The Long Ball
There’s no question that golfers and golf fans have become enamored with “the long ball”. Most industry advertising activity is centered around drivers and hitting it further. Or golf balls that go longer. Irons lofts are being continuously cranked down to give golfers the impression that this new iron model’s 7-iron is a full club longer than the others.

On television, announcers are continually talking about how far so-and-so hit that drive, or that he’s hitting an 8-iron approach from 175 or some such silly number. Hitting 5-irons or less to par-fives has become a normal thing on the PGA Tour. But is all this good for golf? Or more importantly, your golf?

I’m going to say “no”, actually. I think the overwhelming focus on “the long ball” is hurting golf participation in general and junior golf in particular. The tour professionals are hitting the ball miles due to several factors:
  1. The equipment is certainly a factor. Modern drivers and balls are much more hopped up, but they also get an advantage by the in-depth fitting they get from their sponsor companies, tuning launch angles and spin rates to the “nth” degree.

  2. They are bigger, better athletes. Modern tour pros, with few exceptions, have become gym rats. They work out like any other modern athlete. The weight room and personal trainer are in their daily routines. Through the 1950-70s, the average tour professional was under 6’ tall – today you have a majority of them over that number. These are big guys and...

  3. They swing harder. Today’s tour pro was a junior golf product of the 90s and later, when “the long ball” began to take center stage. We junior golfers of the 50s and 60s were taught to learn to hit it solid and straight, and told that distance would come with our growth. Of course, we were learning with cut down persimmon woods and blade irons, so that was the way to learn the game. The modern tour pro grew up with big metal woods and cavity back irons, and has been taught to hit it hard from the start.
The problem that I’m seeing stems from that last point. I watch junior golfers of all ages at our club, and they are all totally star-struck on hitting the ball hard. The youngsters, age 8-12, often don’t even finish holes, they just want to go out to the range or walk a few holes and pound some drivers and hit irons as hard as they can. The closer they get to the green, the more boring the game gets for them. To them, hitting it far, not actual scoring, is the goal and fun of golf. So as they get older and aren’t the longest hitter in their group of buddies, I think they’ll lose interest. And as they get into competition and get smoked by someone who does score, they get demoralized.

I’ll offer as proof that junior golf is suffering is the situation in my own home town -- Victoria, Texas. When I was in high school, growing up in this area, there were dozens of kids in this and surrounding towns who could break 80 all the time. In my small high school of 700 students, we had 8-10 who could.

But today, in our town of 60,000. . . three high school golf programs . . . we have ONE kid that can shoot in the 70s consistently. ONE. And these kids have access to two private clubs and their driving ranges, practice greens and courses. Every day.

To me, the focus on the long ball just might be the number one threat to the game. What do you think?
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.


[ comments ]
HotBacon says:
You forgot #4 - The pros hit the sweet spot EVERY time. Extra ball speed w/o swinging harder.
4/20/12
 
Backquak says:
I agree, my son is totally fixated on hitting it as far as he can, and I am constantly looking for ways to get him more interested in improving his short game and the impact good putting has on score. Any suggestions?
4/20/12
 
bobhooe says:
i think they should let the greens grow a little and not roll them as often like they did in the 50-70's. putting is the hardest aspect of golf and kids putting on glass get frustrated.
4/20/12
 
TeT says:
They do not hit the sweet spot everytime... thats the thing; they dont hit it straight unless they have to and that is with a 3 wood or choked down driver.

The pros all move the ball on their big hits, when was the last time you saw a big drive end up in the middle. Used to be majority of drives were on the middle half, now watching these guys its 20 longer but closer to edge than center.

Last weeks winner was hitting 3 wood down the stretch (most of Sunday) to keep it in the fairway and win.

The bombers do have control because they are phenomenal and pros, but its not sweet spot all day long for em...
4/20/12
 
larrynjr says:
I'm not involved in youth golf at this point, though the plan for last nights date night with my daughter was to golf, rain canceled that. As for myself, I've been experimenting with hitting my 6i off the tee and leaving my driver in the bag. I've been getting (for me) good distance (175 yds) with it and 9 out of 10 shots are straight or curve when I want them to. It's fun to hit the big stick but when 7 out of 10 end up slicing, i'd rather be shorter and on the fairway. On at least 2 of the par 5 holes on my regular course, I have hit 6i off the tee, another 6i to within 150 yds and 8 iron to the green. I like that much better than driver either OB or in the rough, a stroke just to get back to a playable lie, then 2 more yet to get onto the green. Play smart, long is only good if it goes where you want it to.
4/20/12
 
legitimatebeef says:
I don't know about number one threat, but I can see a point there. To me it seems that modern club design is enabling a lot of mediocrity. You see a lot of people out there (in the muni world at least) who indiscriminately wack at it with terrible technique. The giant drivers and chunky irons allow them to get away with it in a sense. (every other person I meet out there says "I can't hit my 3-wood"--no wonder) Not that anyone's playing decent golf this way, but I just imagine a lot of these ppl staying home if their only option was tiny muscleback irons and persimmon woods.
4/20/12
 
legitimatebeef says:
In the foreword to Five Lessons, the editor writes that every golfer strives to improve his scores, even those who don't admit it. He may "pretend that mediocrity is enough for him" and say something like "I shoot in the 90s and I have a lot of fun. That's good enough for me." The editor goes on to call this man a liar.

This was written in the Fifties. Way before my time but I'm pretty sure that given the equipment they had back then, you either had to learn a proper strike or else you would lose interest. Probably you needed some skill and craft to even get a ball in the air. IMO what this editor says is no longer true. Today's golfer happily accepts mediocrity and its probably thanks to modern equipment.
4/20/12
 
bkuehn1952 says:
There are many contributing reasons for a lower interest in golf in general and perhaps junior golf in particular. I do not think the ability or desire to hit the ball a long way is one of them. School-age athletes are more and more often coerced into committing to a single sport. Play football? Well then during the off season left weights, perform conditioning drills and practice with your team mates. Maybe run track. Soccer? Play year round on various clubs, indoors, etc... None of the football or soccer coaches want to hear one of his kids is spending time on the golf course.
4/20/12
 
Mr_X says:
Successful golf in any era has always been a dichotomy of both power and finesse. Any decent golfer knows that special balance is never the same round after round. Sometimes your wedges and putter saves your score; sometimes its your driver or 3 iron. To become proficient you must embrace this concept. Today we are losing golfers because we are being sold unrealistic dreams of distance, logos on everything, the latest and greatest piece of tech and claims that everything for sale will make you a better golfer. People leave the game after the learn the marketing BS does not hold up on the course. None of industry spin will give the respect for power and finesse that comes from playing a solid round of golf. People, we just need to play more golf!
4/20/12
 
Mr_X says:
The wedge guy is right. The PGA is selling power and distance because 350 yards is a good sound bite AND, there is no way to televise the greatness of finesse. But that never ending increase of distance alone is not killing the game. The golf industry is killing the game! By golf industry, I mean everything in golf except the courses and the actual rounds of golf. Everything else is being oversold! New clubs, lessons, shoes, clothes, club fittings, attending PGA events, swing trainers, hitting nets, putting aids, the latest instructional videos, blah, blah, blah... They are all sapping the budget and expectations of a regular golfer. If people would play golf with the tools in their bag, understand their own capabilities and quit deluding themselves with rock star expectations they would start enjoy the good shots that they do have. Then they would buy more rounds of golf and enjoy more good shots. It is a beautiful cycle to be stuck in!
4/20/12
 
cvargo says:
@ Mr_X, I couldn't agree with you more. I am by no means a long hitter, and my love for the game increased greatly when I started teeing off with clubs (5W, 3HY) that would put me in the fairway more, meaning a better approach shot and a better game meaning a greater experience on the course. Of course I practice with the drvier occasionally but it would not be missed if it left my bag. Some of my friends though who golf for the joy of bombing it as far as they can. And after the round the comments are always made... how did you score better? I out drove you all day. They also tend to be frustrated more
4/20/12
 
legitimatebeef says:
Mr_X is right on the money. Green fees ought to be every golfer's biggest golf expense. Anything else is just insanity.
4/20/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
I can hit my putter 125 yards!
4/20/12
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@DaRupp13: Oh, really. Well I just bought the latest putter from Titlewaymade, the GASX 99 w/Replaceable insert, and I am regularly hitting my putter 140 to 150 yards.
4/20/12
 
Mr_X says:
Teeing off with a putter on par threes over water is an regular event for me. Yes, I do stick a few of those greens, even though I have lost more money than I have made. But, I can't think of a shot that is more entertaining. : )
4/20/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
Damn you Bkuehn!!! You win again!

I'm going to the range right now and practice swinging as hard as I can with my putter to see if I can hit it 150 yards!
4/20/12
 
joe jones says:
When I was much younger I was pretty long. I had no technique but I could repeat that dumb swing every time. Now that distance is a faint image in my rear view mirror makes no sense to get upset over spilled milk. As I have said before I don.t concern myself with how far the pro's hit the ball as long as scoring average doesn't change too much. It's all relative.Read my article FOOLS TOOLS to get an idea about what advertising and marketing is doing to the golfing public.
4/20/12
 
GBogey says:
Watching the golf channel just now, one of the commentators went on a 5 minute talk about how the Pro V changed golf for the worse by going 20 yards further and ruining a whole set of players, particularly Corey Pavin.
4/20/12
 
GBogey says:
That being said, while I think the distance fascination is bad for golf, I dont think that this is golf's big problem. The big problem is that it takes too much time in a time stressed society. Most non-active golfers almost always talk about this as the reason they dont play more. The other big issue is my opinion something that nothing can be done about - demographics. The last of the baby boomers are turning 48. Most golfers seem to really get into the game in their 30's and 40's, but there are less of those people every year.
4/20/12
 
onedollarwed says:
I love to drive the ball, long, smashing, soaring, penetrating. And yet I would not be doing that if I weren't controlling it. I always loved to smash the ball, for it is joyous! However, when it became important to score (my 30's), I had to learn to care about the short strokes. Weirdly when I became dedicated to scoring and getting into the single digits, I had to leave my friends behind. Now I'm surprised that people don't want to know how I did it. It wasn't luck, or playing more. I know exactly how it happened. I came up with fun putting games to keep me interested in practicing. I developed and employed alternate scoring systems to highlight scoring strokes (Putting Index). I kept many records and notes about courses and holes. I got a grip on the equipment, and went through a sort of fitting process over several years. Finally, I wrapped my head and body around the real physics of ball flight, and the nine shot types.
4/21/12
 
onedollarwed says:
When people wow at my driving, and ask how I do it, I'll explain about ball position and alignment. They seem to lose interest, and are somehow resigned to hitting their driver like crap. This is not a mystery, but people keep bringing up the concept that "people are happy with their miserable playing/ scoring." I understand that too. What explains that is the difference between INTRINSIC and EXTRINSIC rewards. Intrinsic rewards come from the activity itself: if you make a great omelet, it will taste great (the intrinsic reward). You'll probably make it again, and repeat the methods and ingredients which give you the reward. Extrinsic rewards are like ratings, awards, social approval, etc. So as a golfer, if you shoot lousy, but have a great time because of the beers, cigars, and yucks, you'll probably do more of those and less practice and learning. Plus, your friends can actually enjoy and/or profit from your ineptitude.
4/21/12
 
onedollarwed says:
John Updike writes extensively about being the lovable loser, who always missed the big putt for his group. When he gained a helpful swing thought and improved markedly for a time he made his club-mates uncomfortable. You have to ask yourself what you attribute a successful golf outing to: low score, social approval, or luck? Be honest. Whichever you choose, what do you attribute that success to: scoring (hard work, innate ability, luck/cheating), social approval (well chosen beer/cigars, innate likability, you shower everybody with money and gifts), luck (prayer, innate luckiness, you deserve it). Just like with the nine shot types, we could say that there are 9 success types. If somehow you landed on the scoring/hard work area, you probably know what's getting you the results. Reading and writing here in this forum has definitely been a part of my success because it leads to much research and development. What you think about what you do is very important! I thank all of you!
4/21/12
 
aaronm04 says:
Whenever I really pound the ball off the tee, I arrive at my ball thinking what a great drive that was and calculate distance, etc. Then I'll hit a not-so-good approach shot and I get frustrated. Suddenly, the magnificence of my drive is a distant memory because my birdie chance got a lot more difficult.

In other words, I actually feel better when I stick my approach close than when I bomb it. It's sad that, according the The Wedge Guy, more people don't derive the same pleasure from that aspect of the game.
4/21/12
 
Werepuppie says:
Very true aaronm04.The avg golfer would score better if he never hit a club higher than a 5iron ever.One day I may try this method,but hitting a long drive feels so good.Not near as good as a great approach shot though.
4/21/12
 
The Ghost says:
For me I want it all I want a bomb of tee shot and great approach shot
4/21/12
 
glenrich says:
The root of the long ball facination is the dream of becoming a Pro.
If you can only play tour caliber golf from the forward tees, you can't be a pro.
You have to hit the long ball if you want to be a pro.
To give up the long ball is to give up the dream.
I do not think this is all that new either.
I remember reading in the Little Red Book about Harvey Pennick deciding to give up his Pro tour dream after seeing Sam Snead pounding drives on the range. He knew he wasn't long enough and decided to teach instead.
4/21/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
In all seriousness, I agree with aaronm04. Sticking an approach is SO much more exciting than bombing a drive. When I watch the pro's, it's the approach shots that I want to see (see Bubba final playoff hole of Master's). GIR is my goal this year with practice in putting. It's tough to get GIR's if you're hitting from the rough all the time.
4/21/12
 
QuickBrownFox says:
I agree with Wedgeguy about the preoccupation with distance. I have 3 junior golfers - aged 11,10&9 who have regular coaching and the older ones junior comps. Distance is a natural focus because the better they get, the more they get exposed to older kids who hit it further and the course becomes more playable even off junior tees. They should also learn that they can beat bigger hitters with a sharper short game, but this takes insight which comes with age and quality mentoring (not video swing analysis).
4/22/12
 
mjaber says:
It's the excitement of the long ball, and it's not exclusive to golf. Remember the early/mid 80's? Remember the St. Louis Cardinals of '85, '86, and '87? Remember the enormous outfield of the old Busch Stadium? I loved that team, and that stadium. Talk about fun. A walk to Vince Coleman to lead off the game, and then 3-4 pitches later, he was either on 3rd, or had scored, without a hit. They had 4-5 guys who could have stolen 50+ in a season. Coleman was over 100 for '85 & '86. Then along came the "Bash Brothers", and everybody became enamoured with the long ball and chasing home run records. The excitement of a stolen base, and manufacturing runs disappeared. The lead off hitter became the guy who could get on base and wait for the big hitters to drive him in.
4/23/12
 
Scott Shields says:
It all boild down to one thing ...

Chicks dig the long ball.

Period. The reason the long ball is more important now in golf, is because golf in general is much more popular, and touching a much larger base, (thank you Tiger), and that means instead of old white dudes playing a niche sport at a private club, we have young men and ladies of all walks of life playing golf. Thus the same rules that apply to other sports, (baseball, football particuclarly), that touch large bases ... chicks dig the long ball. The home run, the 50 yard TD pass.

Grip it and rip it! :)
4/23/12
 
onedollarwed says:
All the more reason to get to work learning to control that long ball!!! People ooh and aah at my drives -- even my wife -- and I say, "well... I've been working on this for more than 20 years!" Of course it's only been a few since I really knew what I was doing. Before that, just an intuitive, natural approach that worked less than half the time.
4/23/12
 
onedollarwed says:
By the way, kudos to all who posted here on this topic. The openness and honesty is astounding!
4/23/12
 
Trav says:
The local story goes that when Fred Funk was assistant club pro at the University of MD golf course, he used to earn money betting people he could hit his putter off a tee farther than they could hit their driver.

Which is especially funny considering how big a hitter he was.
4/23/12
 
Matt McGee says:
There's a lot of wisdom in these posts. I'll add only that I don't think the emphasis on distance is damaging the game. If you give any kid a golf club and a ball, that kid is going to see how far he / she can hit the ball. In a society that thrives mostly on high-energy, fast moving sports, there are only going to be so many kids who take to the game. I'd be curious to know the average age when most golfers begin to really learn the finesse game. I would bet that it's 30+.
4/24/12
 
stedar says:
For me, getting kids into golf is not about scoring, it is about hitting the ball. I think they should be encouraged to hit it as hard as they can when they are so flexible and able to. A new game could be in the making here, a bit like putt putt, but not putting, Driving? Setting up kids driving ranges with target and props for them to hit at.
Once they get the hang of connecting, then like putt putt, they will want to go to a real course and learn the game.
If you start kids too early at golf, they will more likely leave the sport - it will get frustrating and in a kids mind, boring. Better to keep them enthused. That means find real talent to work with, but keep the majority entertained and in the game.
4/27/12
 
dougbenefield66 says:
I'm not obsessed with the long ball, but isn't the thinking on (long driving anyway) based on the concept that if you drive longer you will have a shorter 2nd (or third shot) and that it will make the approach easier and more accurate?
5/4/12
 
[ post comment ]
Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

Click here to learn more about Terry.
Click here to for Terry's blogroll.
 
    Golf Talk
Most Popular:

Subscribe