A driver shot only elite players should try
As Daniel Summerhays struck his second shot on the 557-yard, par-5 17th hole at TPC Deere Run Sunday at the John Deere Classic (shown, right), a fan was unmistakably heard just after the club struck the ball. Only this time the yell wasn't "You da man!" or even "Mashed potatoes!" This time the words that pierced the air were ones rarely heard these days: "Driver off the deck!"
Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MC
Faced with 278 yards to the hole and needing birdie, Summerhays really had little choice other than to haul out his 8.5-degree Ping G25 driver. The fact he hit the shot perfectly, the ball traveling with a slight fade, running up onto the green and ending 22 feet from the hole, was impressive. A bogey at the last that dropped him from a share of the lead to T-4, however, prevented the shot from getting more attention. Even Summerhays, despite his disappointment at not winning, commented afterward that, "I'll remember the driver off the deck that I hit on 17."
And he should. The "cool factor" of a driver struck from a tightly mown fairway is undeniably high. The odds of pulling the shot off successfully -- especially with today's large-headed drivers -- are rather long.
Still, there have been instances in recent years where players have hit big shots with the big stick off the grass. At the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Bubba Watson stood 305 yards from the green on the par-5 last at Kapalua's Plantation Course and used his 7.5-degree Ping G15 driver, smashing a low, hard cut that curved nearly 50 yards right-to-left and scooted along the ground until it came to rest 10 feet from the hole.
Woody Austin is another example -- sort of. Over the final nine of the 2008 Buick Open, Austin eschewed a tee on the tee box and instead kicked up a tuft of turf, put the ball down and hit driver. Austin did that twice, finding the fairway both times. But why? Summerhays' shot is understandable, but a pro hitting driver without a tee off the tee?
Some might believe it was Austin being his nonconformist self, but there was a reason for it. Although Austin certainly was sacrificing distance (the hot spot on most modern drivers is actually slightly above the center of the clubhead), he was trying to eliminate the left side of the course. Hitting a large-headed club without the added height of a tee decreases the chances of the ball hooking.
Whether in the fairway or off the tee box, the fact is driver off the deck is a shot the pros practice -- and use -- more often than most would think.
Vijay Singh also is a fan of the shot, using the big stick often for the second shot on par 5s. "I like hitting drivers off the deck," Singh told Golf World in 2011. "It makes one really aggressive when you do that."
Martin Kaymer had success with a driver off the deck as well at the 2008 Abu Dhabi Championship. When questioned about the shot, Kaymer had a simple explanation for why he felt comfortable trying it.
"When I was young, my father never gave me tees," said Kaymer. "I would ask, 'All the other guys get tees. Why don't I get tees?' He told me it was a big advantage for [me] because I would feel better playing it from the fairway in tournaments. That's how I got used to it."
Physics, however, dictate driver off the deck may not be a shot everyday players should attempt. In fact, you might want to steer clear unless you have a courtesy car.
That's because the shot really makes little sense for most everyday players. One of the reasons is that it spins more. That's not such a problem for tour players who hit it fairly straight, but for average golfers who impart more sidespin, it could lead to shots going even more off line. It's also important to remember that for most players, hitting driver off the turf delofts the launch angle between 3 to 7 degrees. Couple that with today's lower-spinning golf balls and the odds of keeping the ball airborne long enough to get the distance benefit are small for all but the fastest of swingers.
In other words, there's nothing cool about hitting driver off the deck if you're hitting grounders.
Now that the USGA and R&A have announced they will enact Rule 14-1b -- the so-called anchor ban -- starting in 2016, numerous players using anchored putters have begun practicing non-anchored strokes, with 14-year-old Chinese amateur prodigy Tianlang Guan among them.
Guan, who qualified for and made the cut in the Masters using a belly putter he anchored in his abdomen, recently played the South Course at Torrey Pines. Though he was still using a belly putter, he was holding it about an inch away from his body. "I just have a try with it," Guan said, "and I feel good with the change. It's not a big deal. It's OK they stop using it. I'm OK with it."
Guan said he will continue to experiment without anchoring his belly putter -- using a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X that he received on a recent visit to Cameron's putter studio in San Marcos, Calif. Guan, who is waiting to hear about a possible sponsor's exemption into the RBC Canadian Open, was noncommittal as to whether he would use a non-anchored stroke should he get in the field. --John Strege
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Ping is debuting a prototype driving iron -- named Rapture -- at the British Open and True South Classic. The 17-degree club is made from stainless steel with a 455 Carpenter steel face to promote ball speed while tungsten is positioned low in the sole to lower the center of gravity and assist launch. Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood have tested the club. ... David Duval has a new stick for the British Open -- a Nike VR_S Forged 2-iron that is a quarter-inch longer and 2 degrees stronger than a normal 2-iron making it, in essence, a 1-iron. ... TaylorMade's new SLDR driver was in the bags of nine players at the John Deere Classic (including Boo Weekley and Lucas Glover) and another four at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, including Darren Clarke.