Long before the era of graphite shafts and Strokes Gained, Sam Snead said he “pulverized them hard and in possible trouble because the percentage was with me. I prefer to play a second corner on the rough. rather than a 5 iron from the fairway.

Snead, a winner of 82 PGA TOUR titles, was reprimanded for going against the book in an era that idolized the precision of Byron Nelson and the cunning of Ben Hogan, who once called course management 75%. Game.

The US Open was the biggest golf event at the time, and Hogan used robotic ball hitting to win a record four US Open. Add to that his miraculous return from a head-on collision with a bus and it was easy to see why Hogan became a mythical hero.

In the next generation, Arnold Palmer mesmerized early viewers of golf with his swagger and aggressive style. His father, Deacon, told a young Arnie to, “Hit hard, son. Arnold took this advice to heart, turning out to be an anti-hero for Hogan.

“If you can swing off the ground by swinging on it and your head has been perfectly still, then you’re not swinging too hard,” said Palmer in 1962. “Distance is everything in modern golf.”

He even had a hunch that a shorter-hitting competitor would give Palmer a shot on longer holes, quantitatively thinking about the importance of length decades before Mark Broadie’s groundbreaking stats were released. Like Palmer, Nicklaus learned to hit hard first and gain precision later.

“It’s a philosophy that I think Arnie will agree has contributed to both of our successes,” Nicklaus wrote in “Golf My Way”. “.

Yet its full value was not yet apparent.

Nicklaus was known for his conservative approach to course management, often starting with a fairway wood or a 1 iron. Khaki drivers and higher spin balls were also more penalizing for misses. The US Open’s position as the pinnacle of the game increased the emphasis on driving precision due to the USGA’s notorious course setups, which included thick rough. And a lack of statistics made it impossible to quantify players’ games (computers briefly arrived on the TOUR in the late 1960s but only stayed there for a few seasons).

The PGA TOUR began its statistics program in 1980, when Commissioner Deane Beman recognized the interest that statistics had added to baseball. Former TOUR player Labron Harris Jr. ran the program. Harris, who had a master’s degree in statistics from Oklahoma State, was a former American amateur champion and the son of the Cowboys golf coach. The 6-foot-4 Harris’ promising career was derailed, ironically, when he tried to reign over his driving distance in the name of precision. Byron Ferguson, a retired aeronautical engineer, traveled approximately 40,000 miles a year to compile statistics for each event on the TOUR.

The names atop the driving distance standings this first season didn’t let players claim extra yards and grabbed the headlines like “Longball prowess doesn’t block success.” Fuzzy Zoeller, who won the previous year’s Masters, finished third in that stat, while Tom Weiskopf and Nicklaus, who were in the later stages of their successful careers, completed the top 10. The player of the year 1980, Tom Watson, ranked 24th, just three meters from Nicklaus.

Throughout the decade, the top 10 in driving distance was dotted with names like Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Mark Calcavecchia. Norman, Couples and Love were also among the longest players of the 1990s, along with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Singh and two-time major winner John Daly.

“Golf at the professional level has always been dominated by the longest, most efficient and upright driver,” said Roger Maltbie, longtime NBC commentator, who won the TOUR five times in the 1970s and 1980. “He has always been your best player. Everyone has always known what an advantage it is to have this quality.

“Golf was then thought of differently and how to play it effectively, and it’s only in the last few years that that has changed. The fairway has lost a lot of importance to players.


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