How did they arrive at that number?
They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.
For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”
The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.
The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.
Do Stimp readings matter for my game?
Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”
Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.
Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.
Setting your own Stimpmeter
- Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
- Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
- You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
- You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
- You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.
The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .
- After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
- Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
- Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
- Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
- Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
- Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?
Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.
This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!
Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution” that is now available through Amazon.
TG2: What is this new Callaway iron? A deep investigation…
Photos of a new Callaway iron popped up in the GolfWRX Forums, and equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what exactly the new iron could be; new Apex pros, new Legacy irons, or maybe even a new X Forged? Also, the guys discuss Phil’s U.S. Open antics and apology, DJ’s driver shaft change, new Srixon drivers and utility irons, and a new Raw iron offering from Wilson. Enjoy the golf equipment packed show!
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
The story behind Jason Dufner’s new National Custom Works irons
GolfWRX Members Choice: The best blade irons of 2018
Aaron Wise’s Winning WITB: 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson (updated 5/22 with photos)
Everything former Nike rep Ben Giunta said about working with Tiger Woods
Brooks Koepka WITB 2018
Spotted: New Titleist “TS2” and “TS3” drivers at the 2018 U.S. Open
Spotted: Ping i210 irons and Glide Forged wedges
Webb Simpson’s Winning WITB: The 2018 Players Championship
Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB: 2018 U.S. Open
Tiger Woods explains the origin of his famed stinger
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