One of the interesting cases of 2012 was Carl Pettersson. Pettersson switched from a standard-length driver of about 45 inches to a 47-inch long driver. The idea, according to Pettersson, was to improve his launch conditions and to hit the ball further.
According to fellow GolfWRX Featured Writer, Tom Wishon, the average length of a driver on the PGA Tour is 44.5 inches. Wishon said he uses a golfer’s body dimensions, such as height and wrist-to-floor measurement, to properly fit the length of the driver for a golfer. We know that Bubba Watson used a 44.75-inch driver and is listed at 6-foot 3-inches tall. While I do not know Pettersson’s measurements, he is listed at 5-feet 11-inches tall on the PGA Tour’s website. I feel it is safe to say that a 47-inch driver is an abnormally long driver for him and not what most club fitters would recommend fitting him into.
The concept of a longer driver shaft increasing distance off the tee is not new. In fact, long drive competitors almost exclusively use longer driver shafts in order to hit the ball further. Part of the reason for the ball going further has to do how the longer shaft alters the geometry of the golf swing. The other part is physics. All things being equal, the longer the driver shaft the lighter the club’s static weight will be.
Here’s a look at Pettersson’s metrics with regards to impact conditions and distance:
Pettersson’s clubhead speed did increase. In fact, he had the 3rd highest percentage increase of clubhead speed from 2011 on Tour. He also jumped up 51 spots in the PGA Tour’s Driving Distance statistic. Ironically, his launch angle was actually lower in 2012 and the difference in “Max Height” was rather negligible. But in the end, if Pettersson was looking to increase his distance, that goal was accomplished. But hitting it far is only part of the equation to being an effective driver off the tee. The golfer must also hit it accurately and precisely.
I measure accuracy for Tour players based on their Fairway Percentage. And precision is measured by the metric Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway on tee shots that miss the fairway. Here is a comparison of those metrics for Pettersson in 2011 and 2012.
While Pettersson increased his distance, his accuracy and precision declined. And the decline in accuracy and precision was bigger than his increase in power and thus he was less effective off the tee in 2012 despite hitting it further.
Part of what is unique about Pettersson’s case is that since I have been calculating Driving Effectiveness on Tour, the numbers show that Distance and Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway have a greater influence on a golfer’s success on Tour than Fairway Percentage. In Pettersson’s case, the decline in Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway is more than acceptable given his increase in distance. The reason for him being less effective off the tee in 2012 is that his fairway percentage dropped too much. If Pettersson could have managed to hit 60 percent of his fairways, a reasonable drop given his distance increase, he would have been more effective off the tee than he was in 2011.
Petterson made $3,538,656 in 2012 compared to $1,540,723 in 2011. I think these metrics give a little better description of why he was more successful financially in 2012 despite being less effective off the tee.
There are a few things that stand out, particularly Pettersson’s Birdie Zone, Safe Zone and Short Game Play. Was that enough to affect his scoring?
Again, we get results that we do not quite expect. Despite hitting it further off the tee, Pettersson was not making the birdies like he was in 2011. Instead, his ability to avoid bogeys improved.
The improved Short Game Play is a big reason for it. But, how does that explain his regression in Safe Zone Play? One look at Pettersson’s attempts per round gives us more answers.
While his Safe Zone play got worse and his Danger Zone play was roughly the same, Pettersson lowered his attempts per round from each Zone. This offset the differences in performance from those areas. Along with his much improved Short Game play, he was then able to make a noticeable improvement at his Bogey Avoidance Rate.
Lastly, his improved distance off the tee did not help an area that most people think automatically improves as the golfer hits it longer.
I believe that given the evidence, the longer driver was not more beneficial than the driver Pettersson was using in 2011. His improved performance in Adjusted Scoring Average and Earnings was mostly due to improved play from shots around the green, Birdie Zone play and having less shots per round from the Safe and Danger Zones. His longer driving off the tee did not even help his play on par-5’s, nor did it allow him to be able to go for par-5’s in two shots more often. And it is very possible that the longer driver may work against Pettersson in 2013.