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Jan 16

Long Distance – Where do I Stand?

 

Hit It Long – How Far?

 

Does anyone remember George Bayer and his 300 yard drives when woods were only made of wood? Has anyone ever seen John Daly send a golf ball into space? Outer space? Pretty exciting to be sure. Ah, if only we could all hit a golf ball like that – then we’d show them something next time we got out on the course.

Well, all right, let’s reverse the question. Did anyone see Birdie Kim win the Women’s U.S Open a few years back? Remember those stupendous drives? I guess not, because there weren’t any. There were brilliantly straight and strategically well-placed drives, but Birdie never has and never will tear the cover off the ball. Remember Kel Nagle on the old PGA, considered one of the short hitters of the tour, but possessing such a wicked iron game that he was regularly in contention?

drive 1 Why do we ask the question, “how far should I hit it? What should my distance be per specific club?” Some golfers who write on the subject have reminded me of late that there is no correct distance…there is only distance, and it’s going to vary by who we are, how and where we play, and with what. I’ve come to the conclusion that “Hey, ladies and gentlemen, let’s give ourselves a break. Golf is hard enough without torturing ourselves with ‘how far should I hit it? Why the anxiety?” Our only obligation is to get that thing in that hole in the shortest number of strokes possible, and if you do it by being a great putter or a Nagel-like iron wizard, hats off to you.

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They say that today, the average PGA drive is 280 – 320, and that for the LPGA, it’s from about 220 to the latter 200s somewhere.  Research also suggests that most of us do not hit the ball as far as the pros do, but I can lay claim to generally out-driving Birdie Kim – so why haven’t I won anything like she has?

Your age, gender, balls, clubs, state of fitness, elevation, technique and a thousand other considerations determine how far we hit the ball (not to mention club speed, the A to Z of distance) I have finally separated myself from that age-old question, and have asked myself a third question, past “am I a long hitter or a short hitter?” How about, “am I a straight hitter, an accurate hitter, a dependable hitter?”

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Remember that both Bayer and Nagel won on the tour, and so have Birdie and Suzann Pettersen, who gives it a pretty good wallop. I’m sure that everyone on tour would love a little more distance, but I’ll bet to the last man and woman, they’d choose straight if they could only have one selection.

You might find Nikki Di Santo’s thoughts on long driving interesting, whether you’re a man or woman. She is entirely anti-anxiety, suggesting that hitting the ball harder can be counterproductive in a myriad of ways, and that mere relaxation over the ball is an aid to good club speed. She suggests stretching and yoga for extra yardage, for crying out loud – to one woman, she suggests that “as women are usually a bit more flexible, a bigger shoulder. “ – Catchin’ on guys? We could use some of this, and I don’t think Ms. Di Santo would mind too much. We’ve been doing the anxiety thing on the tee long enough. Time to obey the words of St. Snead, the ball-stroker, not the ball-striker.


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drive 2Why haven’t Daly and Bayer won a lot more often on tour? No matter how far you put it out there, you still have to find the hole, and a three hundred yard plus hitter can go through tremendously unpleasant detours to do it. So sure, take that lesson, ask your pro about it, but the question of a few yards of distance isn’t worth the falling into despair. Keep your eye on that hole, and go straight to it whenever possible, short or long.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.