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Tall players short-circuit on the PGA

Being a tall man has its advantages.

At 6-foot-7, I can see really well at a crowded concert, no shelf is too high, and I am an Olympic level light-bulb changer.

The world of sports has often been kind to the tall man, too. Height is rarely an athletic detriment.

But then there's the world of golf. History shows that golf is not a tall man's game. No one taller than I am has ever won a PGA event. I found that kind of surprising, so I tried to find out why.

I went in search of the tallest golfers in the field at this week's Humana Challenge to find out if they agreed that being tall is, in fact, a disadvantage. The tallest height listed for any golfer in the field this week is 6-foot-4. Michael Putnam is one of those men.

"If I wasn't tall, I would have won three majors by now," Putnam joked, but he did point to a couple areas that make the already-hard sport even harder for a tall man. "For me I think it's your body position and your posture that can get off line quicker when you're farther from the ground. An advantage is that you have a bigger swing arc, which raises your power in theory, but again, if your body lines are off, and you have a bigger swing arc, you're going to go farther off line than other guys."

And what about putting?

"Oh the best putters are always short guys," said Putnam.

This time he wasn't joking. The former all-state basketball player in Washington said some small (no pun intended) advantages on the green are that not only are shorter players closer to the ball and the putting surface, but that when it's windy, a shorter golfer has a lower center of gravity which can help.

For some historical perspective, the tallest man ever to play on the PGA Tour was 6-foot-8 Craig Smith. The tallest player to win on the PGA Tour was Phil Blackmar at 6-foot-7. The tallest player to ever win a major was George Archer, who won the 1969 Masters at 6-foot-51/2. The next tallest major winners were Bob Tway and Stewart Cink, both at 6-foot-4. Cink is also in this week's Humana field.

There are non-golf related theories as to why there are so few successful tall golfers. One is that a taller-than-average kid growing up is often drawn to sports where being tall is advantageous such as basketball or football. Also, as a tall youth, if you wanted to take the sport seriously, there might be the extra cost of getting fitted clubs, that could be a roadblock.

I still have never acquired fitted clubs even though I desperately need to. Picture the way Michelle Wie looks putting. That's the way I look hitting every shot. Of course, an even bigger handicap than being tall is that I am in no way a good golfer.

So while Putnam was joking about not winning a major because he's 6-foot-4, the truth is only one player in the history of golf has even won a major taller than he is.

Another tall golfer in the field this week, Jason Kokrak, doesn't want to hear any of it.

"That's all hearsay, I don't see any of that," said the 6-foot-4 pro who was the first-round co-leader at the 2013 Humana Challenge. He doesn't buy into the notion that being tall is a disadvantage.

"If you're like 7-feet tall, maybe, but other than that, I don't think so," he said. "In fact, I think it's an advantage because I need less torque and less power to create greater clubhead speed."

The average height of the PGA player has risen in recent years, and Putnam attributes that to the game becoming more mainstream with the increased interest and TV exposure since Tiger Woods joined the tour. That trend can be seen in the game's greats. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson were all 5-foot-10 or shorter.

Now most of the elite players in golf are 6-foot tall or taller, with Rory McIlory and Rickie Fowler being exceptions.

"I think you'll start to see more tall winners on the tour," Putnam said. "Obviously, I hope so at least."

I hope so too, Michael. For too long, we tall people just haven't been able to catch a break when it comes to the world of sports.

Average heights

According to data from 2010 these are the average heights of professionals in specific men's pro sports:

Basketball: 6-foot-7

Football: 6-foot-4

Tennis: 6-foot-1

Hockey: 6-foot

Baseball: 6-foot

Golf: 5-foot-10

Heights of famous golfers

Tiger Woods: 6-foot-1

Jack Nicklaus: 5-foot-10

Arnold Palmer: 5-foot-10

Phil Mickeslon: 6-foot-3

Rory McIlroy: 5-foot-10

Tom Watson: 5-foot-9