Champions Tour Insider: Purtzer is still king of driving

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Tom Purtzer won five times on the PGA TOUR and has captured four titles on the Champions Tour.
March 04, 2009
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Horace Greeley is credited with those famous words, "Go west, young man." Truth is, there is evidence to suggest it was another newspaper man from Indiana who first said it but that Greeley popularized it.


There is no question who has taken the advice to heart.

Tom Purtzer has always enjoyed going west to California. His travels there as a professional golfer have been consistently rewarding.

The Champions Tour returns to action this week with the first of two events on its mini-California swing at the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club. Next week, the scene shifts to Valencia Country Club for the AT&T Champions Classic.

Enter Purtzer, who has won both events: the Toshiba Classic in 2004 and the AT&T Champions Classic in 2007 in a playoff against Loren Roberts.

The first of Purtzer's five victories on the PGA TOUR came in 1977 and, yes, it was in California at the Glen Campbell-Los Angeles Open held at Riviera Country Club.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, who went to Arizona State and now lives in Scottsdale, Purtzer has carved a handsome career out of winning in California but it's not his only niche. Purtzer is admired for having one of the sweetest swings in golf and for his ability to drive the ball long distances.

Purtzer led the PGA TOUR in driving distance in 1990, averaging 279.6 yards. He has led the Champions Tour in the statistical category four times in the past six years, including the past two seasons. This year's he is averaging a career-best 304.5 yards off the tee, best on the Champions Tour.

"I never have worked on it," Purtzer said. "It just kind of came naturally. Ever since I started playing golf, I've always seemed to hit it a long way.

"One of the keys is hitting it solid every time. Hitting it in the middle of the clubface helps."

That's a lesson Purtzer said he learned as a youth and still relies on many years later.

Purtzer's advantage in the distance driving category is consistency. There are others who get into streaks during which they may be longer than Purtzer but, week in and week out, he stands alone. The man with the sweet swing finds the sweet spot with regularity.

"A lot of it is genes," Purtzer said. "My dad has always been in good shape. A lot of it is I'm able to make a pretty big turn away from the ball. That helps in hitting the ball a long way and I've always been pretty limber. I haven't gotten any shorter or tighter with my swing since I've gotten older.

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"It doesn't seem like there are a whole lot of things I could do 20 years ago that I can't do now. I can still throw a football, still throw a baseball. I don't see myself as being 57."

Of course, there's also the element of technology that has changed the game and how it is played at every level.

"The technology has turned everybody's game around," Purtzer said. "I'm hitting it farther now than 25 years ago. I'm not any stronger, my swing hasn't changed a whole lot.

"The year I was first in driving (on the PGA TOUR), my length was 279-something, under 280 yards. Now every drive goes farther than that. It's quite a bit different, it really is."

Purtzer averaged 279.6 yards in 1990 as the PGA TOUR's driving distance leader. Last year, he averaged 295.5 yards, and hasn't gone below 294.8 (2004) as the Champions Tour statistical leader. This year he is averaging 304.5 yards.

Purtzer will take his trusty driver with the decade-old shaft this week to California where he'll hope to find a groove. It's a place where good things usually happen for him. It's about comfort zone and good vibes.

"I like those courses," Purtzer said. "There are some courses you feel good about. You think you're going to play good there, so you do.

"Valencia fits my game really good. Newport Beach, I like playing there even though it doesn't suit my strengths really well. I like the tournament, the people who are involved with the tournament and Toshiba has been a great sponsor. It adds up and I'm comfortable there."

Newport Beach is a compact golf course. There's not a lot of room to stray and it often takes the driver out of Purtzer's hands.

"I hit maybe four, five drivers all day," he said. "You're kind of trying to fit fairway woods and other clubs off the tee to set you up. It's not a long course. There are a lot of birdie holes and you've got to putt well. The scores always are pretty low and you've got the accelerator on go from right off the bat."

Champions Tour Insider Notes:

• The Toshiba Classic makes champions. Five times in the past 14 years, the winner has gone on to earn Champions Tour Player of the Year honors - Jim Colbert (1996), Hale Irwin (1998, 2002), Jay Haas (2007) and Bernhard Langer (2008).

• Newport Beach Country Club is the shortest course on the Champions Tour this year, playing 6,584 yards with par 71. • If there's a playoff, expect it to be lengthy. Last year, Bernhard Langer and Jay Haas went seven extra holes but that was only the third longest in the tournament's history. In 1997 and 2001, the playoffs went nine holes. In 1997, Bob Murphy outlasted Jay Sigel. Four years later, Jose Maria Canizares defeated Gil Morgan.