How this short and bent hitter has done so well on the PGA Tour
How this short and bent hitter has done so well on the PGA Tour

THE PACIFIC There are a lot of bombers on the driving range at Riviera Country Club before the Genesis Invitational.

They have Rory McIlroy, who hits high draws into the sky at over 180 mph, and Wyndham Clark, who is also a banger. The 2014 U.S. Open winner hit the ball at an average speed of 186 mph, which was the fastest on the PGA Tour. The newcomers to the Tour, Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Højgaard, are also taking on drivers, which makes people in the seats go “ooh” and “aah.”

Equipment reps from different OEMs (like TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, Ping, etc.) are running back and forth between their trucks and the range the whole time. They have a bunch of new toys for the pros to try out. The simple goal is to make the players’ clubs work better so they have the best chance of doing well on Thursday.

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When it comes to professional golf, efficiency means speed these days. When you hit the ball, faster means more yards. And because you hit the ball farther off the tee, you need shorter clubs to get on the greens. This brings you closer to the hole on average and leads to more birdies. By the end of 2023, 60% of the top 50 players on the OWGR beat Tour had hit the ball an average of 172.8 mph.

There are, of course, exceptions.

The fastest ball speed on average last year was 166.6 mph for Brian Harman, golf’s newest major winner. The fastest ball speed on average for Collin Morikawa, another major winner, was just over 170 mph. Another pro that doesn’t work well at long distances? Eric Cole, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall.

The 35-year-old journeyman’s life changed during the 2022–23 season. Cole worked hard on the smaller tours for more than ten years and won more than fifty times on the Minor League Golf Tour. Then he made his name on the biggest stage. As a beginner, he won 14 top 25s, seven top 10s, and two runner-ups, which earned him $5.4 million and the beginner of the Year award.

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Cole did all of this even though his average distance was only 299 yards, which ranked him 113th, and he hit the ball all over the yard. With 54% of greens hit, he was ranked 163rd on the Tour. Cole lost over the course of the season.268 shots per round from the tee.

Cole makes it work even though being short and crooked shouldn’t go together.

Cole told, “I just don’t care what other guys do.” “The things other people can do, like hitting the ball long and high, are pretty cool.” I play my game.

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You got it: the game starts with the best players playing around the greens. Because Cole isn’t very strong, he did well in SG: Putting and SG: Around the Green in 2023.

“I think shots are more important as you get near the hole,” Cole said. “That’s the only way I play golf.”

That doesn’t mean Cole isn’t good at getting close to the greens, though. With irons in his hands, he’s a pretty good shooter, especially from far away. His first season, he was ranked 19th in SG: Approach, and his close range from 200 yards or more was ranked 9th on Tour. If you want to get close to the hole, it helps to be the best long-iron player in the world.

It’s not a typical set of skills for a Tour player, but Cole has them and is in the top 40 of the OWGR. He also plays in Signature Events and big championships.

You know what they say: “It’s not about how, it’s about how many.”

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