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2022 PGA Championship: Length, Not Distance, Will Matter Most at Southern Hills Country Club

2022 PGA Championship: Length, Not Distance, Will Matter Most at Southern Hills Country Club article feature image
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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Dustin Johnson.

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2022 PGA Championship Odds

Golfer Odds
Scottie Scheffler +1100
Jon Rahm +1200
Justin Thomas +1400
Rory McIlroy +1400
Collin Morikawa +1600
Cameron Smith +1800
Dustin Johnson +1800
Jordan Spieth +1800
Patrick Cantlay +2000
Viktor Hovland +2200
Xander Schauffele +2500
Brooks Koepka +3000
Will Zalatoris +3000
Hideki Matsuyama +3300
Shane Lowry +3300
Joaquin Niemann +4000
Matthew Fitzpatrick +4000
Sam Burns +4000
Corey Conners +5000
Daniel Berger +5000
Tony Finau +5000
Bryson DeChambeau +6000
Louis Oosthuizen +6000
Max Homa +6000
Tiger Woods +6000
Jason Day +6600
Tyrrell Hatton +6600
Adam Scott +7000
Tommy Fleetwood +7000
Abraham Ancer +8000
Cameron Young +8000
Jason Kokrak +8000
Patrick Reed +8000
Billy Horschel +9000
Gary Woodland +9000
Justin Rose +9000
Keegan Bradley +9000
Marc Leishman +9000
Seamus Power +9000
Sergio Garcia +9000
Harold Varner III +10000
Matthew Wolff +10000
Maverick McNealy +10000
Rickie Fowler +10000
Si Woo Kim +10000
Talor Gooch +10000
Webb Simpson +10000
Brian Harman +12500
Cameron Champ +12500
Christiaan Bezuidenhout +12500
Erik Van Rooyen +12500
Russell Henley +12500
Thomas Pieters +12500
Aaron Wise +15000
Adam Hadwin +15000
Alexander Noren +15000
Branden Grace +15000
Bubba Watson +15000
Cameron Davis +15000
Charl Schwartzel +15000
Davis Riley +15000
Jhonattan Vegas +15000
Keith Mitchell +15000
Kevin Na +15000
Luke List +15000
Matt Kuchar +15000
Mito Guillermo Pereira +15000
Robert MacIntyre +15000
Sebastian Munoz +15000
Sepp Straka +15000
Tom Hoge +15000
Joel Dahmen +15000
Cameron Tringale +20000
Chris Kirk +20000
Harry Higgs +20000
Ian Poulter +20000
Kevin Kisner +20000
Kevin Streelman +20000
KH Lee +20000
Lee Westwood +20000
Mackenzie Hughes +20000
Matt Jones +20000
Nicolai Hoejgaard +20000
Ryan Fox +20000
Ryan Palmer +20000
Stewart Cink +20000
Adri Arnaus +25000
Anirban Lahiri +25000
Bernd Wiesberger +25000
Carlos Ortiz +25000
Francesco Molinari +25000
Garrick Higgo +25000
Henrik Stenson +25000
J. J. Spaun +25000
Joo-Hyung Kim +25000
Lanto Griffin +25000
Lucas Glover +25000
Lucas Herbert +25000
Martin Kaymer +25000
Patton Kizzire +25000
Richard Bland +25000
Russell Knox +25000
Sam Horsfield +25000
Troy Merritt +25000
Beau Hossler +30000
Brendan Steele +30000
Dean Burmester +30000
Justin Harding +30000
Laurie Canter +30000
Min Woo Lee +30000
Pablo Larrazabal +30000
Padraig Harrington +30000
Zach Johnson +30000
Scott Stallings +30000
Oliver Bekker +35000
Shaun Norris +35000
Adam Schenk +40000
Chad Ramey +40000
Danie van Tonder +40000
Hudson Swafford +40000
Kramer Hickok +40000
Rikuya Hoshino +40000
Takumi Kanaya +40000
Alex Beach +50000
Alex Cejka +50000
Austin Hurt +50000
Bio Kim +50000
Brandon Bingaman +50000
Casey Pyne +50000
Chan Kim +50000
Colin Inglis +50000
Jared Jones +50000
Jason Dufner +50000
Jesse Mueller +50000
Jinichiro Kozuma +50000
John Daly +50000
Kyle Mendoza +50000
Matthew Borchert +50000
Michael Block +50000
Nic Ishee +50000
Paul Dickinson +50000
Rich Beem +50000
Ryan Brehm +50000
Ryan Vermeer +50000
Ryosuke Kinoshita +50000
Sadom Kaewkanjana +50000
Sean McCarty +50000
Shaun Micheel +50000
Shawn Warren +50000
Tim Feenstra +50000
Tyler Collet +50000
Wyatt Worthington +50000

TULSA, Okla. — The following statement is a working theory which requires an open mind and a keen attention to detail in order to note the distinction.

Length matters. Distance doesn’t.

I get it. This might sound like an admittedly curious conflict — and granted, it’s really just relevant to the highest level of professional golfers. That doesn’t make it any less truthful.

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Let’s start with distance. This week’s PGA Championship scorecard yardage is 7,556 yards. That’s massive. And it doesn’t even tell the entire story.

The second hole is a 557-yard par 4. The fifth is a 656-yard par 5. The eighth is a 251-yard par 3. The 13th is a 632-yard par 5. The 14th is a 230 yard par-3. The 16th is a 527-yard par 4.

And you know what? It just doesn’t matter. None of those numbers are too daunting for the game’s best players.

All of which brings us to length. The analytics have proven that the long game is more important than the short game, more sustainable, and length offers a greater advantage to these players.

But here’s the rub: They’re all long enough.

If you, Average Joe 10-Handicap, was playing against, say, Scottie Scheffler on a 7,556-yard course, you’d have no chance for a bunch of reasons, but especially because of the built-in advantage that his length would give him. Against his fellow professionals, though, Scheffler doesn’t have that same advantage. In fact, nobody does — even the longest of the long.

This season’s driving distance leader is Cameron Champ at 323.8. Last on the list of the 210 who have qualified is Brian Stuard at 274.9.

The first thing we should note here is that Stuard ranks 124th on the season-long points list, while Champ is 145th. Really, though, that’s besides the point. The main takeaway is that the discrepancy between most pros at this level is much less than the 48.9 yards between first and last.

The truth is that 58% of the PGA TOUR falls in the average driving distance range from 290 yards to 305. That measly 15-yard dispersion rate is what separates the “long” hitters from the “short” ones, which of course is all based on just perception.

Think about it: The longest course in major championship history was last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah’s Ocean Course, which played to 7,876 yards on the scorecard — and was won by a 50-year-old.

Let’s play a little game here.

We’d all agree that Dustin Johnson is a big hitter, right? He’s a lanky, athletic dude who can give it some gas when he needs to and bang it out there with the best of ‘em.

And we’d similarly admit that Jordan Spieth is more of the right-brain type, less Randy Johnson than Greg Maddux, painting the corners to do most of his damage rather than rearing back and throwing heaters.

Well, how’s this for perception: Johnson is averaging 309.5 yards per drive, while Spieth is averaging 307.5, a negligible two-yard differential between them.

There are plenty of other examples, too.

Big, bad Brooks Koepka, with those forearms that look like he’s always ready to snap a club Bo Jackson-style, is averaging 309.8 yards per drive. That’s right behind sweet-swinging 41-year-old Adam Scott, whose move makes it seem like he doesn’t want to accidentally hurt a butterfly at impact.

Then there’s Tony Finau, who looks like he should be the starting tight end on your fantasy team. He’s at 300.3 this season — the exact same number as that noted tee-slayer Robert Streb.

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The truth is that judging a player’s average distance with, say, his 7-iron might be a more beneficial statistic than driving distance, considering hitting a 7-iron from 220 yards where others are using a 5-iron offers a distinct advantage. The only thing driving distance shows us is that there isn’t an elite talent in the world who is too short off the tee.

And therein lies the main theme: A player doesn’t necessarily need to be excessively long to have success at the highest level. He simply needs to be long enough — and the truth is that just about everyone playing at this level is long enough at just about every course.

That includes Southern Hills, where the yardage makes it one of the meatiest tracks we’ll see on the schedule all year. Not that it’ll matter.

Until the day we witness one of golf’s governing bodies stretch out a championship course to something more than 8,000 yards, we should realize that current distances are hardly intimidating to these guys. (And really, if and when they’re finally stretched out to that yardage, the average pro will be even longer, negating any such advantage for the “long” hitters.)

Keep this in mind when prognosticating and making selections for this week’s tournament. Length is only a massive advantage when one player owns it and another doesn’t.

Just about all of the serious candidates for this title can move it out there enough. The short hitters might not stand a chance, but that’s only because they rarely exist at the highest level of professional golf today.

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