Does Length Matter?

This is a tribute to the creativity and adaptability of the human spirit.

Brian Gay is 192nd on the 2010 PGA Tour Driving Distance list. For the year, he drove the ball 52,220 yards or 29.7 miles. Unfortunately, it took him 196 drives to do it and placed him dead last on the list with an average drive of only 266.4 yards.

In contrast, the leader and winner of last week’s Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney, Robert Garrigus, only amassed 41,009 yards because he got into fewer tournaments. But he managed that in only 130 drives for an average drive of 315.5 yards.

Perhaps a better comparison, based on a comparable number of rounds, is J.B. Holmes at 61,437 yards, or 34.9 miles, for an average of 307.2. He’s 5th on the list.

So here you have a guy in Brian Gay who is 9,217 yards, or 5.2 miles shorter than a guy with comparable rounds. And he’s 40.8 yards shorter per drive.

Did that hurt him? Well, his earnings for 2010 put him at 56th on the money list and he earned $1.5 million, down from $3.2 million and $2.2 million in 2009 and 2008 respectively. But don’t cry for him Argentina, he’s won $13.6 million over his eleven year career.

So how did he do that? Let’s take a look.

First of all, he was 3rd in Driving Accuracy Percentage hitting 74% of the fairways, the old short-but-straight moniker. Okay, that explains it: since he hit all those fairways, he hit a lot of greens. Everybody knows that you have to hit the fairways to have a better chance to hit the greens. Actually, no. He’s near the bottom of the Greens in Regulation list too at 171st.

I always thought that Greens in Regulation was a lousy statistic. It’s proven each year at the Verizon Heritage played on the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The course features very small greens that, among other things, have to be accessed over, under and around strategically placed trees. The players love the tournament because of the high value placed on shot making. Ya can’t just get away with straight and majestic. Anyway, because of all of the “trickeration” required to get to the greens, guys miss a lot of greens. But in large measure it’s because they’re small; the misses are close. Every year it seems that another record for fewest putts in a round is set at Harbour Town because the players are either putting from just off the greens or bumping little chips shots close and one-putting. (Strokes only count as a putt if they’re made on the green, even if you use a putter to make them.)

So now, thanks to ShotLink, the Tour has a stat that reflects reality much better, Proximity To Hole. In other words, “there or thereabouts.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about! And guess what, Brian Gay is T13 in that stat.

And most importantly, he is 2nd on the Tour in Scrambling, the ability to make par or better after a missed green. He got it up and down 66.5% of the time, 429 for 645. Incorporated in this stat is 162 Sand Saves placing him 9th on that list at 59.3%.

And the other stat where he excels is putting. He is 2nd in the Holy Grail of putting, Putts Per Round at 28.02. Do you have any idea how good you have to be to be 2nd in anything on the PGA Tour? And especially in such a critical skill.

So among the behemoths of the PGA Tour, here’s 5’10”, 155-pound, Brian Gay, cobbling together another way around a golf course and he’s become rich doing it. Everybody knows that to be a complete player you have to work on your short game, but perhaps there’s no better example of just how effective that effort can be.

In many ways the human spirit is like water, it seeks to be free and flowing. If it finds resistance one place, it flows to where there is the least. Brian Gay has figured that out…and, of course, he practices. A lot.

An Anomaly Too Delicious To Leave Out

The average size on the top 10 drivers on the PGA Tour in 2010 is 6’0” and 186 pounds. Everybody knows that you have to be “big and strong to hit it long.” Each of these guys averages over 301 yards per drive.

But actually there’s one guy who’s throwing off the size averages. Charles Warren is 9th on the list at 302.5 yards per drive, but he’s only 5’8” and 160 pounds. Yet another example of the human spirit having discovered a free-flowing path of least resistance.

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