, Port Arthur, Texas

December 3, 2013

West golf notepad: Big hitters not necessarily big winners on PGA Tour

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — One of Chris Stroud’s concerns coming off his most successful season on the PGA Tour was swing speed and it’s natural companion — driving distance. Chris felt he needed to find a way to increase both, if he were to continue to continue moving up in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Lamar golf coach Brian White, who is Stroud’s go-to-guy on his swing, wasn’t in total agreement. White agreed that it would benefit Stroud to be longer off the tee, but he was wary of attempts to increase swing speed. He felt that simply getting the former LU All-America out of some bad habits and putting his swing back on the plane it used to be would make him more confident and lead to more distance.

Listening to their thoughts sent me in search of stats that would put swing speed, driving distance and tour success in some perspective. What I found is pretty much what I thought I’d find — that launching long tee shots has obvious benefits but is hardly necessary to rank among the world’s best players.

First of all, some swing speed numbers. Care to take a guess whose measured swing speed is the fastest on the PGA Tour. If you said, Tiger Woods you are living in the past. If you said Bubba Watson, you’re close. If you said Charlie Beljan, I have to think you looked it up. But go to the head of the class anyway.

Beljan, with an average swing speed of 124.30 and a fastest swing of 130.12, is No. 1. Rounding out the top 5 were Luke List (123.49), Watson (122.62), Gary Woodland (122.45) and Dustin Johnson (122.22). Stroud, meanwhile, was 152nd (109.97), one spot behind Matt Kuchar (110.10), who is No. 7 in the world rankings.

As far as swing speed computed to driving distance, List was No. 1 with an average measured tee shot of 306.3 yards Johnson (305.8) was No. 2, followed by Nicholas Colsaerts (305.7), Woodland (303.8) and Watson (303.7). Beljan, despite being No. 1 in swing speed, was No. 32 in driving distance (295.4). Stroud was No. 164 at 277.0.

Woods, by the way, was only No. 19 in swing speed (119.26) and No. 49 in driving distance (293.2). Phil Mickelson was No. 56 in swing speed (116.04) and No. 93 off the tee (287.9). Stroud’s Lamar University teammate, Shawn Stefani, showed up at No. 50 on swing speed (116.46) and 25th off the tee (297.2).

Where all the numbers get really interesting, meanwhile, is when you bring the most important figure — money winnings into play. Woods was a clear cut No. 1 with over $8 million, despite good but not eye-opening swing speed and length. Henrik Stenson, No. 2 in money, was No. 65 in driving distance. Kuchar, who remember was barely above Stroud in swing speed, finished No. 3 on the money list.

The rest of the top 10 money winners in relation to length off the tee were as follows: Mickelson (No. 4 in money, No. 93 in driving); Brandt Snedeker (No. 5, No. 137); Adam Scott (No. 6, No. 23); Steve Stricker (No. 7, No. 124); Justin Rose (No. 8, No. 27); Zach Johnson (No. 9, No. 153); and Jordan Spieth (No. 10, No. 80).

It’s quite revealing that of the top 10 money winners, only Scott and Rose were in the top 30 off the tee, and Woods was the only other player in the top 50. Four of the top 10 — Kuchar, Stricker, Snedeker and Zach Johnson ranked from 116 to 153 in driving distance.

The bottom line, to no great surprise, is that it’s not only possible but quite common to be among the game’s greats without crushing tee shots out of sight. Drive for show and  putt for dough may be an oversimplification, but it’s not too far off. As Stroud proved throughout the 2013 season, when you add great chipping to good putting, you can beat a lot of bombers.

CHIP SHOTS: Harry Green of Nederland continues to have a knack for aces. Green got his 7th hole- in-one last Friday at Babe Zaharias, sinking his tee shot from 132 yards on the 12th hole. His club of choice was an 8-iron. The shot was witnessed by Bill Hammond and Cody Almond . . . Twyman Ash and Norm Shannon tied for first in the Monday Seniors at Belle Oaks, finishing at plus 1. Ralph Childress was third at 0. Dennis Neef was the closest to the pin winner on No. 15 . . . The Super Saturday Game at The Babe was played in a best -ball format. The front nine was won at plus 5 by the team of Tony Trevino, Wes McDonald, Glen Marino and Paul Brown. There was a tie for second at minus 1 between the team of Paul Flores, Harry Green, Roger Koch and Pete Reobroi and the foursome of Ted Freeman, Cody Almand, Mark Petry and Harold Wilkinson. The Trevino team also won the back nine at minus 7. Second at minus 1 was the Freeman team . . . The Senior 50 Plus Game at Babe Zaharias was played in a 2-ball format. The front was won at minus 3 by the team or Richard Briggs, Larry Voight, Paul Duplantis and Jack Wilson. On the back, there was a four-way tie at minus 1 between the team of Larry Thompson, Butch Pitman, Gene Hardy and Malcolm Tiller, the foursome  of Adam Noel, Don MacNeal, Ron Theriot and Casey Begeman, the team of Benny Sharpe, Ed Hetzel, Billy Thillet and Larry Rogers and the foursome of Cole Lee, Cap Hollier, John House and Charlie Huckaby.

    Golf news should be e-mailed to or faxed to 724-6854.