Van Cynical Mailbag: A Tale of the Tape with the PGA vs. LPGA, plus your questions answered

Martin Kaymer Michelle Wie
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Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie with their respective U.S. Open trophies after winning at Pinehurst No. 2.

It’s the Battle of the Sexes at Pinehurst. Plus, your questions answered...

It’s an age-old contest: Men vs. Women.

If there’s one thing back-to-back U.S. Opens at Pinehurst accomplished -- other than bolstering the image and the potential greens fees at Pinehurst Resort -- it was reviving the idea of comparing men’s golf to women’s golf. Who won that battle at Pinehurst? There’s no reasonable way to compare. Martin Kaymer won the men’s Open with a score of 9 under par; Michelle Wie won the women’s Open at 2 under par. But they had different conditions, different weather and different tees.

When each was tipped out, Pinehurst’s No. 2 measured 7,562 yards for the men and 6,649 for the women. The USGA didn’t play either course from the back of every tee in either event. The ladies played it at 6,296 yards the first round, and only five players broke par. Let’s round it off and say that the women played about 1,000 fewer yards per round.

So forget comparing Pinehurst’s Opens. The setups are too different. Let’s just compare season-long statistics. The LPGA has only rudimentary stats, compared to the PGA Tour and its massive ShotLink program, but a few categories are worth looking at.

A caveat: It’s far from a perfect comparison. There are many variables on the two tours. The softness of the greens. The size of the greens and their firmness and speed. The width of the fairways. The hole locations. The course length, especially as if affects the length of approach shots. Are LPGA courses set up easier relative to PGA Tour setups? Unknown. We’re comparing apples and toasters here. All we have are the numbers, so let’s forge ahead.

Driving distance: Twenty-two PGA Tour players average more than 300 yards per drive. Lexi Thompson leads the LPGA stats at 274.4. She would rank 182nd on the PGA Tour, just ahead of rookie Peter Malnati at 274.5. Only four ladies average more than 270 yards off the tee while on the men’s tour, Paul Goydos ranks last, 191st, at 268.6, which would put him at seventh the LPGA list.

The winner: Men.

Driving accuracy. The ladies are shorter—okay, way, way shorter—but much more accurate. Joe Durant leads the men in driving accuracy at 74.7 percent of fairways hit. Only six men hit 70 percent or more. Mo Martin tops the LPGA stats at 86.0 percent, and there are 11 players hitting at least 80 percent. Take dead aim, ladies.

The winner: Women.

Greens hit in regulation. Graham DeLaet leads the PGA Tour in greens hit, at 71.9 percent. The Canadian would rank a mere 29th on the LPGA stats, led by Suzann Pettersen’s 79.3 percent. Are the ladies playing out of less rough, hitting shorter clubs into the green on easier courses, or are they simply more accurate with irons? I’m not going to hazard a guess—I’ll just tip my vintage Expos cap to the ladies.

The winner: Women.

Sand saves: This stat combines wedge play with putting. Vijay Singh tops the PGA Tour stats by getting up and down from bunkers 62.4 percent of the time. I’m throwing out the LPGA sand-save leader because she’s hit only seven bunker shots (what, the LPGA doesn’t have a rounds minimum to validate its stats?). The real leader is Sydnee Michaels at 60.0 percent, which would rank her 10th on the PGA Tour. Next best is Katherine Kirk at 58.3, which would rank 19th, and after her is Line Vedel at 55.6 percent, which would rank 36th. Only 32 women save par 50 percent of the time or better while 98 PGA Tours do. This one is no contest.

The winner: Men.

Putting. There is no perfect putting stat. Putts per round is affected by the number of missed greens and scrambling, so it is a meaningless measure. The PGA Tour’s relatively new Strokes Gained Putting stat is esoteric, and anyway, the LPGA doesn’t use it. All we can compare is putts per green hit in regulation, which both tours keep. Stacy Lewis is first in the LPGA stats at 1.743 putts per GIR. She would rank 20th on the PGA Tour stats. She is followed by Inbee Park and Michelle Wie, who would rank 47th and 65th on the PGA Tour list, respectively. You know, it does seem like you can watch an LPGA telecast for quite a while before you see a ten-footer go in.

The winner: Men.

Scoring. Sergio Garcia and Harris English lead the PGA Tour in actual (unadjusted) scoring average, at 69.76. Stacy Lewis ranks No. 1 for the ladies at 69.07. Only three women average better than 70 per round while eight men do. Garcia and English would rank third in the LPGA stats behind Wie at 69.31. The winner: A tossup. While Lewis has a nice edge in scoring average, the men have superior depth in numbers of players going low.

The winner: Too close to call.

The men have a 3-2 edge here. For a valid comparison, we need a tournament where the guys and the ladies play from the same tees—say, the LPGA tees. And we need far more complete stats like ShotLink provides the PGA Tour. The putting stats alone from ShotLink, broken down into distances, are an invaluable resource. Proximity to the hole and total length of putts made would be cool stats to check for the ladies, too.

What’s it all mean? Like the marketing slogan says, These guys are good. These ladies are good, too. Can’t we all just get along?

This just in: The Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, How soon before you adopt Michelle Wie’s putting style? #myachingback -- Mr. Fairway via Twitter

About as soon as Michelle adopts my no-silverware, Viking-like eating style at a Golden Corral buffet. Most of us golfers would wear red oversized clown shoes and putt from a prone position if it meant we’d pour ’em in more often. I don’t see her method working for me on account of I don’t see how I’d physically be able to practice with it for more than a few minutes before my spine would cry like a sad violin. But as Rodney said in Caddyshack: “It looks good on you, though.” I don’t see the Michelle Wie Putting Video being a best-seller.

Vans, I loved how Pinehurst looked on TV, all brown and crusty. Did players make comments about it, good or bad? -- Kokomice via Twitter

Comments were mixed. They generally preferred the newly installed native areas to the old thick bermuda rough because it was usually more playable. Most of them liked the firm, fast and underwatered playing surface. The goofy greens with the small target areas and the false fronts and sides didn’t go over as well. The penalty for missing the landing area near the pin—a ball going completely off the green—didn’t seem to fit the crime for a lot of players but then, they knew that going in. And I didn’t hear anyone say it’s their new favorite Open.

Van Cynical, Pinehurst hangover. No Women’s Open for me. Travelers Championship course looks like an oasis—green grass and water. Your thoughts?—Michael (Mannix) O’Connor via Twitter

Well, Mannix, that may explain why I always felt thirsty when I watched the Women’s Open on the brown and dusty plains of Pinehurst. I am not in favor of America’s many horribly over-watered courses. As for Pinehurst, I laughed every time an announcer discussed the “native areas.” Yeah, they’re so native, they had to be specially planted. I suggest we call them CNAs—Contrived Native Areas.

Vans, The bidding process for 2022 Ryder Cup just started. Which European country or course do you think should bid/win?—The Bogey Train via Twitter

Fill in your own joke about the Ukraine and Vladimir Putin here. I’m tired of the PGA governing bodies blindly grabbing for the most money and visiting lousy modern courses such as the K Club, The Belfry potato field and that underwater track in Wales. Call me crazy but I’d be interested in seeing the Ryder Cup go to a classic old course like, I don’t know, the Old Course at St. Andrews, the Home of Golf, or Turnberry. But it’ll probably wind up at some rich guy’s resort in Italy or Germany where the PGA can print money.

Van Sickle, Why was the largest percentage of the media attention on Lucy Li? Andrea Lee, a 15-year-old amateur, made the cut as did other young amateurs. -- Jerome Andrews via Twitter

Which part of an 11-year-old qualifying to play in a national championship did you not think was unbelievable? An 11-year-old! Plus, she was adorable, giggled like crazy, ate ice cream during her interviews and gave even-more adorable quotes. By the weekend, Michele-mania had returned and blotted out all other stories, even Juli Inkster’s amazing Open swan song. A 15-year-old didn’t have a chance in that lineup.

Van Cynical, Who is taller, USA Today golf writer Steve DiMeglio or Lucy Li? Also, who scores less frequently, the U.S. soccer team or DiMeglio?—@EllingYelling via Twitter

Mr. DiMeglio gets the edge for tallness, but I doubt that Lucy Li is done growing. Maybe we should revisit this topic in six years, Yelling. I’m also going with DiMeglio on the scoring angle. Last week in Pinehurst, I heard he scored three cartons of Marlboros.

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