Driving Distance Does Not Win You TournamentsFenix XCell
American Cameron Champ can pound the ball for sure. Known as one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, Champ validated that reputation by winning the Driving Distance category during the 2018-19 PGA TOUR season.
Champ’s measured drives last season averaged an incredible 317.9 yards (289.86 meters).
In the previous two seasons, Rory McIlory was statistically the TOUR’s longest driver of the golf ball. And in 2016, J.B. Holmes led the category.
While the trio’s prodigious tee shots wowed fans as they bombed one tee shot after another, their distance domination did not always translate into FedExCup success. Champ finished 62nd in the final FedExCup standings, McIlroy was 58th in 2017 and 13th in 2018, and Holmes ended 30th in the final standings in 2016.
In the 13-year history of the FedExCup, the Driving Distance champion has never gone on to win the FedExCup.
Bringing the Driving Accuracy category into the equation helps shed light on the need for both accuracy and length as it relates to overall success.
Since 2007, only one Driving Accuracy leader has finished in the top 10 in the final FedExCup standings: Chez Reavie in 2019, when he closed the year in eighth place in the FedExCup.
McIlroy’s 2017 season is the perfect example. He led in Driving Distance for the first time, yet he was also wild off the tee, placing 161st in Driving Accuracy, giving him a Total Driving number of 162 (his combined positions in both categories).
McIlroy is acutely aware of his stats at any point during a particular year. In areas where he perceives he is struggling—and, let us face it, as the No. 1 player in the world, there are not many weaknesses—he makes that aspect an important part of his practice routine. At times it has included his driving of the golf ball.
“I think a lot of the guys are starting to use ShotLink data to help with course management. But it is also how you practice. So, I got a stats report last week after the three weeks that [I] had at Torrey Pines, at Riviera, and Mexico, and that’s what I base my practice off going into the next few weeks,” McIlroy said earlier this season.
In 2018, England’s Justin Rose won the FedExCup the same year he was the Total Driving champion. That season, Rose was 34th in Driving Distance and 33rd in Driving Accuracy, not great in either category but solid in both.
In 2015, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson finished second in the FedExCup, to Billy Horschel, while winning the Total Driving champion (12th in Accuracy and 43rd in Distance).
Once PGA Tour action resumes this season following the pandemic-caused layoff, fans’ eyes will naturally drift toward the players who can crush the ball off the tee. It was true when Sam Snead was the Tour’s longest driver of the ball, followed by players like Jack Nicklaus, John Daly, and today’s bashers such as Champ, Dustin Johnson, and Tony Finau.
But observers of the game would be wise to also watch where those drives land. It is all about distance and accuracy, which might explain why McIlroy is the No. 1-ranked player in the world and currently third in the FedExCup.
That said, when McIlroy has his driver working, he is tough to beat.
Image source: Getty Images