“Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics”

justin-thomas-post-impactOne of my favorite sayings from Mark Twain by way of Benjamin Disraeli, and this has come to mind since I caught some of the weekend coverage of the just-completed Honda Classic.

We have all heard about Justin Thomas and his length off the tee compared to his stature (and JT is an impressive golfer, which isn’t the point), but this is getting ridiculous.

What is?

This: The obsession with Justin Thomas being “pound for pound, the longest driver on Tour.”


I’ll pause so you can all catch your breaths.

O.K., so what does that mean, exactly?

Only that some genius in the marketing department took the mass of the longest drivers on Tour and divided their yardage by such mass, giving Justin Thomas an edge over Rickie Fowler as “pound for pound, the longest driver on Tour.”

There it is again.

I was reading an article on GolfDigest about how the ball goes further at altitude (because if you didn’t know this by now, you haven’t been listening to the talking heads who will remind you every ten minutes in this week’s WGC event in Mexico at altitude), and there it was again, with Justin Thomas:

Thomas is pound-for-pound one of the longest hitters on tour, but a 355.9-yard carry? That’s just ridiculous.

NO it isn’t, Alex Myers – it’s called being at 7500 feet above sea level, which even JT mentions on his Instagram posting, and some other numbers you don’t mention.

Now, look at the club impact speed and ball speed of the drive, from his Instagram account, presented as proof of JT’s awesomeness:


What impresses me, to be honest, is the +5.3 attack angle – there’s your proof that if you want to drive the ball far, you want a positive attack angle, and this one is impressive.

You also want low spin, and <2000 rpm will certainly qualify!

Really, really good driver numbers. Looks like a power fade too.

120 mph club impact speed (pretty good, but not mind-blowing), and 178 mph ball speed, also pretty good but nowhere near jaw-drop territory… so anyone who hits a drive with 120/178 and similar launch numbers will drive it the same distances, regardless of height, weight, hair and eye color or what they had for breakfast.

The numbers that matter are the ones on that Instagram picture, in other words.  And JT is a long driver of the ball because of those numbers, which have nothing to do with how much he weighs.

They’re at altitude, guys – the ball’s going to go far, just as it does in Hawaii where the fairways are green-fast and slope downwards at 45 degrees.  Not exactly rocket science here.

But “pound for pound,” Justin Thomas is… the longest driver on Tour!

I don’t know that there is an actual award for this, or that it gives you more FedEx Cup points per tournament completed, or whatever it means other than it’s being picked up now and amplified so that I keep seeing and hearing it (or perhaps I’ve just noticed it).

It’s not that this is a completely meaningless stat, it’s also got a big lie thrown in – on the weekend during the coverage, I heard this conversation from the talking heads, and the theme ended with the pronouncement that “if Justin weighed the same as Dustin Johnson, he’d be averaging over 400 yards in driving distance!”

“Ahh, Geez…”

facepalm statue

And that, my friends, is either a completely insane and clueless proclamation, or a flat-out lie, as in “I know this isn’t really true, but it’s fun to say.”

It is absurd, of course, because one doesn’t gain or lose driving distance proportionally to one’s mass – we’ve heard that overweight golfers have complained of losing distance when they lost weight (not exactly a scientific experiment, because we’ve heard once-overweight golfers talk about having gained power and distance when they lost weight and hit the gym), but the inference is a really silly one to make.

For example, if Rickie or Justin want to start driving the ball insane distances, why don’t they just pick up a few more burgers at the drive-through on the way home?  I mean, if Justin Thomas would be driving the ball 400 yards at 200 lbs, why not just gain 10 pounds and increase his driving average by 20 yards?

I would make you a bet right now, any amount, that neither Justin Thomas nor any other swinger could increase their driving distance proportionally by gaining weight, nor would it decrease the same if they lost it.

Any amount.

Oh, it’s not that simple, you say?

Then why do I keep hearing it?

Of course it isn’t, and it’s one of the stupider things I’ve heard on a golf broadcast, which takes some doing, if you watch televised golf.

Quick Survey

Tell me, everyone – who has the fastest pitch in ML baseball, pound for pound?

Who has the fastest serve in tennis, pound for pound?

Who’s the fastest man on earth, pound for pound?

Who has the fastest slap shot in hockey, pound for pound?

Who’s the fastest running back in the NFL, pound for pound?

Who can eat the most buffalo chicken wings in a sitting, pound for pound?

I bet no one knows the answer to the above questions, and for obvious reasons – who the hell cares, because “pound for pound” doesn’t really do anything when it comes to measuring performance of any kind except that one.

I guess we can all wave our hands and say, “Bah,” when John Daly unleases one of his epic drives.  After all, “pound for pound,” he can’t touch Justin Thomas or Ricke Fowler!

“Nothing To See Here Folks, Pound For Pound…”

john daly plane

No disrespect to him, because his skill and ability should just be accepted at face value, but:

Justin Thomas isn’t the longest driver in the world.

He isn’t even the longest driver on Tour.

He isn’t the straightest.

But we have to say something about him, don’t we, to keep the eternal pro golf hype machine running smoothly, so let’s just keep reminding everyone how he’s “pound for pound the longest driver on Tour.”

Conclusion: I think it would serve people far better to point out his excellent Trackman numbers, you know, so people would know why and how he’s driving it so long, than to keep repeating this nonsensical phrase.

But that’s just me.

Watch the broadcast this week, and play a drinking game – send me  a 6 pack of Tuborg Gold if you hear the reference (I’ll take coupons). And a full case if you hear it more than once.

Because DJ Watts is “pound for pound, the grumpiest blogger when it comes to golf.”

And I need to add some more pounds…

Want to learn more about the MCS Golf Swing Theory? Try one of DJ’s “Secrets of the MCS” video shorts available via download.

“Dropping The Hammer!”


Or you can download the very latest MCS  video “MCS – Dropping The Hammer , Part 3 of the MCS Golf Swing Trilogy**

wax shirts2


10 thoughts on ““Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics”

  1. Van

    Because DJ Watts is “pound for pound, the grumpiest blogger when it comes to golf.”

    LOL. Grumpy or just telling it like it is. And you owe me a coffee as mine is all over my keyboard thanks to you. V

  2. peterallenby2013

    Tuborg Gold??! What happend to Labatt or Molson??!

    You know what might an interesting exercise would be for some blogger to explain to the vast unwashed masses out here just what the impact on a golf swing of all those Trackman numbers…A little physics lesson if you will. What is an optimal launch angle? The best RPM for a golf ball? Club face? Club angle? Club and ball speed? Since all golfers have different club head swing speeds, what are the optimal #’s for those of us with less than DJ-esque or J-esque or Dustin Johnson-esque swing speeds? Who has the Excel spreadsheet?

    BTW, Golf Digest offered to renew my subscription at a price roughly double my original rate – I offered the original rate and not a penny more…NO answer yet! And that number for an annual subscription is $10… I think they have to delve into “shock and awe” journalism ( and scantily clad cover subjects at least once or twice a year) to keep the subscription rate from declining too much…

    1. D Watts Post author

      Tuborg Gold??! What happend to Labatt or Molson??!

      Have you tasted Tuborg Gold, PA? LOL… no comparison! I prefer Dutch/Belgian/German suds (Tuborg is actually Danish, so that too), especially the German “purity law” beer – can’t beat it!

      I remember there being stats on the optimal TM numbers out there, I will try to find some. But usually, a spin rate that is in the high teens to low 2Ks is what you would want, with a positive attack angle, both of which give you a nice high, penetrating ball flight.

      Part of how TW wrecked himself was trying to drive it long and hitting down through the ball with driver, which you did with persimmon and balata but which is not optimal with the modern drivers and balls.

      Club speed and ball speed – as high as you can get them without hurting yourself or losing efficiency – so when your Smash Factor is the max 1.5 or very close (Justin Thomas for example had 1.49 Smash on that drive, most excellent), you’re going to maximize distance.

  3. targettom

    I think this concept comes from boxing, where of course the classes are divided by weight. So every once in a while they would pronounce the best fighter pound for pound. But boxing is a dying (dead?) sport now.

    There’s lot of evidence that weight has nothing to do with it if these “experts” bothered to look. Blake Elliot stands out. I think having a big gut like Daly would interfere somewhat. But at Goose Creek a year ago a guy standing next to me on the range was rather rotund, and he was absolutely crushing everything. Very impressive

    1. D Watts Post author

      Agreed on Blake, Tom – I thought of him as well, but I wanted to just stick with the accomplished pro Tour guys…

      I have actually used the term myself, but that’s in making a distinction between two evenly-matched performers with drastically different body types.

      Like Jason Zuback vs Jamie Sadlowski:

      Zuback is the undisputed King of Long Drive, with 5 Remax Championships (4 in a row at one point), compared to Sadlowski’s 2 Remax titles.

      When you look at their size and strength, I would call Sadlowski a greater long driver “pound for pound” because of the dramatic size difference and around the same maximum distances.

      However, Zuback is still the King. You don’t get any prizes for “pound for pound” greatness.

      And I’m not going to make assertions about how long Jamie would drive it if he weighed the same as Zuback – that’s just nonsensical – what matters is the ball in the grid and the numbers themselves, and Zuback’s got 5 to 2 trophies.

  4. Mike Divot

    “the ball goes further at altitude”

    Is that why guys like Thomas, Spieth, etc, jump off the ground at impact?

    (Imagine how far they’d hit if of they get completely airborne?!)

    1. D Watts Post author

      I would wager we haven’t seen the worst of what Modern Golf Swing theory has to offer before it dies, MD – I wouldn’t even guess what’s coming next, but I’m sure something is…

  5. Laser

    “I would wager we haven’t seen the worst”

    –Yeah, we probably have. Pound-for-pound, “myelin” is probably the low point. But, there haven’t been any signs of heading back up.

    (Myelin is a fatty white substance that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells, forming an electrically insulating layer. It is essential for the proper functioning of… ~Wikipedia)

    1. D Watts Post author

      Pound-for-pound, “myelin” is probably the low point.

      LOL – I gotta give that one to you, Laser. Well played.

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