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The different levels of long on the PGA Tour

Updated at: 01/28/2015 6:21 PM
By DOUG FERGUSON

(AP) SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Tim Clark was wrong about one thing. He's not the shortest hitter on the PGA Tour.

Justin Leonard earned that distinction last season on the PGA Tour by finishing at No. 177 in measured drives at an average of 270.3 yards. Clark was three spots better at 272.2 yards. Either way, he quit worrying about driving distance a long time ago, realizing he can make up for it with other parts of his game.

But it led to a question: How long is long? And when is it long enough?

Russell Knox has the reputation of being on the short side, even though he feels he can get it out there far enough. Knox was at No. 120 in driving distance last year. He believes there are three categories of length.

"Guys that are a little short. Everyone else. And guys who bomb it," Knox said. "And there's probably 10 guys who bomb it."

There were 25 players who averaged 300 yards off the tee last year, though that group included Charles Howell III and Lucas Glover. They are power players, but probably not in the same "bombers" class as Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland or Rory McIlroy.

"I played with Bubba a couple of years ago and I almost cried," Knox said. "I was like, if this guy hits it straight, I might as well try to caddie for him. But the reality is, distance is maybe 10 percent of golf. If those guys hit it so much further than me, there's obviously part of my game that is better than theirs or I'd never beat them. I need to focus on those parts."

Knox might be too stingy by saying there are only about 10 guys in the A-plus power group. He also thinks there are no more than 10 players who are seriously short.

"Most guys that are short have been out here a long time," he said. "They're absolutely geniuses. They have great short games. They're great putters."

Clark referred to players like Adam Scott who could be in the A-plus group if he wanted to except that Scott tries to play more under control.

"There's a lot more real bombers than we think," Clark said. "If you're just looking at the stats, it doesn't give a true picture of how long these guys are. ... That's almost as big of a group as the medium guys."

One "medium guy" might be Russell Henley, who was No. 61 in driving distance last year. Henley said there were five levels of power on the PGA Tour, and he put himself somewhere around the middle because the smashers — Watson, Johnson, Holmes — "are probably two levels above me."

Henley offered this definition of his driving distance: "When you're short, it puts pressure on your drive because you've got to hit the fairway. I need to hit the fairway, but it's not the end of the world if I don't."

Henley already has two of the 10 drives that have been measured at 400 yards or more this year, all of them at Kapalua. One of them was on the 17th hole, all the way to the bottom. He still made par.

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MOVING ON: Phil Mickelson is more interested in the next decade or two in the Ryder Cup, not what happened the last time in Gleneagles. Mickelson made his first public appearance last week since he spoke openly in the closing press conference at Gleneagles about the lack of a communication between U.S. captain Tom Watson and the team.

Mickelson is part of a Ryder Cup task force geared toward creating a model. It already has met once, with another meeting expected next week.

Would this open dialogue have occurred had Mickelson not spoken up after the loss to Europe in September?

"I just think there's a lot of great input. I'm excited about what we're doing moving forward," Mickelson said last week. "How we got there, doesn't matter. We're there now and we're going to make it a really great experience for the next generation of players as they go through the next decade or two."

Watson, too, is ready to move on.

He played the Champions Tour opener last week in Hawaii and was excited to see two Ryder Cup players, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker, win the Hawaii events.

"I'm proud of Jimmy and Patrick, and the way they played at the Ryder Cup," Watson said. "I'm proud of the way all the players played on the Ryder Cup team. They gave it their best shot. The other team just played better is the bottom line. It was a great event for the Europeans. It was not a great event for us, although we had our moments."

When asked if it was time to move on, Watson replied, "Sure. Because there's nothing we can do about it now."

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SPIETH DEAL: One new deal, one long-term renewal. Jordan Spieth has made quite an impression since the end of the last PGA Tour season, all very quietly.

First was the deal with AT&T, significant because the Dallas-based telecommunications firm not only is one of the strongest corporate partners on the PGA Tour, but because it has not signed any golfer to a personal endorsement since it cut ties with Tiger Woods in 2009.

The deal shows a lot of trust in the 21-year-old Spieth.

And then last week, Under Armour announced a comprehensive, 10-year extension with Spieth.

Spieth first signed with Under Armour in 2013 when he turned pro and is the first golfer to be outfitted head-to-toe in Under Armour gear. The company plans international marketing with Spieth, and he is involved in a golf shoe that is to debut in the spring.

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BASEBALL FEAT: Rob Manfred took over Sunday as commissioner of MLB, and during a guest appearance on the league's network he was asked his greatest athletic achievement. After taking a mulligan (he played two years of tennis at Le Moyne College), Manfred said he has made a hole-in-one — twice, on the same hole.

Manfred said he used a 6-iron to ace the third hole at Sleepy Hollow.

"And the next year I was older, used a 5-iron," he said.

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DIVOTS: Juli Inkster has selected Wendy Ward to be one of her assistant captains at the Solheim Cup in Germany this year. ... Frank Nobilo is joining CBS Sports as a golf analyst. Peter Oosterhuis announced last week he was retiring. Nobilo will continue his work at Golf Channel. ... The USGA has selected James R. Hansen for its Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. Hansen wrote "A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf."

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Starting with the final round at Kapalua, the low scores in each of the last nine rounds on the PGA Tour have been 62, 62, 62, 62, 63, 63, 61, 63 and 63.

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FINAL WORD: "I lost a few world ranking points, a trophy and some money. But I can handle all of those three things." — Martin Kaymer, on losing a 10-shot lead with 13 holes to play in Abu Dhabi.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)