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Opinion & Analysis

Carl Pettersson And The Long Driver

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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.

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, 2015 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 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

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