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High-tech stats eclipsing golf’s long-held fundamentals for PGA Tour success

Jim Furyk is a rare commodity these days, relying on technique and knowledge rather than a specific set of skills. (Derek Gee / Associated Press)
Jim Furyk is a rare commodity these days, relying on technique and knowledge rather than a specific set of skills. (Derek Gee / Associated Press)

Whether a player has the ability to draw and fade the golf ball as a consistent shot pattern is starting to fade as a must-have on the PGA Tour.

Instructor Scott Fawcett, founder of PlayingLesson.com and Decade Golf software and now working with several players on the PGA Tour, said today’s game has eclipsed some time-tested fundamentals because of technology and a deeper look at the statistics of the game.

“What’s happening is that players can look at their numbers and fit their game to what’s offered on the schedule,” Fawcett said.

“If a guy doesn’t play the older courses well, like Colonial or Hilton Head, it makes more sense now for a player to skip that event and prepare for something else. If a player has one consistent shot pattern, you can use a number of tools now to really dial in the things that make a player great in those tournaments.”

That’s led many of the game’s instructors to shy away from putting pressure on aspiring players to learn how to work the ball both ways.

Josh Smith, director of instruction at Trophy Club Country Club near Dallas, said that while a player might be able to consistently draw and fade the ball, it’s likely to lead to a bigger miss.

“It’s probably nice to have that in the bag, but is it really necessary?” Smith said. “I tend to lean toward the side of instruction that is part of the game now.

“And, yeah, that’s probably led to a decline in creativity, and I think Hale Irwin even said that he’s concerned about the absence of shotmaking. But there’s plenty of data out there to help a player improve, and for me, I want people I work with to capture that one swing or that one fallback shot that can help get them out of a rough spot and through their round.”

Fawcett said that whichever direction the ball moves is a personal choice for every player, but he points to the difference between players such as Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson.

“Jim’s a guy that can hit driver on every hole because he doesn’t hit it very far, but he’s also one of the game’s most consistent players and usually near the top of the list in driving accuracy on tour,” Fawcett said. “Dustin, though, hits it a long way obviously, and that’s not really the reason he’s the No. 1 player in the world now.

“He’s always been a long hitter, but once he started working with Butch Harmon to put shape into his ball flight and stopped trying to hit everything straight, Dustin started to develop a shot pattern that was consistent.”

Johnson’s ascension to golf’s top spot began in his 29th start of a major championship last year.

“Clearly though, modern teachers are getting away from teaching aesthetics,“ Fawcett said. “For a long time, players and teachers thought making the swing pretty would equate to great golf shots, but all you have to do is look at somebody like Furyk.

“He’s made like $70 million or whatever because he just kind of knows what he’s doing.”