Ivan Morris Column - Long hitting ‘matters more than anything’

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
SEVE was great because he hit so many great shots. Faldo was great because he hit so few poor ones. Crenshaw was the greatest putter but his long game did not put him in contention often enough to cash in.

SEVE was great because he hit so many great shots. Faldo was great because he hit so few poor ones. Crenshaw was the greatest putter but his long game did not put him in contention often enough to cash in.

Rory’s superior long game puts him in contention but average putting prevents him from winning regularly.

Justin Rose gains most from hitting fairways and greens. Tiger consistently makes the best approach shots. Steve Stricker has the most gainful wedge and putting game.

Until now, statistical record keeping in golf tended to be subjective and flawed. Keeping track of the number of fairways and greens hit and the total of putts is far from the full story.

New data is debunking long held theories. All of my life I was told: “Drive for show: putt for dough.” But, a numbers crunching Columbia University professor, Mark Broadie, has produced “Moneyball” evidence in a new book,Every ShotCounts that hitting the ball a long way matters ‘more than anything’ provided, of course, that the long hitter stays out of trouble.

In terms of gaining the most advantage compared to the competition, the best driver of a golf ball is Bubba Watson. By looking at where exactly all of his drives finish (not necessarily on the fairway) Bubba is best in that category.

All of this new information is due to the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system, which tracks every shot by every player at every tournament. A statistical, golf revolution akin to what we see in other sports is well underway. And, no sport lends itself better to the gathering of such information than golf.

It doesn’t matter if a golfer stays off the fairway - as long as he has a free shot at the green. It doesn’t matter if he misses a short putt occasionally or doesn’t hole any long putts (say, over 22-feet) as long as in every round he ‘stiffs’ a couple of approaches.

It doesn’t matter if he misses a few greens, as long as he chips within four feet or less every time because it has been statistically proven that there is a dramatic difference in success rates in holing from 4-feet over holing from 5-feet, which is something that nobody could have appreciated fully before.

Perhaps, the most surprising fact to be uncovered is that professionals are not that much better at putting than an ‘average-to-good amateur.’ They are better but not by that much.

The big difference is in the tee to green shots, especially the number of times the pro will fire one close to the hole from long distances. Watching pros sinking putts on TV is misleading because that medium concentrates solely on those in contention who are having a good week. Go to the Irish Open and pay close attention to the also-rans - you’ll see plenty of putts missed and plenty of frustration expressed as a result.  

The long game is the separator between the best tour pros and the average ones and when some extra distance is involved, even more so.

The better players are that little bit better at everything, especially hitting the ball further and closer - hardly a surprise. Good putting has been overvalued.

Any golfer who can ‘magic’ five extra miles per hour in club head speed is guaranteed a discernible payoff in extra distance and lower scores, irrespective of finding fairways.

Some may disbelieve but many of the top players are taking Professor Broadie seriously because the evidence he draws on is indisputable.

ShotLink films, measures and records every shot that is played on the USPGA Tour these days.

The facts are there; all that is needed is for them to be collated, separated and analyzed.

Information definitely helps intelligent players to identify their strengths and weaknesses comparative to the competition.

Players themselves can receive both pleasant and nasty surprises.