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Opinion & Analysis

The blind spot of PGA Tour players: Long-iron play

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With the PGA Tour’s season winding down to the final tournament of the year, there will be a faction of golfers fighting to make the top 125 on the Money List in order to keep their Tour Card for 2013.  I have personally worked with a few PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors on understanding the game from a statistical standpoint.

When I started the 2012 season working with these clients there were a couple of parts of our initial interaction that surprised me:

1)     Each player had made it their goal to be ‘one of the best wedge players on Tour.’

2)     Each client initially did not buy into me telling them that in the grand scheme of things, full shot wedge play is not overly important. Particularly on the PGA Tour.

With the PGA Tour’s ShotLink data, the numbers are on display for statisticians like me to decipher the level of importance of each part of the game of golf.  It’s very similar to the movie Moneyball and the approach Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, utilized to build his team based on the cold, hard numbers instead of traditional baseball axioms. But even better, there are far less “moving parts” in the game of golf, making the numbers more distinct and easier to see the correlation to success on Tour.

Despite that, there is still plenty of resistance to approaching the game of golf from a metrics standpoint and every year there are about 75 full time PGA Tour golfers wondering where their entire season went wrong.

***

My development into metrics and the game of golf actually started back when I was only five years old.  I immediately took to the game of baseball and each week my dad would go to the local store and grab a few packs of baseball cards and give them to me where I would collect them.  Eventually I would spend my entire time reading and studying each card.  One of the fascinating parts of baseball is the amount of record keeping of statistics the sport has, dating back to the 19th century.

One of my favorite all-time baseball managers was Billy Martin as he would keep some data on how well certain batters performed against certain pitchers.  In fact, in the 1977 American League Championship Series, Martin benched superstar Reggie Jackson because Kansas City’s starting pitcher was Paul Splittorff, who had owned Jackson each time they faced each other.  Almost every baseball expert thought Martin was insane, but in the end the Yankees won the game 5-3 and went on to beat the Dodgers to win the World Series.

For better or for worse, statistics lends way to contrarian type of thinking.  But if analyzed diligently and with an open mind, it can uncover truths that have eluded even the greatest experts for centuries.

In my own personal journey of golf, I had never understood what the golf term “scoring” exactly meant.  Often times, hearing the words “I scored well’ left me with more questions than answers.  Generally I would hear it referred to putting and chipping well, but I had plenty of rounds where I shot a low score and did not putt or chip all that well. In fact, one of my lowest rounds ever (64) came with a 4-putt.

With that, I decided to look into the ShotLink data and use my background in statistics to see if I could figure out the level of importance that certain parts of the game have on the success of PGA Tour golfers.  In the process, I wound up uncovering a truth that has been long ignored by countless Tour players.

***

Before I go on, the wedge game does matter in the game of golf.  In fact, every part of the game matters in the game of golf.  If a golfer improves his fairway bunker play, that will lower their scores over a period of time.  However, if a golfer improves their putting, that will have a bigger impact on lowering their scores than if they were to just improve their fairway bunker player.  Thus, a metrics based approach to golf is about determining the level of importance that certain parts of the game have and then focusing on improving the parts of the game that have the highest level of importance in order to improve a golfer’s scores.

One of my first observations was that Tour players typically do not hit the ball well from every location with every type of club in the bag.  The golfers considered to be top tier ballstrikers are usually good off the tee and then excel with certain irons like the mid-irons or the long irons or with their wedges.  But to find a golfer who can hit it well off the tee and hit it well with each iron is quite rare.

I ended up splitting the game in different categories like Driving Effectiveness, Putts Gained and Short Game Play.  But for the approach shots, I split them into the following categories:

  • Birdie Zone Play (shots from 75-125 yards)
  • Safe Zone Play (shots from 125-175 yards)
  • Danger Zone Play (shots from 175-225 yards)

What I uncovered was that Danger Zone Play has the strongest correlation to success on Tour than ANY other part of the game, including putting and driving effectiveness.  And it has a far stronger correlation to success on Tour than Safe Zone Play and Birdie Zone Play.  Despite that, these clients of mine on the PGA Tour would tell me how important it was for them to be one of the best wedge players on Tour.

While I was a little frustrated with their desires to be the best at a part of the game that was relatively unimportant to their success, I did understand where they were coming from.   I had to remember that before I did this statistical research, I had the same ideas of good Tour players would almost always get up-and-in on any shot from inside 100 yards.  And if a Tour player was unable to execute from that distance, they would not find themselves on Tour for very long.  This led me to wondering where this faulty thinking came from.

***

Currently, the leader in Birdie Zone play is Steve Stricker, who has hit his Birdie Zone shots an average of 15.74 feet to the cup.  The average Tour player from the Birdie Zone has hit his shots 20.35 feet to the cup.

The general misconception for golfers, including actual PGA Tour golfers, is that once a good Tour player gets a wedge in their hands they will hit it close and have a tap in putt.  But as the data shows, that is far from the reality.  The best player from 75-125 yards is averaging almost 16 feet left to the cup on shots from this range.  The average Tour player is leaving it over 20 feet to the cup.

Furthermore, the Tour average putts made percentage from 15-20 feet is only 18.3 percent.  From 20-25 feet the average make percentage on Tour is 11.7 percent.  Therefore, Tour players are not having a lot of tap-ins when they get a full swing wedge in their hand, but also their odds of getting up-and-in with a full swing wedge in their hands are slim at best.

Still, we need to see what the correlation between Birdie Zone Play and success on Tour actually.  To give a better idea, take a look at the top-10 Birdie Zone players in 2012 and their ranking on the Money List:

Here’s a list of the players in the bottom-10 of Birdie Zone Play and their Money Ranking:

Out of the players in both lists, the bottom-10 in the Birdie Zone actually have 6 players in the top-100 on the Money List versus the top-10 Birdie Zone players which only has 5 players in the top-100 on the Money List.

Let’s compare that to the best and the worst of the Danger Zone golfers.  Here is the top-10 Danger Zone golfers and their rankings on the Money List:

Here’s the bottom-10 in Danger Zone play:

Every single player in the top-10 in the Danger Zone will be in the top-125 on the Money List in 2012, regardless of what happens at Disney.  But even better, those who have finished in the top-10 in the Danger Zone have had resounding success on Tour this year.  Whereas four of the top-10 Birdie Zone golfers (Mulroy, Taylor, Thatcher and O’Hern) will likely have to win at Disney in order to finish in the top-125 on the Money List.

This is the blind spot for many PGA Tour players.  They keep working doggedly on their wedge game whereas if they used their efforts towards the longer irons and hybrids, they would almost assuredly keep their card and get closer to nirvana, winning a PGA Tour event.

I think the cause of the ‘blind spot’ is television.  Television producers are far more interested in shots that wind up close to the pin than the shots that actually have a greater impact of a golfer separating themselves from the rest of the field.  That is why we see so much putting on televised rounds, those are the shots that golfers are most likely to make.  When it comes to full swing shots, golfers are more likely to hit a wedge shot closer to the pin.  And to make it even more visually appealing, wedge shots are more likely to get backspin as well.

Thus, the perception is that Tour players stick every wedge shot and get up-and-in with ease.  That is what we usually see every week on TV.  The reality is far different and that the more spectacular shot happens when a golfer hits a 190 yard shot to 15-feet with no back spin.  But television ratings always take precedent over mundane facts.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Louis

    Aug 10, 2014 at 5:25 am

    You say a player who averages 15 feet from 100 yards has a slim chance of making birdie because tour pros only make 20% of their 15 footers. How about all the shots that land inside 15 feet though?

    If you hit 30 shots and average 15 feet from 100 yards it means you will have 4 putts inside of 4 feet (let’s say you make 4), 6 from 5-10 (let’s say you make 3), 5 from 11-15 (let’s say you make 2), and 15 from 15-30 (let’s assume you make 2). That gives you a better than 33% chance of making birdie.

    Winning tournaments comes from making birdies and not screwing up badly. Going from a 7% margin of error to 5% margin of error with long irons isn’t gonna make you score any better.

    Not spraying your long irons will help immensely. Because that’s a really easy place to lose strokes.

    Lesson: keep the ball in play (hit greens) with your long irons. That’s it. Don’t worry about being better than able to hit it within 50 feet of where you aim consistently (still hard to do). Going from 50 feet to 40 feet won’t help.

    Eliminate inconsistencies that produce big misses.

    Once you have that down, to score well, hitting the wedges closer is the easiest way.

  2. Sam

    Jun 18, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Interesting stuff, here’s my 2cents worth…
    PGA Tour players are just like other golfers, they follow trends. In the 90’s everyone on Tour jumped on the 52, 56, 60 bandwagon with Tom Kite, when he took distance control to a new level. Then along came Tiger with 48, 54, 58 and they all dumped a wedge. Lately, club lofts have changed the make up of sets, making 3 iron redundant in many cases (as shown above). The reason the DZ looks more important to scoring than the BZ is that relative to the other parts of their game the average PGA Tour Pro is poor in the BZ. The reason for this is simple: not enough tools to do the job. Modern PW clubs have become much stronger, instead of keeping the loft/distance gaps even, everyone followed Tiger and minimized the short end of their set. No doubt, more options and more full shot yardages will result in closer to the hole with wedges, it would be interesting to look at the correlation between number of scoring clubs and proximity to the hole, pretty sure you will find that guys with 3-4 wedges get it closer more often than the two club guys. Now that’s a blind spot!

    • JD

      Nov 13, 2013 at 5:15 am

      Interesting comment. But what I think you have failed to recognise is the fact PGA tour courses have become much longer and therefore require more clubs down the long end of the set make up. As a professional caddie and also a pro myself I have seen this first hand. There are also more courses with par 3 holes that are between 200-225 yards, couple that with longer par 4 holes that require longer, higher and softer shots players are forced into a hybrid as well as 3 irons. This is one reason I feel players are dumping the extra edge.

  3. Mike

    Feb 21, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    The article is interesting but I am not sure that using Money List as a correlation to Birdie/Danger Zone is a statistically sound method. The Money List is a total of earnings but that is subject to a variable you have not accounted for which is the number of starts a player has on the Tour. Even an average PGA Tour player will have more money when they have more starts. A better comparison of earnings to player performance statistics would at least use “earnings per start” to eliminate the variable related to the number of starts.

    Also, isn’t there some relationship between BZ, SZ and DZ that you have not accounted for? For example, Steve Stricker rates Top 10 in BZ and DZ efficiency and Adam Scott is 189th in BZ and obviously not Top 10 in DZ. One would think, based on the analysis, that Adam Scott would finish far below Steve Stricker yet the opposite is true. Scott (16 starts) actually finished with slightly higher earnings per start ($181,000) than did Stricker (19 starts and $180,000 per start).

  4. Alex

    Feb 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    First of all great article…
    Last year i actually kept record of 30 rounds and analyzed them through out. I took lowest 10 rounds and see what i did best during those rounds. This is what i found. 7 out of 10 rounds i hit 12 fairways each of those rounds, however also note i took more 3 woods and hybrids off the tee that left me a lot of 150-185 yard approaches. In those rounds i hit about 14 greens on avg. What this concluded for me is that i am a lot better hitting 7,6,5 and hybrids off the fairway than wedges from the rough. I am pretty decent putter and will not really 3 putt very often, however i will also not drain too many 20 footers for birdies. If Tour avg from the BZ is about 20 ft then i will be definitely over that, so as an amateur if i want to score better but more importantly consistently better i should be hitting 3/5 woods off the tees and hitting 7 irons into greens taking my 2 putts and going to the next hole. This is where this article is dead on, for me to get better either i need to drive better and be on the short grass with my driver leaving wedges in or improve my approaches from 150-185. Now what is easier to improve….

  5. Jeff

    Feb 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Great article, really can relate to this.

  6. Dane

    Feb 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Great article Mark. Being a golf professional this has put into writing what plenty of golf pros think. I will definitely look more into your work!

  7. Philip

    Feb 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Wow! I think I need to become a statistician to analyze my golf game! Call me weird, but these are fun articles!

  8. mark burk

    Nov 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

    All of the players you metion are good danger zone players are longer hitters and bad dangerzone players are short hitters. 175 to 225 for the good ones mention are mostly mid irons that can hold the firm pga tour greens, they also will be able to hit par 5’s in two more often which is where these guys make there birdies with shorter clubs and since most the par 3’s on tour are over 200 yards plays to the advantage of the longer hitters. So it would be better most of the world class player have good long game because of distance. If you want to talk about where weekend warrior can save shots it is with the shortgame. If a player can eliminate 3 putts and get up and down more often it will save them more strokes than being a good iron player from 175 to 225. Keeping the ball in play, eliminating 3 putts and decent short game will keep the score down for the average weekend golfer. Every time I go to range at my club the chipping and putting green are empty and the range is full. What will lower a score faster going from 38 putts a round to 30 or hitting good long iron or hybrid shots which will maybe be hit 4 times a round. This is for the weekend player

    • Richie Hunt

      Nov 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Mark,

      I only showed the top-10 and bottom-10, but there is no substantative statistical correlation between distance off the tee or clubhead speed or a combination of the two and DZ play. And I have ran these numbers since 2003 for Distance and DZ play and thru 2007 for clubhead speed and DZ play.

      There are plenty of examples of shorter hitting, low clubhead speed players that play great from the DZ each year. McDowell is ranked 8th in the DZ and not very long. Same with Stricker. Furyk is ranked 12th and routinely does great in the DZ. Same for other shorter hitters like David Toms (who was ranked #1 in 2011), Heath Slocum, and Zach Johnson.

      Meanwhile there are longer hitters that struggle from the DZ. Like Chopra, Driscoll, Lamely, and Mark Anderson (currently ranked 174th) and Jhonattan Vegas (currently ranked 175th).

      Distance helps…slightly. But it’s not enough help for Tour players to overcome a lack of skill in the Danger Zone.

  9. Brett Adamkiewicz

    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

    What a well rounded article, and explained better than I have ever heard it. I have always taken a different thought process compared to the average joe. Not to exaggerate but we have all heard the phrase “drive for show and putt for dough” a million times. Fact of the matter is you will never win any “dough” if your superb putting skills are saving bogey and double bogeys all the time. On a side topic I am curious as too the percentage of penalty strokes taken in a round are due to tee shots and the “danger zone” shots. I know the phrase doesn’t exactly fit with the danger zone but it is all relative. 175 and out is what I call my scoring zone. I can have a bad putting and chipping day and still be sub 80. If I can’t get off the tee and can’t get around the green, the limit on my score…. I am taking a trip with 7 of my buddies to Kiawah Island this weekend and I am going to put this to the test! Most of them are all mid to low handicappers and can play well! I am going to have a little fun with this and track their scoring relative to your “Danger Zone” and off the tee. Thank you for this article and I hope more people will read this and pay attention.

    • Brett Adamkiewicz

      Nov 1, 2012 at 11:05 am

      The sky is the limit on my score. Left out that part.

  10. Dan

    Oct 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Fantastic article, very insightful. It will be great to stop focusing on the “Glamorous” parts of the game and focus more on the shots that lower my score.

  11. DaleH

    Oct 31, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Exactly.. most amatures do struggle with the short game but really struggle with longer irons like myself. I’m usually on hitting into greens with say an 8 iron or less, 7-4 not as good, the longer the iron the the less my chances. Time to practice more on the long irons. Thanks for the facts.

  12. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – The blind spot of PGA Tour players: Long-iron play | Golf Products Reviews

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

Follow @tg2wrx on Instagram to enter the Bettinardi inovai 5.0 center-shaft putter giveaway.

Listen to the full podcast below on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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