Van Cynical Mailbag: Who is the longest of the long on the PGA Tour?

Nicolas Colsaerts, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson
From left: Colsaerts: Patrick McDermott/Getty; Johnson: Andrew Redington/Getty; Watson: Chris Trotman/Getty
Nicolas Colsaerts (left), Dustin Johnson (center), and Bubba Watson are among the longest drivers on Tour.

Statistics don't mean anything in golf. The only number that truly matters is the score. Still, the game's evolving stats are fun to look at. We all wonder: Who's the biggest hitter in golf? It used to be Tiger Woods. He's not the king of the hill anymore and hasn't been for a long time. He ranks 39th in driving distance. Of course, he doesn't even pull out driver that often anymore and that drags his driving distance stats down.

Phil Mickelson, who has always lived for the long ball, ranks a mere 63rd. Phil, too, has backed off somewhat in his old age and hits fewer drivers. He hits a hot 3-wood that's really a 2-wood.

So who's No. 1 in the Big Dog category? There is no clear-cut winner. Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts leads in average distance and yes, he absolutely bombs it. Paired with Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Merion last month, Colsaerts outdrove the Americans except when he didn't. Asked at the Travelers Championship the following week who was the longest, he said the three were so nip and tuck, with such wildly different ball flights, it was impossible to say for sure. That doesn't mean we shouldn't play with the numbers a little.

According to PGA Tour stats-based on radar readings-Tiger ranks 23rd in clubhead speed and 27th in ball speed (the speed of the ball leaving the clubface). In pro golf, ball speed is now used more often than clubhead speed because who cares about clubhead speed if it isn't being transferred to the ball?

Tiger can still move it out there. He ranks third in carry distance, 297.6 yards.

Mickelson, however, is missing his longball gene. He ranks 61st in ball speed and only 46th in carry distance, a full 16 yards behind Tiger. John Daly, in case you're wondering, is 49th in ball speed. Dustin Johnson is a nominee for the biggest Big Dog. He ranks first in the carry-distance category with an average of 300.6 yards. Canadian Graham DeLaet is another contender. He ranks first in an obscure category called hang time. Hmm, wonder if he can punt, too?

Scott Piercy, last year's Canadian Open champ, hits it as hard as anyone. He ranks first in the Smash Factor category (though he's tied with 27 others), a measurement of a golfer's ability to turn clubhead speed into ball speed. Piercy ranks only 37th in ball speed, however, but 20th in driving distance. Bubba ranks second in ball speed and third in clubhead speed.

So who's the longest of the long? A long-drive contest used to be part of the pre-tournament fun at the PGA Championship. Maybe that ought to be revived. It could be golf's version of the MLB All-Star Game's Home Run Derby. It would definitely attract spectators on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon at the PGA.

Lost in space: It was nice to see Jimmy Walker get some TV time. Even nicer: Gary McCord, during Sunday's telecast, brought up Walker's hobby of taking pictures of galaxies and nebulas and other objects in space. I can only assume he read my feature on Walker's amazing astro-photography hobby in SI Golf last week, but McCord erroneously said Walker rents a place just outside San Antonio for his photo-taking. Nope. That's where he first started, yes, but now he rents a spot on a New Mexico mountainside for his telescope and camera at a place called New Mexico Skies. Here's the whole story, and some of his photos, in case you missed it.

Let's get to the mail:

Van Cynical, Does Phil win another major? If so, how many? And while I'm at it, who's the next American player to win two majors? -- Brian Rosenwald via Twitter

Since a lot of experts are writing Phil off as being done, that tells me he's going to win another major. He does things when we least expect it. That next major he wins will be considered his last, so that means he'll win a second one. After that, the media will become believers and expect him to keep on winning. Then he'll be done. So, two more. The next American to two majors is probably a duel between Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson. Tough call. I'll go with Bradley at Oak Hill in the PGA.

How would you improve golf broadcasts? Other than fewer Cialis commercials. -- Chad Rucker via Twitter

Chadster, those Cialis commercials are great. I want to see a "making-of" type documentary on them. How would you drag two 300-pound bathtubs to the ocean's edge? How would you get hot water in them? Where are the towels? And how romantic is it to be in separate bathtubs? It's hilariously stupid and apparently brilliant marketing because we all know what Cialis is because of them. As for golf broadcasts, I'd improve them by showing more Stanley Cup hockey action. It's way more exciting and it has fights. Other than picking on some of the more banal and state-the-obvious commentators, I'd offer this: Less golf might be more. Do I really want to go all 18 holes with Johnson Wagner at Greenbrier? Highlights from the front nine and live coverage of the back nine would suffice. In many cases, I'd prefer to watch an hour-long highlights package from Thursday and Friday instead of deadly live coverage of Q-schoolers and nobodies near the lead. Also, this memo to announcers: I'm really not interested in how the next putt breaks and how much grain there is and whether you correctly read it. Just tell me if it's a difficult putt or a makeable putt. Then shut up and watch. Maybe we should all chime in and come up with a complete list of suggestions for the TV networks. Send me your ideas.

Why does Tiger have more injuries than everyone else? Why do you guys always make excuses for him when he loses? -- J. Carswell via Twitter

Ah, sweet fan mail from Tiger-haters. Hey, Tiger is still at least 20 surgeries behind two-time Open champion Andy North. David Toms, Vijay Singh, Rocco Mediate, Fred Couples and Greg Norman had plenty of injuries. All golfers get hurt. Tiger, as the most famous man on Earth, simply gets more attention. I'd love to see a story where a writer makes excuses for Tiger. There are lots of stories written with explanations of why Tiger played poorly. In case you haven't noticed, he's kind of a big deal. Therefore, we're obligated to cover his successes and failures.

Gary, in order, who are the second, third, fourth and fifth best players of the Tiger era? Your opinion and that of today's players. -- Noah Seton via Twitter

Great question. The typical Van Cynical answer would be Tiger Woods. He was so good, he ranked 1 through 5. Seriously, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are easy calls at second and third. Ernie Els, fourth. Fifth place is still up for grabs. Padraig Harrington's window of great play was brief and Tiger was missing in action for much of it. Rory McIlroy, with two majors already, is a contender.

Van Cynical, do you think they will ever ban bending clubs for greater distance? Or slow down the ball? -- Derek Lewis via Twitter

Bending clubs for greater distance? Is that what Rory McIlroy was doing at Merion? No, it would be too hard to police bending clubs. As for slowing down the ball, that's been talked about for 20 years and the USGA hasn't done anything yet. Of course, based on its reaction time to anchored putting, that means the USGA might realize the pros are hitting the ball too far in about 10 more years.

Van Sickle, what are a few courses the pros would love to host a major or a regular tournament that never will? -- Kristopher Barrie via Twitter

Anytime a tour event gets near the Philadelphia or Jersey area, pros sneak over to Pine Valley, as much for the isolated behind-the-wall-of-the-fortress feeling as for the iconic golf course. Seminole in Florida has a similar special club feel, as does Bel-Air in Beverly Hills. San Francisco Golf Club is a gem. So is Chicago Golf Club, also difficult to get on. On Long Island, take your pick among National Golf Links, Maidstone and Atlantic.
 

Forecast
PGA Tour News
Trips
Travel & Courses
Lessons
Tips & Videos
The Shop
Equipment News & Reviews