Who Is The Longest And Most Accurate On Tour?
THE subject of distance continues to dominate discussions in and around the professional game. In the build-up to The Masters, it seemed to be the only subject in town, with Bryson DeChambeau asserting that, for him, Augusta National was a par 67.
The golf course got its own back on DeChambeau, with the American finishing well down the field at the season’s final major. Yes, he was able to hit the ball into the middle of next week, but he found out the hard way (and not for the first time) that if you hit your drives into the trees then nine times out of 10 you are going to have to hack the ball out sideways. But discussions continue about the prospect of developing a ball for the professionals that will not fly as far or dictating that their drivers must have a higher minimum loft. The problem with changing the loft is that somebody will find a way of making it work to their advantage.
DeChambeau has, of course, piled on a vast amount of extra weight and muscle with the express purpose of propelling the golf ball vast distance because he is convinced that it gives him a distinct advantage. And there is little doubt that on certain courses that will be the case. As golf fans we are fascinated by what DeChambeau is trying to achieve. But he is not the only one who hits the ball a long way.
I have been following the fortunes of a young South African golfer called Wilco Nienaber who should have won the Joburg Open. During the Joburg Open he drove a 400-yard par four and then two-putted for a far-from-routine birdie. And if that were not enough, he struck another tee shot that was measured at a barely-credible 439 yards. That is almost a quarter of a mile! He won 21 major amateur titles as an amateur and has all the attributes to make a huge impact in the professional game.
Nienaber is a very different animal from DeChambeau. He may well spend time in the gym but, unlike the American, he doesn’t possess an ounce of spare flesh. He is just 20 years old, is 6ft 2in and weighs just 12st 3lb.
On the PGA Tour, a staggering 110 players currently average in excess of 300 yards from the tee. Back in the 1990s, the only man who could boast such a statistic was John Daly.
But a quick look through that list proves conclusively that distance does not always equate to success. Top of the list, with an average driving distance of 337.8 yards, is DeChambeau. But in second place, with 331.9 yards, is Taylor Pendrith. Taylor who? In sixth position is Erik Barnes, who averages 319.6 yards. You get my point. For the record, Rory McIlroy is third with 322.7 yards, followed by Cameron Champ (321.7) and world number one Dustin Johnson (321.4). Look down the list and I guarantee that you will not have heard of the majority of the men in the top 50.
So what about the European Tour? The most striking thing is that the top 10 is dominated by South Africans. Nienaber leads the way with an average drive of 336.8 yards, followed by Dean Burmester (329.41), Min Woo Lee (328.48), Nicolai Hojgaard (323.5), Rhys Enoch (322.51), Rasmus Hojgaard (321.73), Ryan Fox (319.93), Sam Horsfield (319.11), Gavin Green (318.36) and Brandon Stone (317.43).
Most of these guys are tournament winners. Rasmus Hojgaard and Nienaber will surely become serial winners, but the thing that strikes me about the other men on this list is that while they have weeks when they are sensational, they are also incredibly inconsistent. Two-time winner Horsfield is a case in point.
The distance debate is not going away anytime soon. Remember, too, that Nienaber is just 20 years of age. He hasn’t even stopped growing yet. He will continue to fill out and will surely add muscle as he continues to work out. I fully expect that, by the time he is 25, he will be averaging 350 yards from the tee. This is an average distance and does not take into account the times when he will stand on a tee and really open up his shoulders. It basically means that if he finds fairways there is no such thing as a three-shot hole for the South African.
And it is not just with his driver that he is rewriting the rule book. He stood on the tee at a 180-yard par three at the Joburg Open and hit the green with…a wedge!
Some believe that accuracy from the tee is actually more important than distance. Is that true? A look at the PGA Tour stats is informative. It is early days in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, of course, but the man who leads the way in fairways hit is a certain Bernhard Langer. Before anybody writes in, he makes the list because he played four rounds at The Masters, during which he found 87.50% of fairways. In second place is Mike Weir, with 82.14%. Other names who feature in the top 20 include somebody called Gunn Charoenkul (80.77%), Naomi Sekito (80.77%), Rikuya Hoshino (78.85%) and Satoshi Kodaira (72.34%).
But there are also some big names in the list, including Webb Simpson in ninth place after finding 74.28% of fairways, Chez Reavie (14th, 72.50%), Corey Conners (17th, 71.09%), Brendon Todd (18th, 71.01%) and Ian Poulter (19th, 70.92%).
What about the European Tour? The most accurate driver is Jack Senior, followed by Masahiro Kawamura, Richard Bland, Jordan Smith and Connor Syme. The only golfer in the top 20 in the accuracy stakes to have won this season is Adrian Otaegui, who is in 16th place.
Nienaber and DeChambeau may well hit the golf ball into the middle of next week but without a decent short game they would achieve nothing. And DeChambeau holed just about everything he looked at while winning the US Open. Nienaber missed a lot of fairways during the Joburg Open. He also hit several wayward approach shots - but he possesses the touch of an angel on and around the greens. And that is something else that will only improve as he gains more experience.
Rather than obsessing with reining in the distance these guys hit the ball, perhaps we should simply sit back and enjoy watching them work out the puzzle.
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