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The 2005 Players Championship

By now you all know that Fred Funk won the 2005 Players Championship ($1,440,000.00) which reportedly included the top 50 players in the world.

If driving distance determined the winner, Fred would have finished 80th out of the 82 players who finished four rounds. Ernie Els (T17) would have finished first.
If birdies and eagles alone determined the winner Fred (with a GNS of -17) would have finished tied for 16th with 11 other players. That’s right, 26 players had a GNS equal to or better than Fred’s. Another 10 players had a GNS of -16 just one stroke behind Fred. This group included Tag Ridings who finished last.

So how could Fred have won given the above facts? As usual, the answer is Fred’s GPS of +8 the lowest of the 82 finishers. The two players who finished with GNS’s of -21, J.L. Lewis (T8) and Steve Lowery (T12) had GPS’s of +16 and +17, respectively. And you might well ask, how could Fred do it on a really tough course with an average drive of only 253.4 yards? Well there are two other statistics I have not mentioned yet and Fred tied for first in one and finished first alone in the other. Driving accuracy (T1). Greens in regulation (#1).

And, oh by the way, Fred will turn 49 this year.

It is also worth noting that this is only the second tournament this year in which driving accuracy has been highly relevant to the players’ course management. Fred has not won very many tournaments (7 PGA tournament victories since 1989), but he has always faired well on courses that are not designed to be forgiving for players who can drive the ball far but can’t aim. Fred is on his way to his fourth year in a row of earning more than $2 million for the season, not bad for a PGA Tour player who has never finished higher than 163rd on the driving distance list over that period.

If you are ever wondering why so many weekend golfers are loading up on the $500 drivers and the $5 golf balls only to unload off the tee sending their $5 into the rough, the trees, or the ponds just consider that they are the victims of a big hoax, dare I say, conspiracy. The conspirators or perhaps con artists are the golf club manufacturers, the golf ball manufacturers, the editors and writers in most of the golf magazines, the announcers on most of the golf television shows (Johnny Miller being one of the exceptions) and at most of the professional golf tournaments, and more often the golf tournament sponsors who force the course superintendents to widen the fairways and shorten the roughs.

A 300 yard drive is only better than a 250 yard drive if accuracy is not a factor. Accuracy is not a factor only if the golfer already has accuracy in his bag or if the golf course layout is so forgiving that it makes accuracy not important. Few professional golfers and almost no amateurs are so accurate that the part of their game that is holding them back is their driving distance. Yet, all you need to do is turn on the TV or open a golf magazine to get blasted with a bunch of lies about how improving your distance off the tee will improve your game.

Professional golfers are just as big a bunch of suckers as the average weekend golfer when it comes to falling for this lie. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the statistics from almost any professional tournament. Or perhaps consider when Tiger was playing his best golf in his first few years on the tour. The smart analysts of the games talked about how smart Tiger’s golf management skills were and the simpletons commented on how far he hit the ball. Well, Tiger is back to hitting the ball rather far, but hmmmm, it seems like something is still coming up short in his game. Perhaps he needs a new driver. But more likely he needs to return to the thinking man’s game that made him the golf sensation he is.

Or perhaps consider Fred Funk’s victory this past Sunday. Fred played smart and used great aim to take home the trophy and quite a bit of spending money. One thing to keep in mind is that it is possible to be accurate and also to hit the ball rather far. But the smart golfers hold back their distance if it starts to detract from their accuracy. Jack Nicklaus said many times that he rarely tried to use 100% of his power. Fred Funk has a long reputation for driving accuracy, but not for driving distance. We can give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he is such a smart student of the game that he practices more on accuracy than worrying about distance because he has always known that this is the key to success. Or we could consider the possibility that he realized early in his career that he would never be amongst the longer hitters on the tour and decided that his only chance at making a career of golf was to focus on accuracy. Well regardless of what his early motivation was he has his priorities in order. Just imagine how many wasted strokes would disappear from all of the worlds score cards if every golfer looked at the 2005 Players Championship and realized that every player in the field had plenty of distance to win it and most had enough birdies (and few scattered eagles), but only one player had the combination of skills in the right order of importance.

Tag Ridings finished 20th in driving distance and 80th in driving accuracy and took home fourteen thousand dollars to Fred Funk’s 1.4 million. Does any golfer doubt that Tag would be willing to give up a few of those driving yards in exchange for some of Fred’s dollars?

GNS (Gross Negative Score) – this statistic looks only at holes where
the player scored below par. This number is the total number of strokes
below par from all of the sub-par holes for the tournament.

GPS (Gross Positive Score) – this statistic looks only at the holes
where the player scored above par. This number is the total number of
strokes above par from all of the over par holes for the tournament.