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Learning from the Tiger-Phil Flap

It's OK to Sacrifice Distance for Accuracy if it Helps Your Score

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Feb. 25, 2003 - Now that the hullabaloo over Phil Mickelson's comments about Tiger Woods' equipment has died down, let's see if there's anything recreational golfers can learn from the episode.

Yes ... yes, there is.

That lesson can be summed up in the old golf saying: Drive for show, putt for dough.

If Tiger is the epitome of that axiom, then - if only in this instance - Lefty represents the beer-guzzling weekend hacker who only cares about distance. Nevermind the score, our hacker will still brag every time one of his drives soars past yours.

Remember what Phil said just before he called Tiger's equipment inferior: "He doesn't like that I can fly it past him now."

Recreational golfers should pay attention not to Mickelson's comments, but to Woods' results. In the first tournament following the flap - the Buick Invitational - Tiger roared through the final round to win and finish six shots ahead of Mickelson.

Mickelson did outdrive Woods for most of the day. But according to the tournament stats, there was a five-stroke difference between the two on the greens alone.

But these are "you da man" times in a grip-it-and-rip-it golf world. The marketing message from golf club companies is distance, distance and more distance.

Is there anyone out there resisting that message? Yes - the world's best player.

Tiger Woods has forsaken a long, graphite shaft in favor of a shorter, steel shaft. This cuts into his distance, but it increases his accuracy and control.

Woods' 43.5-inch driver shaft is one of the shortest on the PGA Tour.

Another golfer you might have heard of, Jack Nicklaus, played one of the shortest shafted drivers on Tour during his prime.

That's a pretty good argument for placing at least as much emphasis on control as on distance. And there are ways for recreational golfers to increase their odds of keeping a ball in the fairway:

• When choosing a driver, or if having irons customized, add loft. More loft equals more control.

• Take an inch or more off the shaft length of your driver. The closer you are to the ball, the more control you'll have.

• Consider dumping your long irons in favor of hybrid clubs. Hybrids were borne of the need for clubs that produce long-iron distance while being easier for the average player to hit.

• Don't hit driver off of every tee. Pull out a 3-wood or 2-iron. Lee Trevino has been quoted as saying that most amateurs would be better off if they never carried a driver.

Most of all, work on adding accuracy to your game. Consult your local pro or seek out tips from golf Web sites and publications.

The fact is that for all the advances in distance equipment, recreational players have not been helped. Handicaps have dropped just a fraction over the past 15 years.

If you want to go the distance with your golf game, control has to get equal billing.

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