By Rich Hunt
Last year, Brian Gay changed swing instructors. At the time, I imagined that he likely had some concerns about his shrinking distance off the tee and his clubhead speed getting slower. This drew some question marks from some people close to Brian since he had such a successful period from 2008-2010 with an instructor he started working with in 2007. In fact Gay’s caddy, Kip Henley, tweeted how he had some doubts about the switch this past fall until Gay had a successful Fall Series.
While roughly 1 to 2 mph of clubhead speed may not seem like much, it is a big deal on Tour. The historical data of players losing and gaining clubhead speed shows this. My guess is that part of it is an indicator of swing mechanics and the other part is that it will require the golfer to hit more club on their approach shots.
Let's look at Gay’s clubhead speed over the past few years:
The shorter a golfer hits the ball on Tour, particularly if it’s mostly due to a lack of clubhead speed, the better they will have putt in order to be successful. I believe that this is mostly due to the fact that shorter hitters, particularly with lower clubhead speed, cannot go for par 5’s in two shots nearly as often as longer hitters. Thus, they are likely to have longer birdie putts on the par-5’s and in order to make more birdies, so they will have to do a better job putting to compete. That’s why all of the great players that were short off the tee were usually good putters. That does not take away from their pure ball striking, but the lack of distance in players like Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson or Brian Gay requires that they make up for it with the flat stick.
Where I believe Gay had good reason to be concerned about his lower clubhead speed is the lack of success on Tour of players whose clubhead speed was under 104 mph over the past few years. Here is a list of all of the players that finished under 104 mph of clubhead speed from 2007 to 2012 and their ranking on the Money List:
Obviously, Pavin played in select events. But, other than Gay, no player with under 104 mph of clubhead speed fared well on Tour.
For Gay, the lack of clubhead speed was taking a toll on the two most important ballstriking metrics on Tour, what I call Driving Effectiveness and Danger Zone play (shots from 175-225 yards). Here’s a look at those metrics for Gay over the years.
So, Gay ended up looking for new instruction with a focus on improving clubhead speed and distance off the tee. But, the learning curve hurt his ball striking.
As I wrote in my e-book 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis, Gay was able to accomplish his main goals of improving distance and clubhead speed. While it hurt his ballstriking in 2012, he was able to survive that season by finishing 103rd on the Money List.
It is something that so many amateur golfers face. Working on their swing and dealing with the short term negative effects for the potentially bigger reward down the road. Gay was able to stick it out despite the naysayers thinking he made a big mistake. And now, with his win at the Humana Challenge, he is the one getting the last laugh.