Is The Driver Obsolete on Tour?
First of all, I was so happy to see Phil Mickelson win The Open Championship this weekend. Phil comes across as the most genuine, humble and fan-centric player among the elite, and is a role model for how the younger guns should embrace the unbelievable opportunity they have to play this game for a living. And after his heart-breaking loss at the U.S. Open last month, he just deserved this, in my mind at least.
Muirfield was certainly a different kind of test than was presented by Merion. That fast track could not have been a starker contrast to the soft conditions last month. But what struck me as most interesting about these two events is how Phil chose to forego a driver in his bag, so that he could carry five wedges. Getting more accuracy in prime scoring range, at the cost of a very few yards off the tee paid off. And he was only a swing or two, a putt or two, away from having both Open trophies in his case right now.
So that begs the question – Could the driver be rendered obsolete on the PGA Tour? If other courses began to make the players choose accuracy over distance it sure could. At most routine tour events, the rough is not that punishing and the fairways are generous, so these guys can bomb it out there as far as they can, hitting not more than 55-65% of the fairways and still shoot lights out. But what if they took something more like the Merion or Muirfield route? What if fairways averaged something under 24 yards in width, rough was penalizing and bunkers were nasty places you do not want to be? What if something around par or a few under for 72 holes became the norm, and 15-25 under par became very, very rare?
Would television audiences fade? Do they just want to see these guys light it up? Or do they want to see them work hard for pars ... like most of us have to?
But back to the driver question. Phil is carrying a pretty hot 3-wood, about 13.5 loft and 43" or more in length. That's really close to driver specs of a few decades ago. But with the technology in the club, shaft and ball, and the bigger athlete now playing the game, is anything more really required? I would bet the average recreational golfer of 8 handicap or higher would hit a club like that further on average and much straighter than they do their current driver. And 5-irons from the fairway are much easier shots than 6- or 7-irons from the rough.
The other advantage of dropping the driver is that you can carry more scoring clubs, to give you more options and improved precision in scoring range.
So, why don't you guys all weigh in on these two questions?
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I don't think anything would happen to my score is I dropped my driver. I don't have a fairway wood to be able to use off the tee, so the loss in distance would put me to where I would be if I were to play the back tees with my driver. I'd be looking at an extra 3-4 strokes.
If the more of the tour guys went with something similar to Phil's 1-1/2 wood (the thing is 12 degrees), I think it would be just as exciting, but the club manufacturers wouldn't like it because they couldn't sell $500 drivers anymore.
Sorry, Terry, but people want records. "350 yards drive" sounds better than "consistently on the fairway".
As for recreational golfers - driver gives pretense of control. "If I hit it correctly - I'm 250 yards from here!". Of course two times out of three I will not hit correctly and I'm not 250 from here but 30 from fairway.
But with high loft wood the ceiling from the tee is much lower. No matter how good I hit I won't be farther than 220. Or 200. So we are choosing to chase "the perfect hit". Unreasonable? Yes. "But if I only hit correctly..."
It's simple: people aren't very good with probabilities.
Matt McGee says:
I hit my driver about 20 yards further than I do my 3-wood. That's a good tool for me to have in my bag. The test, for me, is to realize when it would be smarter to hit something else off the tee. If I can get there in two either way, but a shorter club is much more likely to keep me out of trouble off the tee than the driver is, the choice should be simple. It's not, but it should be.
For me my score would go up if I dropped my driver and used my 3 wood off the tee. I know what my driver will do 8 out of 10 times so i'm kind of able to control it and put it in the fairway or playable area where as my 3 wood I never know if it will hook slice or go straight.
I played a couple days ago, 36 holes, and used my 3 wood twice. Both times on a long par 3 into the wind. On par fives this year I've went to using my four iron and trying to get on in three just for the control. I just can't hit my current 3 metal and have no money or intrest in getting a new one right.
I used to hit more 3-woods off the tee, but I don't really think I was in the fairway with it any more than I was with my driver. I doubt many mid-cappers like me can count on their 3-wood being much more accurate than the driver, and I may even have been worse (more semi-mishits with the 3-wood than the driver).
I'm not even carrying a 3-wood this season, my longest club under the driver is a 2-hybrid which I'm maybe 10-15 yds shorter than 3-wood but much more consistent contact.
And I'd like to carry both a 2-hybrid and a 3-wood but of course I'm carrying three SCOR4161 wedges so I had to dump something at the top of the bag.
I started using my 3w off the tee for most holes a couple of months ago, and my handicap has dropped from 17 to 13. But I hit the 3w only about 200, so I need to stick to short courses (or white tees) for this strategy to work. If the hole plays 400+ (or heck, 375+ into the wind), I need to either risk the driver or play it as a three-shot hole, and obviously I can forget about ever having an eagle putt. So yes, my scores have gotten better, but I regard distance off the tee as the single biggest weakness in my game right now. Pros who can hit their 3w 300+ might as well leave the driver out of the bag, but most of us need to be able to hit it effectively if we aspire to play from the big boy tees.
joe jones says:
The 3 metal that Phil is hitting is a 12*-44 inch club with a tip stiff shaft. For all practical purposes it is similar to the 2 wood that was in most bags years ago. I need all the distance I can get so I play a 13.5*-46 inch Cobra with a senior shaft. I don't think most average players would benefit by trying to emulate Phil. It is a very difficult club to hit off the fairway. It takes a special talent that most of us don't have.
I dont hit my driver at every possible chance as it is (unless I'm playing a tee box i shouldn't). So I'm not sure how much it would help.
Currently i hit a mix of probabbly 45% dr, 35% 4i, and 20% 3w, I only hit 3w when i need a nice draw because that is my standard shot shape with that club.
I can stripe my 4i 215 dead straight in warmer weather so I will pull it if it gets me inside the 150 yard marker (or non reachable par 5).
I like it when E to -10 wins tournaments. -20 is boring unless there is a chance of a 58.
My driver is my biggest weakness and my mid/short irons are relatively good, so I am constantly evaluating the trade-offs of driver vs. other clubs. I need a little more distance throughout the bag and more 3W consistency to really take the number of drivers down, but currently any hole 355 or less is likely non-driver as the risk vs. reward is not worth it. I find the risk/reward trade-off for par 5's harder to evaluate.
My driver let me down last Sunday.
I have always had a love/hate relationship w/ my driver. For the last 2 years I've droppped the Driver and gone w/ a 3 W. Overall, I think my scores have come down a bit but it's not a huge drop.
As for the pro's, if more courses played like Murfield and rewarded being in the fairway they'd adjust their games accordingly. The TV experience is the same and whether they bomb a 3w, 3i, or Driver from the tee doesn't change my perception of the game. Good golf is good golf.
I don't care whether the pros hit driver or not - their distances are unreal with any club. What I liked about the last two majors is best seen on the Par 5's and 3's. The par 5's required two REALLY good shots to reach in 2, or else they were laying up. That to me is real golf - the average TPC course where a par 5 is 3W then short iron bores me - that's really a long par 4 with a par 5 rating.
As to the par 3's, I enjoy seeing them have to hit long irons - they may be really good, but they still miss a lot with a 4i. I know the pro's are great atheletes, so make them hit tough shots to prove it - that's more enjoyable for me to watch.
Terry you may very well be right that some recreational golfers would hit a higher lofted driver farther than their current model, but they would not hit the 3 wood Phil is carrying farther. That club was designed to be low launch, low spin, because most pros have a problem with ballooning their 3 woods off the tee due to their stupid high swing speeds. Most amateurs won't have that issue.
Two drivers ago I have a R580 XD 9 degree, X-stiff flex I bought when I was 23 and stupid. I hit it good for a few years when I had just the right combo of strength and flexibility. And when it was crooked, it was awful. Then I switched to a R7 Limited: 10 degree, stiff flex and didn't give up much distance. Now I use a Nike MachSpeed Black, 10.5 degree, stiff flex and hit it almost as far as I once did with the R580. You are right - with modern technology, you can grab a higher loft and achieve almost the same distance - hence the discussion of 4 wood vs. 3 wood for most.
But most amateurs would be ill suited to go out and grab either the 13 or 14.5 degree Callaway 3Deep. The 14.5 degree even is 0.5 to 1 degree lower loft than most 3 woods, and is designed for low spin, low launch.
I'd say any amateur hitting less than 220 yards with a driver isn't playing a high enough loft, or doesn't have the right shaft (or both
I for one don't want to see every major play like Muirfield or Merion. I like that they are always different - some long and wide, some short and narrow, some in between. That's what I enjoy, watching the pros try to make the adjustments week to week. I like when they would tear up the Bob Hope to 30 under, just as much as I like when they fight for pars overseas. But I wouldn't want all of one or the other every week.
I carry 6 SCOR4161s (41, 45, 49, 53, 57, 61), 4 game improvement irons (8i, 7i, 6i, 5i), two hybrids (16, 21) and a driver. If I really need to hit a fairway I play a "knockdown" driver which is a 3/4 swing choked down a couple of inches. I took the 3-wood out because I wasn't any more accurate with it than my driver.
I think my dropping the driver would put too much stress on the rest of my game. My driver is as accurate and consistent as any of my other clubs. Giving up 20-30 yards is a lot for the way I play.
The pro tour is always going to have some venues where the longer hitters have to dial down their game in order to avoid the rough and hazards. The vast majority of casual golf fans enjoy "grip & rip it" more than precise ball striking. As such, most tournaments will continue to be set-up for bombing the driver.
"I'd say any amateur hitting less than 220 yards with a driver isn't playing a high enough loft, or doesn't have the right shaft or both"
I don't think it's true. I don't care what loft, flex and AoA you got. To get 220 (carry) you need 90 mph swing speed. There is a LOT of amateurs whose swing is slower. Even including roll you need 85mph - and non negative AoA. If you have 80mph - and there are people with such SS - 200y is your max.
Duke of Hazards says:
Depends on how good you are with those clubs. I personally find the driver to be one of the more challenging clubs and it's my least consistent. I can hit my 3-wood well and it's one of my favorite clubs. Taking the driver out of my bag would not hurt my scores at all. But I find myself challenged to master the driver.
Although it may seem the wise or smart thing to do to pull a lesser club more often than not, there will always be an intrinsic mystique/genetic mandate to want to hit the biggest club (or shoot the biggest gun or drive the fastest car, etc.)
I agree Duke. I actually spent most of the spring golf session only hitting my 3-wood. I hit it well, and it is one of my favorite clubs. That being said, I just bought the Nike Covert Tour because my birdie opportunities went from 6 per round to 3 per round (still can't putt, though.) I like a challenge, and I have the opportunity to go low (for me) when i'm going after a hole with a driver, 9 iron rather than 3 wood, 6 or 7 iron. Plus, We most of us are men and do enjoy big guns. And apparently hookers, since that is what my driver gives me...
For years, before big headed drivers, I used a 2 wood off the tee. While I hit today's driver farther and accuracy isn't bad, it still isn't as accurate as a 2 wood. I have flirted with the idea of going to a 12* driver for a couple of years. The only time the more lofted club hurts is into a strong wind or on a very wet golf course.
Another thing that would help most players would be to reduce the number of clubs from 14 to 10 or 12 (12*/13*; 19*; 4/5 hybrid and 6-SW irons and a putter). A lot of people can't use the 14 they have and either don't carry 14 or carry them and avoid using some. The main thing complicating this idea is the way manufacturers keep jacking up the lofts.
I find a lot of regular golfer are just as accurate if not more so with a driver than a 3 wood simply because it has a much bigger face.
Driver's face, 3W loft and weight. Thriver.
joe jones says:
The decision to go to a 3 metal is very dependent the distance required on a given course and how much confidence you have. Even the best ball strikers have bad days hitting either a driver or a fairway metal . The 3 metal is easier to control. Giving up the driver totally to put another wedge in the bag is not a good trade off in my mind. If you are a big hitter you may be giving up the opportunity to go for a green in two on par fives. If you are shorter off the tee it doesn't matter. It may mean hitting one or two clubs longer to get home in three but you will lose very few strokes because of that.
I am not that long off the tee (225 - 235 yards) and my driver is rarely out of play. My 3 wood is the worst club in my bag and would result in some high scores.
I am surprised that more pros don't play driver less off the tee. Their balls get so much forward roll that it seems like it would be difficult to control. It seems like the best approach would be to hit an iron to the distance they are most comfortable with an iron in on every hole. I don't think driving it fewer times would lead to less viewership, as the thing people seem most impressed with is an accurate approach shot or long putts that go in. I know I don't watch golf to see how far someone can hit it. In fact, I'd rather see a short hitter beat them all.
I actually went through a time last summer where I couldn't hit my driver (snap hook every time). So in comps and matches I only hit 3W off the tee, I shot exactly the same as when my driver worked well. But obviously a lot better than if I used my driver with the hook swing.
But saying that, if you look at my overall stats, I only find a small % of more fairways with the 3W than the big stick. So I now pick the appropriate club based on length and design of hole.
I think the PGA Tour is honestly more boring when you see the leaderboard in the final round with the lead at -20 and everyone within a stroke. I have absolutely loved how Muirfield and Merion earlier this year played, it's really exciting when someone gets an eagle out of only 4 or 5 made that weekend, the competition is a lot closer and every mistake is severely penalized and only the best player that weekend will win. This will become even more exciting when you have a player leading by a considerable amount like 3 or more strokes, and then in the final round they crumble, or they comeback. The difficult courses provide a much more exciting and unpredictable television and golf experience.
I was playing in my local county open during the Open Championship, and when I heard that Phil won with -3 and 3 ahead of Stenson, I just had to see it. Luckily, I had remembered to record the round on my DVR. Even though I already knew the results, the magic wasn't gone, and it was still very exciting to watch.
You're right TRad, I should have made an exclusion for those with very low sing speeds.
I tried the "3 deep" callaway wood/thing at a demo day and it did not work well for me at all. Harder to hit than a normal 3 wood as harder to hit as well as a modern 460cc driver. I could see it working as a specialty club for a pro but not for me. Kind of like a 2 iron.
In response to the "ditch your driver" question: I already hit more 3W off the tee than many of my playing partners due to the fear of blowing it OB. (I tend to hit it long and wild recently). The 3W works good as long as not a day where I am sliding under and popping up, or need to try to go for the green in two etc. in which case greed might overcome reason.
I have 4 FW in my bag. (9 7 5 3) i hit my driver and when it is on I get around 250 out of it. Now i break out a 7 or 6 iron and i am going for a GIR. When my Driver is going everywhere but the fairway i dont go to the 3W I pull the 5W. I had all my FW cut to the same length but off the tee i slice my 3W but hit my 5W dead straight. (No idea why)
The key for me is that this year i learned to hit my FW off the deck. There are few holes even at the longer courses that i cannot go for a GIR. For me they are just easier to hit a long way than hybrids. I wont give up my driver but i am learning to put it away quicker.
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