Congratulations to Adam Scott, who yesterday won The Masters in a playoff over Angel Cabrera. It was his first major and the first Masters win for an Australian. It is party time in Australia and for all Aussie golfers, including Greg Norman. Norman of course was the guy that was supposed to win that green jacket for Austrailia. Norman finished second in 1986, 1987 and 1996, blowing a six shot lead in the final round to let Nick Faldo win his third title.
After Scott’s win yesterday, Norman said something that had people scratching their heads. He said, “I think he’s a better driver of the golf ball than I ever was. Nobody ever gives him that recognition.”
Brad Faxon tweeted that he “never played with a better driver than Greg!” I have heard that about Norman from a few places and I think he is generally considered one of all time.
Norman’s comment left me with two questions: 1) was Norman the best driver of the ball in his era? and 2) is Scott better than Norman was?
Technology differences make it difficult to directly compare the two. I thought I would look back at the PGA Tour stats to see how each player ranked in Total Driving, which is the sum of your driving accuracy and driving distance rankings on tour. Norman was known to hit it long and straight, which is a pretty good definition of a great driver of the golf ball.
The above table for Adam Scott contradicts Norman’s statement. Scott generally hits the ball a long ways relative to the rest of the tour, but he is not accurate off the tee. In no way is Scott one of the best drivers of the ball in the game today. We are all prone to hyperbole in the thrill of victory, even the Great White Shark. I suspect that a few weeks a year, Scott combines distance and accuracy and is in contention to win.
Looking at Norman’s numbers, he certainly appears to have been one of the best drivers of the golf ball in his day. From 1988 through 1996, he was in the top four in Total driving seven of nine years. That is pretty darn good and pretty darn consistent.
For fun, I thought I would pull Jack Nicklaus’ numbers. Sadly, the PGA Tour website only has stats back until 1980. The following is Jack age 40 through 45.
I suspect the 1960’s and 1970’s contained more of the same. I am not sure how often Brad Faxon has had the pleasure of playing with the Golden Bear, but Nicklaus was the best driver of the golf ball that he has played with.