While watching the coverage of the RBC Heritage tournament this past weekend, one of the commentators expressed some surprise over how well some of the longer hitters were playing the course.
The implication seemed to be that just as short hitters were at a disadvantage at longer courses, long hitters were somehow at a disadvantage when playing shorter courses. As evidence they might point to some of the recent winners on short courses who were shorter hitters. For example, recent champions at Harbour Town include CT Pan, Jim Furyk, and Matt Kuchar). At Colonial, some recent winners include Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner and Chris Kirk.
What this seems to completely miss is that the shorter, tighter courses don’t place the long hitters at a disadvantage. While the driver may be taken out of the longer hitters hands more often on the shorter courses, there’s nothing stopping the longer hitters from hitting fairway woods or hybrids off the tees.
What’s different in 2020 after the Covid break is that a lot more of the longer hitters are playing at shorter courses such as Colonial and Harbour Town than usual. With the exception of the majors and other top-tier events such as the WGC events, most of the top PGA Tour players make strategic decisions about which tournaments they are going to play in each year. They generally pick the courses where they have the best chance of success. Sure, there are some other reasons they may choose a tournament where the course doesn’t suit them – perhaps they received a sponsor’s exemption early in their career. Maybe one of their sponsors is involved with the tournament. It could also be their “home” tournament.
The shorter hitters have always focused on the shorter, tighter courses because their length doesn’t place them at a disadvantage relative to the longer hitters. Similarly, the longer hitters have a better chance relative to the shorter hitters on the longer, more open courses where their length gives them a true advantage. It makes perfect sense that under normal circumstances the longer hitters might take a week off when the Tour visits a shorter course. But this season isn’t normal.