There’s a nice bit of irony in that the weekend’s winners were Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson, respectively 165th and 145th on last year’s PGA Tour driving distance stats.
Finally, the USGA and R&A have put together a put together a report into the long-term impacts of hitting distances in the game.
One of the biggest aspects of the past decade or so has been the negating of the skills of those who can’t comfortably fly it over 300 yards. Players like Luke Donald try to keep up and adapt a swing that has got them to World No. 1 in the search for a few extra yards.
We now think nothing of a course that measures 7,500 yards and we immediately point to the beacon that is Hilton Head as somewhere where length doesn’t matter. And then we start mumbling about Sawgrass, or the 10th at Riviera, where strategy is king, before retreating into the ennui that is now tournament golf.
Bomb it, wedge it, repeat to fade. There was even a story a few years ago that Dustin Johnson didn’t hit anything longer than a 6-iron into any par 4.
When asked how much harder it is for a player like McDowell to win these days his reply was very telling.
“Thankfully, there’s still Hilton Head and…” he started before being prompted.
“Pebble, there you go,” he added. “I look at a course like [TPC Scottsdale]. I haven’t been to Phoenix since 2006 because JB Holmes won back-to-back there and I thought, well that’s the end of this place for me. I looked at the leaderboard and I feel like all I saw was Tony Finau and JB Holmes and Wyndham Clark – guys that I know all hammer the ball.
“Thankfully, there is still more to golf than hitting it 350 but there’s certain courses that you feel like you are two shots behind per round standing on the 1st tee because guys are going to be getting on 5s that you can’t get on and you just you’ve got to do it a different way. It used to be there was only three or four uber-long guys, now there’s like 34 of them. There’s just more guys hitting it a long way.”
Simpson, the winner in Phoenix, began working with a trainer three years ago to get longer but also to do it in small steps so not to compromise anything in accuracy.
“We have picked up a mile and a half to two miles an hour for the last two years and so we have made jumps,” he said. “But I just didn’t want to do it overnight. I didn’t want to really take away from something that I’ve always done, which is when I’m, for the most part, playing well, hitting fairways.
“We have the luxury on the PGA Tour to pick where we want to play, which is a really nice luxury to have. I, on purpose, stay away from certain places that I don’t think give me good chances to win. Not hitting it that far but playing well the last couple years is a lot of being smart about where I’m playing.
“I don’t mind playing longer tracks, it’s just harder to win.”