Rory, You're Wrong
I don’t usually write about what tour players say, because I typically don’t pay that much attention. But this month’s flap involving Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus and the short game is one I just couldn’t leave alone. In case you missed it, in an interview in Tucson, Rory McIlroy expressed his notion that the short game wasn’t all that important...that it was the long game that won tournaments on the PGA Tour. Then Jack Nicklaus chimed in that he is the one that told him so in the first place. Jack said that if he could hit 15 greens a round, a couple of par fives in two and "make all my putts under 10 feet", he didn’t need a good short game.

Well, Rory, first of all, it’s a little early in your PGA career to compare yourself to the way Jack Nicklaus played the game. Your ball striking, course management, clutch putting and sheer will to win has a long way to go before anyone will ever mutter "McIlroy" and "Nicklaus" in the same sentence. Not to slight your raw, youthful talent in any way, because you obviously have a ton of it, but Jack Nicklaus, much like Ben Hogan, played the game like no one had ever seen before. Other than maybe Tiger, no modern player has even approached their mastery over the golf ball.

To reach the goal Nicklaus told you about, your personal stats have to get a helluva lot better. Your GIR percentage is barely over 60%, 165th among your tour peers, whereas Jack was talking about 15 greens a round and a couple of par fives in two. That’s going to require a serious commitment improving your ball striking accuracy 40-50% to get anywhere close to that. And just a tip...you’re probably not going to do it if you keep missing half your fairways with the driver, especially since your GIR percentage from fairway bunkers is less than 15%.

And Rory, please remember that Jack was talking about making "all your 10 footers", while you are trailing a hundred players in putting. Hmmmmmm.

If you don’t think the short game wins golf tournaments, then you just haven’t spent enough time watching this game, and how the other best players achieved their places in history. Will any golf fan forget Tom Watson’s chip-in at Pebble Beach to win the U.S. Open? Or the short game wizardry of Seve Ballesteros? How about Tom Kite’s brilliant career, and his reputation as one of the most precise wedge players ever? Gary Player’s bunker play was legendary, and many majors were won with at least a few outstanding saves to keep up the momentum or change the course of a round.

I understand you’re a young guy, Rory, and much of that happened when you were in diapers or before you were born, but there’s a couple of guys out there still who aren’t too shabby around the greens. Visit with Phil or Tiger when you have the chance and see if they concur with your assessment about the short game, OK? And is there a more re-played shot in modern golf than Tiger’s chip-in at the 16th at the Masters?

Oh, and if you get to have another sit-down with Mr. Nicklaus, ask him about the chipping lesson he got before that 1986 Masters, where son Jackie passed on the short game wisdom shared with him by Chi Chi Rodriguez. And about how he said his short game was always his weakness, that if he had spent time on it, he would have won many more majors and tournaments. He DID say that, multiple times. I think Jack will level with you about how important the short game really is to top-level golf.

Of course, this is just my opinion. And I might stir up a hornet’s nest here today, but heck, that’s what writing a blog is all about sometimes, right? What do you guys think?


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[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
Logistically, it does stand to reason that if you have a great iron game, you don't really need the short game. If you hit the green from the fairway or rough, you don't need to worry about chipping, but that's not to say it's not important. I mean, really? who can knock it stiff from 185 every time? I agree with Terry here. The short game is one of if not THE most important part of the game. It saves you when chance happens - and it happens a lot in golf. Yea Rory needs to fix his brain-mouth filter.
3/25/11
 
Backquak says:
"if" is the key word to Rory's statement," if" a frog had wings... the question is "can you hit 15 greens inside 10 ft, and 2 par 5s in 2, and make all 10 footers, every round???" cause if you can do that you will win everything. so practice harder hit it straighter, know exactly what the ball will do when it hits the green and control the spin... and sure you can do it... but NOT WITHOUT A SHORT GAME
3/25/11
 
falcon50driver says:
Wow, must be a really slow news day. My granddaughters were riding with me the other day, and one of them, the six year old, had this epiphany, "Paw Paw, you should hit the ball closer to the hole and you wouldn't have to hit it so many times"
3/25/11
 
TeT says:
I think Rory misunderstands the definition of a good short game from Jack, Jacks good short game is not a chip and 2 putt or even a 2 putt. Its sticking it from 100 and making the putt everytime.. ..
3/25/11
 
bobhooe says:
what's the bomb with out the gouge?
3/25/11
 
BAKE_DAWG40 says:
Wow. I don't understand his line of thinking at all. Each good round that I shoot is due to chipping it close and sinking the putt. And when my chip isn't that great, making the putt anyway. I only hit a little over 40% GIR. When I'm off, I can forget about mid to low 80's.
3/25/11
 
Bryan K says:
The thing about having a great short game is that it can save a round even when nothing else is working. My best ever round was one where I could drive and couldn't putt, but I was chipping to within the 3 foot circle all round long.
3/25/11
 
Backquak says:
the more I think about it, I think I understand what Jack said, He said you don't need a good short game IF you can hit 15 greens inside 10ft and hit 2 5s in 2 and make all 10 footers but since noone can do that, it means you NEED a good short game.
3/25/11
 
mankowa says:
The funny thing is that Jack always said his short game wasn't that great, yet he made all the 10 footer, and how many times have you seen a replay of him holeing a long put in the majors? When Jacks says his short game wasn't that great it sounds like Davinci or Berninni saying they weren't that good of an artist.
3/25/11
 
Banker85 says:
the thing about a great short game is it saves you pars vs. carding a bogey. That is what wins tournaments, Players can hit greens and make birdies all day but its when they get into trouble is where the Pros really shine. TIGER was the perfect example of this, the guy could get up and down from anywhere to save par and keep his momentum goin in the round. Pros are going to make there fair share of birdies per rould but without a short game whats is 5 birdies if you can convert your misses into pars? nothing but a 15th place finsih. YA I LOVE BEATIN DOWN RORY< lil punk azz win some majors and then start criticizing TIger you lil... Tiger i hope gets this kid in the next match play and destroys him embarasses him That kid has talked so much about Tiger like he retired or something. Your not even on the same planet Rory, grow up and resepct your elders. Better yet Tiger, Phil, Ernie, smack em into giving you guys respect! DAM!
3/25/11
 
Bryan K says:
Vintage Tiger. Go for the par 5 in two. Miss horribly into an evil uphill sand bunker shot where I'd be looking at bogey (at best). And sink the dang thing for eagle.

When you can sink chips, you don't need to hit greens.
3/25/11
 
cjgiant says:
I feel like playing devil's advocate. I think there is a difference in the validity of the original statement depending on your overall skill level.

If you recall from the totally mathematical statistics articles about a year ago linked to on this site, I believe it indicated chipping and putting are not where players make up more strokes in pro golf, the primary example it used was a Tiger Woods victory where he made his strokes on the field by lasering long irons into greens. I think that goes to Jack's statement.

Similarly, Phil is largely regarded as one of the best short game (wedges) player out there. Yet if he is driving the ball into hospitality tents, he doesn't win. To win at the pro level you need not be misfiring on any part of your game, and excelling in at least one of them. In order of which to excel at to give you the better chance, I would argue iron play, putting, driving, and last chipping. cont...
3/25/11
 
Banker85 says:
@cjginat: so if you are decent at pro level you should be hitting 65% gIR same or better for Fairways, putts about 28 per round but if your chipping is superior and the rest of the game is solid that wouldnt win golf tournaments? this is a discussion that has so many variables it is not easy to say which is most important. bottom line the lowest score wins no matter how you got there.
3/25/11
 
cjgiant says:
For the average golfer, I think you can "short-game" yourself to your best round, excelling in that part of your game for the day. However, to really get better, you must improve your drives in the fairway and balls on the green. How much more can you improve on 1.75 putts per GIR (which I would consider good).

On the other hand, you can lose 1-2 strokes with the non-short game by driving into hazards, woods and OB. You can lose more strokes by putting your approach shots 10+ yards away from the green. Maybe your short game can save you at times, but you will never reach 100% up-and-down statistics.

Then there's the improvement in game, not just score. For instance, I can shoot par from the red tees (not really, but let's just say). My par and a pro's par are not the same. When you move me back to the tips, my short game "prowess" isn't going to help me shoot par again. cont...
3/25/11
 
cjgiant says:
So, short game being "not all that important" might be misguided, and within the pro ranks, you need to be at least adequate. But I do believe as you move down the spectrum of player skill, the relative importance of short game decreases.

That was a LOT longer than I had hoped. I should've written a blog instead.

P.S. I don't think who made a statement should make it valid or not.
3/25/11
 
Banker85 says:
"Other than maybe Tiger, no modern player has even approached their mastery over the golf ball." this is funny... Tiger DOMINATED his golf ball from 1997-2009 so maybe is not appropriate at all...No maybe, Tiger played the game differently just as Hogan and Nicklaus did.
3/25/11
 
homermania says:
How about if you're hitting greens, it's not so important, but if you're missing greens, it's very important.
3/25/11
 
cjgiant says:
@Banker
Obviously if you are in line with your competitors in all other categories and excel in one above them, you should win.

And, for one day/tourney, any one part of your game can help lead you to victory. Of the items that you excel in for a limited period, putting I would argue can have the most impact.

But long term, you are not going to be making 70% of your 15 footers like you might one round. Also consider that your putting stats (number of especially) are oftentimes indicative of your iron play as much as your putting.
3/25/11
 
cjgiant says:
@homer
Very astute. But I want to argue should I focus my practice on hitting more greens or focus on saving myself from not hitting greens, assuming I had to choose one?
3/25/11
 
stedar says:
I believe it was a hypothetical answer - the word "if" is the key. It sounds like my par round at the 19th, when I start thinking about "if" I had kept it on the fairway and not hit into the hazard I could have saved 10 shots and made par ;-)...
3/25/11
 
windowsurfer says:
cjgiant: i'm with you, if u say high HCer's focus will be different than pros. Take average weekend guy at say, 240 yard average drive playing on 6100 yd course. PGA averages are about 286 and 7215. Ratio is about the same, so the ave amateur is maxing out his driving already (relative to PGA) and can look at concentrating on other aspects (like accuracy and course mgmnt) to get fast-track score imprvmnt.
3/25/11
 
wanlotfi says:
Its not how you drive, Its how you arrive.
3/25/11
 
LongTimeAway says:
I agree with the blog posting and most of the comments. Nicklaus hit a high percentage of greens in regulation, or better, and made a high percentage of "makable" putts. Nicklaus was so good with his long irons that he did not "need" a short game, beyond putting. For the rest of us (including McIlroy), the short game is important.
3/25/11
 
aaronm04 says:
So ... with that said ... Terry, does Rory win a free wedge?
3/25/11
 
jrbizzle says:
I see two biased opinons. Pros strive to become amazing long and mid iron players, which is what is needed to carve out the 7 to 12 under scores your see at just about every non-major. Amateurs strive to have a good short game, because very few of us can produce the clubhead speed to become great long and mid iron players thus we need more shots around the green to save pars or even bogeys.

And the article to me reads with a lot of bias from the wedge guy. I typically love your columns, but this would be to me like the diary association advocating milk over orange juice. Drinking either is good for you, both drinking is even better.
3/26/11
 
wedgeguy says:
Funny, aaronm04. Maybe Rory could use a new EIDOLON V-SOLE wedge or two. ;-)

As for jrossbeck, I don't think there is any bias at all. The short game is the quickest way to cut strokes off your score, no matter your handicap. I tossed out a little drill this month to illustrate that. The point is that no golfer has ever mastered the tee to green game so that the short game doesn't matter. The best on tour leave themselves relying on their short game 3-5 times per round, not counting par fives. If they didn't convert, no way they make enough birdies to compensate. Tiger did dominate for a while there, but as it was noted, his short game always was solid to save pars and make birdies on par fives when he didn't hit shots perfect. Analyze his stats from those years and you'll see his GIR % wasn't that far above any other pros.
3/26/11
 
glenrich says:
These are two-parts to the same puzzle that both have to come together in some way. Neither will be completely perfected. So the question is which one is best suited to pick up the slack?

I agree that short game is the best way for the following reason:
With the long game, there are too many factors that are both unknown and out of the control of the player. A player can hit a "perfect" shot every time and the ball will still not end up where it needs to be. There are variables of nature/weather, imperfections in the course/terrain, etc that simply cannot be accounted for by the player. The longer the shot, the more these variables can and do come into play. To this end, you cannot rely on the long game to be the compensating factor.
With the short game, these variables are minimized giving the player more potential to control over each shot. The consistent ability to take advantage of this additional potential is what will separate one player from another.
3/26/11
 
DCB63 says:
I'm beginning to think his publicist told him that on top of a good golf game, he needs to be annoying to the American public in order to get the big endorsements..
3/26/11
 
falcon50driver says:
If that's the case, he's succeeding. I can't stand to look at the little punk with his gomer pyle hat.
3/26/11
 
creekaction says:
Remember that good wedge play is all relative. What Rory thinks is average wedge play is better than what 99% of us can ever hope to achieve. Same was true for Jack.
3/27/11
 
mmontisano says:
masters of the long game: Jack, Hogan, Tiger, Nelson, Faldo

masters of the short game: Seve, Phil, Player, Watson, Tiger

you can win majors either way you want. while i think both areas deserve highlighted but personally believe better putting will drop your scores in most dramatic way. what good does sticking it to 6 feet from either 20 or 200 yards if you can't make the putt?
3/27/11
 
cjgiant says:
@badcaddy -
Agreed, but what percentage of people can drop a six foot putt and what percentage can stick it six feet in the first place?

The argument is one of relativity. Obviously both are important. I argued above for a single round, your putter will gain you more shots; but over the long haul a better "tee-to-green", ball striking game will lead to consistently lower scores (at the mid+ amateur level).

For all who believe short game is more important: How many chipping lessons have you gone to your PGA pro for? compared to full swing lessons?
3/27/11
 
8thehardway says:
I think Jack was being sarcastic with Rory: since the two par 5s where he would be on in two offset two of the three non-GIR holes, Jack's really saying if you have 17 GIRs you don't need a short game.

Going a bit further, there's a contradiction that makes Jack's statement seem more an off-the-cuff remark than a reasoned bit of information: the short game involves getting up and down which makes putting a component - but if you are draining all putts of 10 feet or less you already have half of a great short game. When you get through the polite confusions, I think Jack's telling Rory the only way you won't need good wedge shots around the green is, in essence, get on 17 greens in regulation and putt out of your mind.
3/27/11
 
falcon50driver says:
Sometimes sarcasm is lost on the recipient. I guess it went over his head.
3/27/11
 
Duffer 83 says:
Personally I go through this almost every year I start off hitting the ball pretty well but don't score all that great because my short game takes a little time to get on track. I can hit the ball good all day but I'm not breaking 70 until I get my short game going. Anybody can hit a few good shots it's all about recovering when you hit a bad one that makes someone good. IT'S NOT ABOUT BEING PERFECT IT'S ABOUT BEING REALISTIC. Practice whatever you want but I'll work on my short game and we'll see who goes home with their milk money.
3/28/11
 
mjaber says:
@wegdeguy... I disagree with your statement that the short game is the quickest way to shave strokes at all levels. I think it varies, depending on your strengths/weaknesses. I think that many average golfers (me among them) are better served by managing the course better than we do. A great short game is no benefit if it takes 4 to get to use it.

Until you are confident that you can get "near" the green in regulation, your chipping and putting can only take you so far. Keeping the ball in play off the tee, and getting the ball to the green have been my main focus since I started playing. I do work on my short game, but not as much as my "full swing" shots. I'm sure that eventually, my short game will come to the front of the line, as far as practice goes, but right now, I'm working on supressing my ego so that I'm in play more often, able to execute a good shot when I'm in play, and make the smart play when I'm in trouble.
3/28/11
 
DoubleDingo says:
Well said Terry. Let Rory fail a few times because his short game let him down, and see if he changes his mindset.
3/28/11
 
jrbizzle says:
Wedgeguy - hard for me to say you don't have bias to the short game, when every article you write on is about the short game, right? As far as Tiger, here are some stats from when he was dominant. His GIR when playing from the rough was almost 58%, while the field was 50%. Assume everyone misses 4 fairways a round, well Tiger then hits one extra green per tourney.

And from 200 yards and out when he hits the green he averages 42 feet fromt he in, and the field averaged 50 feet.

So yeah, his iron game was significantly better than the field.

Now I'll give you this - Tiger's hort game also excelled the field, he also scrambled about 6% better.
3/28/11
 
jrbizzle says:
But I think short game is more helpful to the amatuers, but Rory is not an amateur - he is a pro. Simple fact is the courses these guys play are getting stretched out to insane lengths and the pros need an accurate long/mir iron game every bit as much as they need a short game. The 200 yard par 3 on tour used to be a rare occurrence, now it's a regular sight.
3/28/11
 
DoubleDingo says:
Shoot jrossbeck, 200 yard par 3's are pretty common on regular courses too. Every course I have played has at least one or two 200 yard par 3 holes. The 9 hole course from my home town has one, and the course was built in 1959. That hole is also on top of a fault line so the you're hitting 200 yards and up about 20 feet. Tough hole. Better have a good short game when you miss the green.
3/28/11
 
windowsurfer says:
Improved my short game and now mental/emotional mistakes cost me more strokes than anything. That *should* be easy to fix, but I undergo some kind of macho brain shrinkage while playing. Later, weeping into my beverage, I can plainly see the obvious error of my ways. Maybe wedgeguy could design a club that I could HIT myself in the head with, when I show signs of making a bad on-course decision. A "Whap Wedge"?
3/28/11
 
jrbizzle says:
Dingo - true, we need that short game, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to hit a 5 iron into that 200 yard par 3, with enough spin to stop it dead? And pros do need crazy good short games to save pars, but they also need a good iron game to make birdies.

Again, I am not arguing the fact that amateurs can shave serious strokes working on the short game. Heck, I've practices more sand shots at my local diving range in the last two years than I hit in my first 20 years of golf. And it's paid dividends.

I'm just saying I understand Rory's mindset on this, the iron game is so important on the pro tour these days because almost every course is stretching itself out, and forcing players to hit 5-7 irons on holes they used to go driver/wedge. But when they miss those greens, they damn well better be able to get up and down, unless they like those 40th place finishes.
3/28/11
 
tennesseeboy says:
Rory is 21 years old and ranked 8th in the world. So I guess the lesson we can all learn from this is that a lack of appreciation for the importance of the short game can cost you seven spots in the official world rankings.
3/29/11
 
birdieXris says:
I think Martin Laird would have something to say to this after his win on sunday, as would Steve Marino.
3/29/11
 
daytripper says:
I totally agree with Rory's comment. For me as a hack , not being able to bang 500 balls/day, sure a good short game can lower my score along side along with course mgmt providing I have a repeatable swing which I do more/less but still shoot mostly 87 - 97. Most amateurs first of all don't have consistent ball striking ablities as the tour pros. To me that is the issue for us... pros can hit more GIR, thus more birdies to make up the bogeys plus they hit it Farther & Straighter more of the time. Wa it "pros putting for pars....
4/1/11
 
badamrecords says:
I think that its very subjective. What is most important is Course management. That is what IMO, is the major difference between Pro's and Weekend golfers. Sometimes on difficult holes, a par is good enough. The key to playing good golf and reducing scores is to know the areas in which one is strong. Keep to the fairways, hit the greens and hole out. Keep it simple and the scores go down. You dont have to master hitting 200 yards with a 7 iron. If your putting is good, you can hit the same distance with a 5 or a 6 iron without overdoing it.
4/22/11
 
stedar says:
I guess if Rory walks the talk and breaks a few records @ US Open - he gets his point across loud and clear. He hit the greens and made the putts. His short game wasn't required. You could say 1 win doesn't count, but you need to look at what he pulled off only a couple of months earlier after leading the first 3 rounds. I think Rory will be a round for quite some time and all the hype about Tiger maybe at its end... Now if Tiger gets his game back and Rory is paired at next years US open - the attendance could be the first record to fall, of many, that weekend :-)
6/23/11
 
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