Height may be a prerequisite for success in some sports, but golf has never been one of them.
Most of the great players in the game’s history didn’t even measure six feet tall. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were 5 feet, 11 inches on a good day, Ben Hogan was 5-foot-9 and Bobby Jones was 5-foot-8. Ian Woosnam at 5-foot-4, Gene Sarazen at 5-foot-6 and Gary Player at 5-foot-6 proved that even those below the average adult male height around the world – which is roughly 5 feet, 7.5 inches – could be among the game’s best.
There has never really been a correlation between being tall and having an advantage in golf, so it’s rarely talked about in the same way football or basketball scouts sit around and discuss combine stats like wingspan or a vertical leap.
Maybe it hasn’t been that way, but it could be heading there.
In the year 2000, about 18 percent of the PGA Tour was 6-foot-2 or taller. That is far less than most sports — for instance, the average of all Major League Baseball players is 6-foot-2 — but still significant given that less than five percent of the adult male population in the world is at least 6-foot-2.
However, this season nearly 30 percent of PGA Tour players are at least 6-foot-2, and many are convinced it will continue to climb in the future.
“This line ain’t going below the 2021 data point ever again,” analytics guru Scott Fawcett recently tweeted in response to a graph showing the trend of taller players emerging.
The top two players in the world, Jon Rahm (6-foot-2) and Dustin Johnson (6-foot-4) are taller than most. The U.S. Ryder Cup team could include Tony Finau (6-foot-4), Harris English (6-foot-3), Scottie Scheffler (6-foot-3), Webb Simpson (6-foot-2), Will Zalatoris (6-foot-2), Bryson DeChambeau (6-foot-1), Daniel Berger (6-foot-1) and Jordan Spieth (6-foot-1).
Of all the exciting young players coming up, doesn’t it seem like so many of them are taller? Davis Thompson, the former Georgia Bulldog who led the Rocket Mortgage Classic after one round in his third event as a pro, is a lanky 6-foot-3. Wilco Nienaber, the South African who is pounding 350-yard drives with minimal effort, is 6-foot-3. Ludvig Aberg, a Texas Tech player who has taken the amateur golf world by storm in 2021, is 6-foot-3. Everywhere you look, there is another tall, strong player threatening to become a force at the highest level.
Let’s be clear: There is no doubt whatsoever that shorter players can still be among the game’s elite – see Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa – and height is not going to stop a terrific player from reaching their goals. There will continue to be shorter players, the Brian Harmans of the pro golf landscape, who have success for as long as golf exists.
But, generally speaking, is the PGA Tour moving toward a future where it is favorable to be taller? It would be difficult to argue otherwise. We’re all aware of the current distance-first environment where it pays to be closer to the hole regardless of being in the fairway, as well as the movement of better athletes often choosing golf over other more physically demanding sports. On average, having longer arms will help you produce greater clubhead speeds. And if the game is skewing more towards clubhead speed as the most telling indicator of success, it stands to reason that taller players will continue to populate professional golf at a faster clip than in the past.
“It just seems like the average golfer now is just a bigger, better athlete than they were seven to 10 years ago,” the diminutive, 5-foot-7 Harman said recently. “There’s not a lot of guys that are under six feet tall. I saw something the other day where the average height of the PGA Tour had gone up like four inches or something like that. Guys are bigger. Guys that would have been piddling around in minor league baseball are out here hitting 320 yards now.”
“Once you get somebody out here that’s a 7-foot-tall human being and they are able to swing a golf club at 145 miles an hour effortlessly, that’s when things get a little interesting.” – Bryson DeChambeau
This season on the PGA Tour, the pivotal strokes gained off-the-tee stat that is so directly connected with overall success is littered with tall players. The aforementioned DeChambeau and Rahm lead it, while Jhonattan Vegas (6-foot-3) and Bubba Watson (6-foot-3) are within the top six.
And since 2019, the list of major champions includes Shane Lowry (6-foot-1), Gary Woodland (6-foot-1), Brooks Koepka (6-foot), Tiger Woods (6-foot-1), DeChambeau, Johnson, Rahm and Phil Mickelson (6-foot-3). Hideki Matsuyama is just a shade under six feet tall, so the only winner in the last 10 majors who could be considered particularly short by PGA Tour standards is Morikawa, the 5-foot-9 generational iron player.
It’s not just coincidence. DeChambeau said he recognizes the trend and turned heads by taking the conversation to an extreme.
“I think as time goes on, there’s not much more to gain from the technology side of golf club manufacturing, building,” DeChambeau said. “There are little things we can do, but where the massive gains will be is in athletes. Once you get somebody out here that’s a 7-foot-tall human being and they are able to swing a golf club at 145 miles an hour effortlessly, that’s when things get a little interesting.”
That’s an interesting comment because golf is notoriously difficult for towering giants. George Archer, the 6-foot-5 1/2 player who won the 1969 Masters, is the tallest to ever capture a major and Phil Blackmar won three PGA Tour events despite being 6-foot-7 but it’s been a rarity for particularly tall players to have success. The reasons are mostly attributed to how hand-eye coordination becomes more difficult because of how far away they are from the ball.
At the Valspar Championship two months ago, 6-foot-8 Jordan Hahn became the tallest player in PGA Tour history. His description of playing the game at that height is simple but telling.
“There’s a lot more room for error, but then again, you get a lot more speed and power, so …”
Maybe golf will never be a sea of gigantic players who would make for a killer intramural basketball team, but you would also have to think that the TrackMan era would allow the tallest players to figure out how to optimize their equipment and swings.
We’ve seen players like Rahm and Finau go to shorter, more repeatable swings that rely on their flexibility. It wouldn’t be an outlandish prediction to say there will be more of those players, and the records Archer and Blackmar set are not safe. In fact, it would be a surprise if the next 20 years didn’t see a particularly tall player win a major championship.
As DeChambeau says, there is only so much more to gain from technology.
But taller players with longer levers who can produce greater clubhead speed? That could change the equation.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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