Distance, Stature, and Winning

How Does it Work When Diminutive Golfers Win Without Distance?

It has haunted my own game since I took it up as a child, and to detach the idea of driving distance from an external image of my persona as a golfer was extremely difficult. In fact, I’m not really sure that I ever got rid of it. For a person that only weighed 120 pounds in college, it was even worse, keeping company with beefy big hitters, and trying to find a way to beat them. To this day, at 180, I am acutely aware of the heft every PGA or LPGA contender has in terms of the driver. How do you beat someone who regularly out-drives you by thirty or forty yards…or even more? I haven’t figured it all out yet, but they do. There has always been a group of muscle men and women who win professional tournaments, and another group of surgical, placement-oriented players who play high IQ course management, and win their fair share.

Moving through the eras, we have Jim Barnes, a six foot four ball smasher from 1910 to the 30s. The forties saw Sam Snead occupy one of the long drive spots. Then came Arnie, Nicklaus, and a few other folks, right up to Tiger and beyond. The surgeons are well represented by Gary Player, who stood a whopping 5′ 6″, and weighed in somewhere between 140 and 160.  Before long, he needed a second house for all the trophies, all four majors and otherwise. Kel Nagle, one-time major winner, possessed even less driving distance, but could hit long and middle irons as though he had a high-powered scope on each club.
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However, it is useless to argue that short hitters developed greater touch around and on the greens. Many long hitters are great short game players and putters. Some big drivers simply have the mechanics put together brilliantly. Tiger’s distance was and is an authentic feature of his game, and he kept it as part of his natural advantage. John Daley, on the other hand, featured it as a part of his ‘go for it’ persona. Perhaps he figured that his erratic driver safaris would, from time to time, straighten out for four days at a time, and that he would win on those weeks. Back to Player, however, no part of the game was attached to an ego image. He studied everything from tee to green like a theoretical physicist, and was rarely out of contention. In a makeshift equation, then between the two, Players 270 up the middle, and Daley’s 350 far in the outback are not so different, except that Gary has a fairway lie, no 200 foot oak in front of him, and about the same distance to the green as Daley.

The LPGA has the same two groups, The beasts include Wie, Lincicome, and Yanni who, although short, has an extremely strong torso. On the other hand, several 140 pound female Gary Player counterparts are hitting 240 off the tee, enjoying amazing accuracy and consistency. They also do their share of winning. If Lexi is in the forest all the time, she is not going to beat those lesser distance women. If she’s got her driver locked in and can putt, they are in trouble.
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The point for me, in theory, is that if one can eliminate emotion, fantasy, and thoughts of image from their game, things will begin to look up, even if you’re opponent looks like a refugee from the Green Bay Packers. Replacing these attachments with authentic choices that best suit your game’s chance for low scores is a sure thing. Player played beautifully prepared and thoroughly understood golf instead of fretting about being a cinema star or having a signature shot. There are a lot of options for getting that ball in that hole and in this game, built as much on intellect as it is on muscle, the smaller man or women has a pretty good chance.


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