2020 PGA Takeaway: Distance Over Accuracy

Other Aug 14, 2020

Watching the PGA Championship at TPC at Harding Park, it was hard not to confuse it with a long driving contest.

Playing on a 7251-yard par 70 layout in high 50/low 60-degree temperatures further exacerbated by a thick marine layer, the leaderboard was littered with players – almost without exception – carrying their drives a mind-numbing 300 yards.

Among those who flirted with the lead on the final day were tour distance leader Bryson DeChambeau; number two Cameron Champ; Matthew Wolff (8th); Scottie Scheffler (11th); Tony Finau (19th); and Dustin Johnson (20th). Tommy Fleetwood (16th) and two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka (18th) were also factors on the weekend.

With three-and-a-half inch rough and seven par 4s over 465 yards, the Harding Park layout – although praised as extremely fair by most of the field – essentially eliminated all but the longest hitters.

How so?

With the typical major championship narrow fairways, the longer players can hit it 325 off the tee into the rough on a 470-yard hole, and can still muscle a wedge or short iron onto or near the green; the shorter hitters cannot. They are left with a mid- to long iron out of (a normally) thick lie, meaning diminished odds of getting to the green. Only the greatest of short games can overcome consistently longer proximity to the hole stats, a function and malady of shorter drives.

Like him or hate him, Bryson DeChambeau, with his 50 pounds of weight gain, 20 yards of added length, and mediocre short game (120th in strokes gained around the green entering the PGA Championship), has revolutionized – or depending on one’s perspective, ruined – the game.

At the very least, he has exposed the flaw of course set ups designed to identify the best golfer. He has five top ten finishes, including one victory, in eight starts since the tour restarted.
Photo Credit: PGA.com

What a minute…Collin Morikawa and his 110th driving distance (entering the event) just won the PGA Championship, invalidating everything stated above.

Yes, he did, but what he accomplished was truly an outlier – an aberration.

To put his victory into context, to win by a mere two shots, he led the tournament in driving accuracy, proximity to pin, and strokes gained putting (a stat he entered the week ranked 164th) – something that has never been accomplished in major championship golf since those stats have been measured.

By contrast, DeChambeau finished third despite ranking 63rd in strokes gained around the green for the week. His close-to-tour-average (112th ranked) 60.42% driving accuracy metric entering the PGA was immaterial. All that matters is his prodigious length that allows him to not overcome, but rather ignore accuracy concerns.  

Look at the top 30 straightest drivers on the PGA tour. Besides for Brendan Todd and Webb Simpson, none of them are consistent performers. Look at the top 30 longest drivers; it is populated with the top players in the world.

Morikawa is an exceptional talent with brilliant iron play (2nd in strokes gained approach to green entering the PGA) that overcomes his putting deficiencies. Keeping the ball in the fairway allows him to showcase his greatest talent. His iron play is as spellbinding as Jordan Spieth’s short game during his 2015-2017 run that saw him win four majors.

As such, Collin will be a force in the game. But he is an exception, not the rule.

If you are drafting a fantasy team for the upcoming FedEx Cup events, until course set ups adapt to reward accuracy over distance, don’t look beyond the top 50 in driving distance stats to draft your team…Collin Morikawa notwithstanding.

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Headline Photo Credit:  Golf Digest

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