You would assume that height would be an advantage in golf. After all, taller golfers have the potential to hit the ball farther based simply on their limb length, mass, and overall body strength. Doesn’t a taller golfer’s ability to drive the ball as much as 30 yards or 50 yards past his shorter opponent give him a head start that can’t be overcome?
Well, there’s that well-known fable concerning the tortoise and the hare, and we all know how that turned out. A fast start is no guarantee of a fast finish. Maybe that’s the point that Harvey Penick was attempting to make in his own way when he said, “The woods are full of big hitters.” I think you would agree that there’s is no point in hitting the ball a long way off the tee if doesn’t end up in the fairway consistently.
After working with a number of tall players over the years, I had come to the conclusion that height was a not an advantage. In fact, with only a few exceptions, it seemed to be a distinct disadvantage.
In considering this subject, I thought of my former student Charlie Danielson, who was 6-feet 5-inches tall. I‘d worked with Charlie through his high school years up until the week that he left to play for Coach Mike Small at the University of Illinois, where he helped his team capture the NCAA Championship. In working with Charlie, I found that the plane of his swing could vary as much as a foot over the course of a single week. In this regard, he was not the exception to the rule, but more the norm when it came to be working with tall players.
The advantage that Charlie had was that he was fully capable of hitting good shots even when the plane of swing was less than ideal. He was like a great hitter in baseball; he would just adjust to the height of the pitch and make it work.
The Taller Player
The logical assumption, as mentioned earlier, would be that a taller player would naturally hit the ball farther than a shorter player. And that distance would then allow the taller player to outperform the smaller player every time. That contention would certainly seem to be evidenced by looking at today’s modern wonder boys, Dustin Johnson at 6-feet 4-inches and Jordan Spieth at 6-feet 1-inch. Between them, they’ve have won a total of nine events and a total of $17 million on the PGA Tour in an eight-month period.
That said, I’ve found over the years that there are six areas where tall players typically struggle. These six areas constitute what I refer to as “The Taller Player Syndrome,” and these problems ultimately affect a player’s ability to score.
The Taller Player Syndrome
No. 1: The Setup
The first disadvantage is related to setting up to the ball. How does it make sense that a player who is 6-feet 5-inches tall would use the same length irons as another player who is 5-feet 7-inches tall? And yet, realistically, the most an iron can extended is about an inch before it becomes unmanageable. In this case, there is a difference of 10 inches in height between these two players.
The taller player must then account for this difference in the setup, which becomes exceedingly awkward — especially with the shorter irons. This is in contrast to the shorter player, who only needs to bend slightly forward from the hips, place the sole of his club on the ground, and then make a swing.
No. 2: Lower Body Instability
The distance from the taller player’s feet to his knees, and the distance from his knees to his hips, is considerably greater than the shorter player. This lends itself to general instability in the lower body, especially where the length of the legs is disproportionate to the torso, ensuring poor balance throughout the swing.
No. 3: Excessive Knee-Drive
There is a universal tendency for taller players to develop excessive knee-drive on their downswing, causing them to finish with their backs in an arched position as if they were doing the side-ways limbo. This places excessive pressure on the lumbar region of the back.
No. 4: Lower Back Issues
In many cases, I’ve found that taller golfers have legs that are not equal in length, which creates setup and balance issues. There are three possible causes for the apparent disparity in leg length:
- The first possible cause can be genetic, meaning that the length of the leg bones on either side of the body are unequal, which is actually quite rare.
- The second possible cause, which is more common, occurs when the pelvis has been torqued in one direction or another. In a case where the pelvis has been twisted to the left, the right leg becomes functionally longer while the left becomes shorter. The reverse is true when the pelvis is twisted in the opposite direction.
- A third possible cause is when the stronger and less flexible muscles on one side of the body take over. This has the effect of pulling the lower spine out of alignment and in the process, pinching delicate nerves. which is the basis of pain. Those players with this condition will universally complain of periodic or chronic back pain, which often grows worse with age.
No. 5: Fluctuating Spine Angle
The arc of the swing revolves around the spine, which is inclined forward at address. This angle must be retained throughout the swing until the ball is struck, which makes for consistent shot-making. The required angle at address is considerably more acute for a taller player than a shorter player, making it more difficult to retain the angle through impact.
No. 6: Variable Backswing Plane
The most significant problem for the taller player, as mentioned earlier, is the variety of planes in which the club can be swung. The plane can vary from horizontal to vertical and everywhere else in between.
In contrast, a shorter player has, for the most part, only one swing plane. And invariably it’s the correct one, because it comes more naturally to them than the taller player. The inability to swing the club on the same plane on a consistent basis ultimately leads to variations in performance.
PGA Tour Money List
I decided to look at the top-15 players on this year’s PGA Tour Money List to determine if there was a connection between the height of the players and how well they performed in terms of dollars earned between January 1 and August 31, 2017, as outlined above.
The study would hardly meet scientific guidelines, based on (1) limited sampling, (2) short time period, (3) lack of a control group.
The study was not designed to prove or disprove any one theory. I simply wanted to determine in rather short order if there was a plausible correlation between a player’s height and the number of dollars they earned on the PGA Tour.
The study would seem to suggest that in terms of dollars earned, height is neither an advantage or a disadvantage. That said, a broader study conducted in a purely scientific manner “might” reveal additional insight on the subject.
- The numbers indicate that taller players on the PGA Tour do not hold an advantage over shorter players.
- In the reverse, shorter players on the PGA Tour may hold a slight advantage over taller players based on their durability, making them less prone to injury.
- The amount of money earned on an average by those players under 6-feet tall is virtually same as the amount of money earned by those players over 6-feet tall.
- The numbers suggest that the composite height of “the perfect golfer” has increased from previous years to between 5-feet 11-inches and 6-feet tall.
- The numbers are skewed in favor of taller players by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, who are both 6-feet 4-inches tall. Were these two players NOT among the top-15 money winners, the average height of the entire group would dip toward the shorter side.
Some additional findings included:
- The shortest player in the group is Brian Harman at 5-feet 7-inches.
- There are a six players who are below 6-feet, while there are nine players who are 6-feet or taller.
- The average amount of money won by the six players under 6-feet was $5,714,844, while the average amount of money won by the nine players over 6-feet was $5,323,572.
In many other sports, height is an advantage and in some cases a requirement. In this regard, golf is unique. The height of the player is for the most part irrelevant when it comes to earning, and by extension, playing the game well.
Would these same findings apply to amateur golfers across the board, including those with handicaps from scratch to 30? That grouping would have to be studied on an independent basis to reach a valid conclusion, though a plausible assumption is that it would be similar.
In addition, this limited study indicates that height of “the perfect golfer” would seem to be increasing. This may well be due to the fact that the sport is attracting bigger and better athletes, who might have chosen to play another sport in prior generations, but were attracted by the fame and fortune that golf now offers its stars.
The Wedge Guy: A defense of blades
One of the longest-running and most active conversations in all of golf equipment is the subject of blades versus game improvement irons. Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” I’ve addressed this in various ways and always stimulated a lively discussion with my readers.
I hope this angle on the conversation will do the same, so all of you please share your thoughts and observations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have always played some kind of blade-style irons, with only a few detours along the way. But I always come back to my blades, so let me explain why.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s when blades were all we had. As a teenager with a developing skill set, I became a devotee to those models from the old Ben Hogan Company, and played the “Bounce Sole” model, then several iterations of the Apex line after it was introduced. Those few sets served me well into my 30s, when I became involved in the golf equipment industry. Having Joe Powell Golf as a client, I switched to his pure muscle back model called the “PGI.” They were certainly sweet.
In the late 1980s, I was handling the marketing for Merit Golf, who offered a cavity back forging called the Fusion, which was inspired by the Ben Hogan Edge irons, but offered a more traditional face profile. So, I switched to them.
Playing to a low single digit handicap at the time, I really didn’t see my scores change, but I just wasn’t making as many birdies as I had before. Openly pondering why my golf felt different, a regular golf buddy noted, “You’re not knocking down pins as often as you used to,” and I realized he was right. I was hitting just as many greens as before, maybe one or two more, but I wasn’t getting those kick-in birdies nearly as often. So, I went to the closet and broke out the old Joe Powell PGI irons and had an epic day with three birdies inside five feet and a couple more in the 5-10 range.
Those blades stayed in the bag until I developed my first iron design, the “RL blades” by my first company, Reid Lockhart. By this time, I had seen enough robotic testing prove that the most penalizing mishit with a blade was a toe impact, which mirrored my own experience. So, I sculpted a pure muscle back blade, but added a bit of mass toward the toe to compensate for that deficiency of all such designs.
I played those irons for 20 years, until I created the “FT. WORTH 15” irons for the re-launch of the Ben Hogan brand in 2015. In that design, I further evolved my work to very slightly add a bit of modified perimeter weighting to a pure forged blade, taking inspiration from many of Mr. Hogan’s earlier personal designs in the Apex line of the “old” Ben Hogan Company. Those are still in my bag, going on eight years now.
So, why do I think I can make a solid defense for playing blade irons? Because of their pinpoint distance control, particularly in the short irons — those with lofts of 35 degrees or higher.
I’ll certainly acknowledge that some modern perimeter weighting is very helpful in the lower lofts . . .the mid- and long irons. In those clubs, somewhere on or near the green is totally acceptable, whether you are playing to break 90 or trying to win on the PGA Tour. [Did you know those guys are actually over par as a group outside 9-iron range?] That’s why you see an increasing number of them playing a conservative game-improvement design in those lofts. But also remember that we in the golf club design business deal with poor “hits” only . . . we have no control over the quality of your swing, so the vast majority of bad golf shots are far beyond our influence.
But what I’ve seen in repeated robotic testing and in my own play, when you get to the prime scoring clubs – short irons and wedges – having a solid thickness of mass directly behind the impact point on the face consistently delivers better distance control and spin. In my own designs of the SCOR wedges in 2010, and the Ben Hogan FT.WORTH 15 irons and TK15 wedges, I created a distribution of mass that actually placed a bit more face thickness behind the slight mishit than even in the center, and the distance consistency was remarkable.
I’ve carried that thinking to the Edison Forged wedges by positioning much more mass behind the high face and toe miss than any other wedges on the market. And in robotic testing, they deliver better transfer of energy on those mishits than any other wedge we tested.
So, back to that experience when I switched back to my Joe Powell blades from the Merit cavity back forging, I can sum it up this way.
If your pleasure from your golf is derived more from how good your worst shots turn out, then a game improvement iron is probably the way to go. But if your golf pleasure is more about how good your best shots are, I think there is a very strong case to be made for playing some kind of blade iron design, at least in your scoring clubs.
Alright, fans: sound off!
2022 Open De France: Betting Picks & Selections
After an enthralling Italian Open at next year’s Ryder Cup venue, the DP World Tour moves on to Le Golf National, scene of one of Europe’s finest hours, a 17.5-10.5 victory at the 2018 running of the bi-annual festival.
With Valderrama on the schedule in three weeks’ time, the tour showcases a trio of its best courses within a month, and whilst deserving of a better field than present in France this week, the tournament should again provide viewers with a treat.
With the lowest winning total since 2000 being 16-under, and an average of 11-under, the focus is very much on a strong tee-to-green
game. The rough is up, the greens are tricky, and scrambling difficult. Those with low confidence in any aspect of their game need not apply.
2019 winner Nicolas Colsaerts somewhat went against the grain when winning via a long driving game , certainly compared to the likes of runner-up J.B Hansen and third-placed George Coetzee, as well as previous winners Jaidee, McDowell and Levet. Like the differing results at the Marco Simone course over the last two runnings, we should resume normal service, with bombers not having so much of an advantage.
In a hard event to weigh up, here is this week’s best bets.
Antoine Rozner 28/1
Ewen Ferguson 45/1
Jorge Campillo 45/1
Marcus Kinhult 60/1
There are few of the top lot that can be ruled out.
All of Thomas Pieters, Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox and, Victor Perez appear very high on the season-long tee-to-green lists. The Englishman was the first one on my list but, at 20/1, he can be left alone, especially given I would have expected him to have done better than a best of 21st in three outings here.
Nevertheless, his is the type of game needed for here and with home support probably a boon, plump for Antoine Rozner to make the Gallic crowd go wild for the first time since Levet’s victory in 2011.
Since his last couple of appearances in his home country – ninth and 13th on the Challenge Tour – the 29-year-old has won in Dubai and Qatar in contrasting styles.
The first saw him putt the lights out to win in 25-under, whilst the more relevant victory was at wind-affected Education City, where he grinded out a one-shot victory in eight under-the-card, a final hole 60-plus foot putt sealing the deal.
2022 has been good.
The record of two top-10s in Spain and Crans disguise four further top-20 finishes, and that he was inside the top-10 after round two of the BMW International, round one of the Czech Masters, and rounds one and three at Glagorm Castle.
Indeed, it was after the first of those that he announced he was very happy with the way his game was trending, and, true to his word, his tee-to-green play has been nothing short of stunning.
Since July, he has averaged a ranking of ninth for approaches, two of those efforts rating him leading the field for tee-to-green. Using the older stats, Rozner has recent greens-in-regulation figures of 21/2/2/7/34/5, perfect for a course that will penalise anyone that constantly misses the short stuff.
There may well be a current issue about his putting, but that is true of all the better ball-strikers. After all, it would be neigh impossible to beat them if every facet was ranking in the top five.
Rozner is bound to know this course better than his ‘debutante’ status, so take him to prove himself in a very beatable field.
Qatar seems a bit of a theme with Ewen Ferguson taking the next spot in the plan.
The Scot owes us nothing after two wins this year for the Players To Follow in 2022 column, but I’m not sure he is quite finished yet.
Slightly naïve when in front on Sunday at the Kenya Open, his next two starts might show finishes of 61st and 40th but, again, they disguise better play than the record shows – Fergie was 11th after three rounds at the MyGolfLife and just outside the top-20 at halfway at Steyn City.
That experience no doubt led to a grinding victory – another to be seen in Qatar – where his solid tee-to-green game outlasted most of his opposition.
The game has continued in that vein, with a 12th place at Celtic Manor (7th after three rounds) being a fine correlation with this week’s track, followed by his second victory of the year at Galgorm Castle.
Probably his best effort was in Himmerland at the beginning of the month, when his all-round game was in superb shape, only giving way to a ridiculous pair of putts by Oliver Wilson. As he did in Ireland, Ferguson led the tee-to-green figures via both driving and irons, whilst his scrambling game was also highly ranked.
Despite the smiles, he may have been feeling that defeat when missing the cut at Wentworth, a course that doesn’t suit everyone on debut, and look at his price – over twice that of players that fail to convert winning chances.
At the same price, the mercurial Jorge Campillo is well worth backing to continue a solid bank of recent and course form.
Rather like previous Spanish winners of the French Open, the 36-year-old (yes, I thought he was older than that, too) has that capability to get out of trouble with the short game so identifiable with his compatriots.
One missed cut in his last nine starts shows he has a belief in his overall game, whilst six consecutive cuts sees him in the sort of form that should enable to challenge for his third European victory, after Morocco and (here we go again) Qatar.
Again his record shows just a couple of top-10 finishes this year, but he was in fourth place going into the final round at Kenya, top 10 for the middle rounds in Belgium, led the Irish Open at halfway and was in the final group on Sunday, whilst he closed late last weekend when it turned tricky in Italy.
With an 8th, 15th and 18th in six starts around here, it’s that ability to grind out a result that gives him claims this week. Campillo isn’t a strong birdie machine, so a winning score of around 10 to 12-under will do just fine.
Marcel Schneider and Romain Langasque both tempted me in at the prices, but whilst the former is in flying form, his record shows he improves after a first sighting at a course, so monitor him for a quiet debut and back him next year! As for the French native, he really should do well if his win at Celtic Manor and his home record has anything in them. The issue is that, at the moment, he is hitting it sideways off the tee and unable to recover with his irons – not a great combo around a tight track.
Instead, take a chance on Marcus Kinhult, who beat Robert MacIntyre, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace to the British Masters in 2019, held at the links of Hillside, his sole victory on tour to date.
The Swede, whose tee-to-green game doesn’t give him as much reward as it may be ought to, followed that win by making a tough up-and-down at the final hole of that season’s Nedbank Challenge to join Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off, both having come from off the pace at the start of the day.
Unfortunately, that one didn’t go his way, but he has continued to bank a solid record, including top-10 finishes in Qatar (hello, again), The Renaissance Club and Wentworth through 2020, before a personal nightmare.
As he explained in his DP World Tour blog, the 26-year-old started suffering with dizzy spells, eventually diagnosed with epilepsy. In terms of golf, we can put a red line through 2021 form.
Fortunately, the condition is now under control and having worked his way through the Nordic Golf League, where in two events he finished ninth and first, arrived at full fitness at Kenya to finish inside the top-10, before a closing third in Qatar (hello…oh, ok.)
Whilst he couldn’t capitalise on a place in the final two-ball at The Belfry, it was a good warm-up for a return to Hillside, where he would finish a never-nearer third, following that effort with a pair of 23rd place finishes at the Czech Masters and Crans.
It is worth noting that his best efforts in 2018 were in Qatar, at Wentworth and around here (when finishing in fifth place), whilst the last time the French Open was played here, he again finished quickly to be just outside the top-10.
Kinhult has ranked top-12 for driving accuracy in his last three completed outings, and in the top-20 for scrambling in five of eight starts. This is his track.
Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama make big gear changes in Napa
Andrew Tursky was on site at the Fortinet Championship this week and got all he could handle in terms of new equipment news. There were new irons, drivers, and even headcovers all over the range, so we had to dig into two of the biggest stories out there on this week’s Two Guys Talking Golf Podcast (give us a follow on Instagram: @tg2wrx).
Rickie Fowler’s new irons
Rickie Fowler has been changing a lot of equipment in his bag as he has struggled to get his golf game back into shape. We have seen him with different drivers, shafts, irons, and putters throughout the 2021-2022 season. Fowler has typically played some form of blade during his career, and Cobra even made him some signature Rev33 blades that were beautiful, but razor thin and intimidating for us mortal golfers.
Rickie showed up to the Fortinet with some brand new, unreleased, Cobra King Tour irons. The King Tour irons look a lot like the current Cobra King Tour MIM irons, and we can only assume that the new Tour will replace the MIM.
The interesting thing about the King Tour irons is that they look a little larger than his preferred blades and that they might have a little more ball speed and distance built into them. From the images you can tell there is a little slot behind the face that might be filled with some type of polymer.
Rickie didn’t get into the tech of the new King Tour irons but did tell Tursky that he was gaining around 3-4 yards on shots that he stuck low on the face. He finished the first round of the Fortinet Championship in the top four, so the new irons have seen some success under pressure. I know many of us hope to see Rickie back to form soon, and maybe these new King Tour irons can be the catalyst.
Hideki Matsuyama’s driver change
The other big story comes from a former Masters Champion testing out some new drivers on the range, Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is well known as a golfer who loves to test and tinker with new golf equipment. Each week there is a good chance that he will have multiple drivers, irons, and fairways in the bag searching for the perfect club that week.
Earlier this week, Hideki was spotted with some new, unreleased, Srixon drivers out on the range in Napa. We spotted a few pros testing the new Srixon ZX7 MkII and ZX 5 MkII LS on the range.
Andrew spoke to the Srixon reps and learned Hideki has been trying the new drivers and seems to have settled on a Srixon ZX5 MkII in 10.5 degrees of loft (and his trusty Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX shaft).
The ZX5 MkII LS looks to have an adjustable weight on the sole that is moved far forward —closer to the face — to possibly lower the spin. We haven’t heard anything specific from Srixon on the new drivers, but with their recent success, we would expect to see some solid performance out of the line.
Check out the full TG2 podcast, below
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