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Analyzing Jordan Spieth’s weekend troubles

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This past weekend, Jordan Spieth had a share of the lead at The Players Championship going into Sunday before shooting a 74 and finishing tied for 4th. This brought up discussion of Spieth having “collapses” on Sunday, and sparked my interest in seeing what was giving the young superstar issues on the final day. In the end, I found some interesting pieces to the puzzle along with some very typical trends of players that have a tendency to struggle on the weekend.

For starters, his poor play in final rounds has been greatly exaggerated. Here is a look at Spieth’s rankings in scoring average by round, out of 199 players:

Photo 1

Round 3 has given Spieth more issues than Round 4 this season. Here is a look at his scores by event, and I highlighted the weekend scores where he shot greater than 72.

Photo 2

The numbers show that Spieth’s Round 4 “collapses” are overblown. In fact, if he was able to perform better in Round 3 this year, he likely would have come away with at least one victory in 2014 and performed much better in at least three different events.

What we do see is that Spieth is a terrific golfer in Rounds 1 and 2. This is critical to any golfer’s success in events, as there is a very strong mathematical correlation to playing well earlier in an event and having success in that event. For the Tour, it is very clear that Round 1 scoring average has the greatest correlation to success on Tour. That is followed directly behind Round 2 scoring average. There is then is a large drop off when we look at the correlation between success on Tour and Round 3 scoring average. And Round 4 Scoring Average has the lowest correlation to success on Tour of all of the scoring averages by round.

Recently, I took a look at this for state amateur events that were at least two rounds in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas, and the same correlations occurred. Playing well early gives golfers the best chance to win the event. And too many golfers, be it amateurs or professionals, try to play too conservatively early in events in order to ease their way in. This is why Spieth has been so successful this year despite his weekend struggles. He gets himself off to good starts and puts himself in a good position to win the event.

Despite Spieth’s Sunday struggles being exaggerated, I did find some parts of his game that are very typical of Tour players who have issues with performance on the weekend. Here’s a look at Spieth’s key metrics this season versus last season:

Photo 3-1

What is interesting about Spieth is that while his 2013 metrics were outstanding, he is actually a better short game player and putter this season. But, his driving has badly regressed and this is the most common trend of Tour players that tend to play worse on the weekend compared to Thursday and Friday. Here’s a look at Spieth’s driving metrics:

Photo 4

Spieth’s accuracy and precision off the tee is the biggest reason for his decline in his driving effectiveness and it is a common trend of golfers who tend to have issues playing on the weekend. But, it is also important to take note of his distance metrics.

First, his 2014 rankings are based out of 199 players while his 2013 rankings are based out of 180 players. Here is how his distance rankings compared the past two seasons:

Photo 5

Measured drives are the old fashioned way to measure distance where the Tour uses two holes to measure the drive for each round. This is a fairly important metric, as it is usually done on holes where 95 percent of the golfers will hit driver on that hole. Distance on “all drives” is measured with a laser from ShotLink. When we combine these metrics, we can get an idea of how aggressive the player is off the tee because the rankings should be pretty much the same.

For Spieth, he ranks much better in the All Drives category than the Measured Drives category. This indicates he is fairly aggressive off the tee and does not lay up very often. However, I have some concerns with his distance on “measured drives.” It has dropped noticeably from last year, which indicates he is not hitting it as far when he is pulling out the driver. With that, I want to take a look at his radar metrics to see what the possible changes are this year:

Photo 6

It appears that Spieth may be trying to hit his driver with more of an upward attack angle, because his launch angle and max height are up while his spin rate is lower. The other thing I noticed is that he went from having a rightward-miss bias to a leftward-miss bias. None of these radar metrics are “bad” per say, but I feel it has created a different ball flight and he is struggling to adjust to that.

If there is a large concern for me, it is that typically the most effective drivers of the ball on Tour have kept their spin rate between 2,400-and-2,800 rpm. For Tour players, spin rates that are too low can cause accuracy issues, and Spieth is lowering his spin rate instead of increasing it a bit. Perhaps it is all being done to increase distance off the tee, but he is actually hitting his measured drives shorter this season and is so much less accurate off the tee that he is nowhere near as effective off the tee as he was last year.

And his accuracy issues off the tee have spilled over into his approach shot play. While he is still a very good iron player, his regression is largely due to having less approach shots from the short grass.

Photo 7

So, Spieth’s skill on approach shots has not really changed as much as he is leaving himself with shots that have a higher degree of difficulty.

Lastly, while Spieth has putted well overall this year, there is a key putting metric that he has struggled with that is common in golfers that regress on the weekend:

Photo 8

The reason for Spieth ranking well in strokes gained-putting is that he is a very good putter from 5-to-25 feet. His weakness putting is from 3-to-5 feet. So on the weekends, his struggles with accuracy off the tee are not helped by his inability to consistently make those knee knockers.

I don’t believe that Spieth should be given the “choker” label. As the first set of metrics show, he has actually played pretty well on Sundays this year and Saturdays have been much more problematic. Spieth was not very good from 3-to-5 feet last year, and that will likely be a more difficult issue for him to resolve since he has yet to prove that he can putt well from that distance. However, the bigger issue is with his driving and whether it is a swing mechanics issue, an equipment issue or both.

Spieth should look to get his launch monitor data closer to last year, because he was actually longer with the driver in 2013 and far more accurate which made him a far more effective driver of the ball.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. leftright

    May 14, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I will say one thing about my observations of the sports world in the last 4 decades…the armchair quarterbacking is getting out of hand. People who can’t bust an egg commenting on Jordon Speith’s golf game. The only choke they know about is what they do on a 2 foot putt on a $5 nassau bet or the snap hook when the going gets tough on the local muni. When I was 20 I was chasing tail and even though I was a scratch golfer…I didn’t care. No one that is a member of WRX has earned the right to even comment on Jordon Speith’s golf game. Admire it and shut up.

    • Jadon

      May 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

      haha love this, too bad this is the internet. It would be fun to watch Jordan win a hometown event this week.

  2. Tommy

    May 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I’m a huge Jordan Spieth fan, but I understand why people think he’s choking. In both the Masters and the Players, his play fell off significantly AFTER he took leads early in the final round. Or rather, his play levels off. And in both cases, he hasn’t bounced back well from perceived bad breaks where he’s hit the shot he wanted to but the result wasn’t good.

    I wouldn’t call it choking so much as learning how to handle himself in those situations. His issues have just been magnified by the high profile of the events.

    Even in his win at the John Deere, he never had the lead during the final round, I don’t think. And he won in the playoff when others missed very makeable shots.

    I’m hoping he figures it out, and he should have plenty of chances to.

    • Nick

      May 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      I think its just a maturity thing. Dude is 20. It’s a rare breed that doesn’t have to work hard to manage that pressure. No doubt he’ll be in the winner’s circle soon.

  3. Clarence von Aspern

    May 14, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Jordan’s problems on Sunday’s round were simply related to his aggressive approach shots taking aim at some difficult pin placements and recovery shot/club selection when he missed the green. He’s only 20 and is absolutely on his way to becoming a dominate player. He’s moving in the right direction … look out Tiger!

  4. mitch

    May 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Awesome stats! Although Jordan Spieth is wonderful talent, he doesn’t possess the power nor world class skills to warrant anyone to think that he will be a multiple winner year in and year out on tour. Statistically speaking he doesn’t have an attribute that has the wow factor like a Dustin Johnson or Fred Funk. That said, he is still young and in theory barring any injuries or major hiccups can become a great player. When you watch Rory, you knew there was something special about him, Jordan doesn’t come across as that special someone, at least not yet…

    • Mike

      May 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Wow factor as in, “Wow, Dustin, I can’t believe you hit an iron OB to lose The Open Championship.” Or, “Wow, Dustin, you didn’t even read the rules sheet to know that was a bunker?”

      Maybe you are thinking of Paulina. BTW, I never knew Fred Funk had a “wow” factor. Fill us in, please.

  5. Dave

    May 13, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Interesting analysis. I also think it’s crazy to label him a choker. Such a talented kid. Regarding scoring stats, your analysis compares his scores relative to himself in other rounds, and it does appear he’s avoiding blow-ups in the final round, but it doesn’t really show if he’s performing in the final round relative to the competition. I’d be interested to see how his final round scores compare to the average (or other metric) score of those who eventually finish in the top 20, top 10, top 5, or even the winners of each event. Might not tell a story at all, but could possibly show if he is being outplayed be the competition instead of “collapsing”…

  6. somesun

    May 12, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Just another case of making the numbers tell a fantastic story. Though you make the case for poor driving, and poor putting from 5ft and in, it seems he ranked quite highly in these areas in the players championship.

  7. Norm Platt

    May 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Good article Rich. There’s a saying in sports that numbers don’t lie. Spieth has done very well for the short time he has been on tour. Because golf is a game of mistakes/misses it appears Spieth is still on a learning curve. I come from a pro hockey background where you are able to see the development of elite young players from about 18 or 19.
    I still think that Spieth is probably growing/adjusting to his body and in the next couple of years when his growth stops he will not only get stronger but get more comfortable with his frame.
    Players like Michelle Wie and now Lydia Ko are good studies. Ko is clearly an elite athlete who will probably grow a bit more and get much stronger. Michelle Wie was smart to go to school and let her body “rest and recuperate” from being on tour too early. And you can see the changes in Rory McIlroys frame over the last two years.
    Tiger Woods is the obvious most “enhanced “frame who went from a ecto/meso frame to almost exclusive mesomorphic frame. Hence the joint stress injuries from being so strong for an ectomorphic frame.
    As Spieth matures and becomes more adjusted to the tour there’s a strong possibility he will be rewarded with some wins rather than close top 5 finishes. This is assuming he will improve physically over the next 5 years.

  8. Jadon

    May 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Wow, very interesting information. It might be time to put a new driver in play, ditch the 910, and get those spin numbers up. I remember hearing on golf channel that he was working with his coach to add some distance with the driver in the off season. It looks like he did pick up some club head speed but any club manufacturer (except for taylormade lol) will tell you that accuracy is much more important than distance.

    As for the “choker” label, that’s a joke. This kid is a stud. I can’t wait for him to win a big one and silence that garbage and it won’t be very long if he keeps playing as well as he has been. Insane talent for a 20 year old kid.

  9. 4pillars

    May 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Lets hope he reads this abd takes action, rather than accepting the lable of choker.

  10. Jedidiah

    May 12, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Cutie

    • John Butler

      May 14, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Statistics or not, we seem to be forgetting that Jordan is 20 years old. Think of our mental state when we were that age. In my case and probably some of yours, it was “Cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women”.

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Marty Jertson, Ping’s Director of Product Development, qualified for the PGA Championship

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The top 20 professionals from the PGA Professional Championship–contested last weekend at Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses in Seaside, California–are heading to the PGA Championship later this year.

Perhaps you saw Ryan Vermeer, at 5 under, was the medalist. What you may not have seen however, is something particularly cool for golf equipment geeks: Ping’s Director of Product Development, Marty Jertson, qualified–and he did so in spectacular fashion: the 37-year-old birdied the last three holes to finish T9.

Not bad for an engineer!

Also noteworthy: Ping confirmed Jertson played the company’s yet-to-be announced i500 irons in his 3, 4, and 5-irons, which will reportedly be available mid-summer. Yes, they confirmed that the rumors are true; Ping’s new iron will be called i500.

Related: We did a podcast with Jertson at the PGA Show, we also interviewed him back in 2017.

 

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Reddit AMA alert: Anthony Taranto, Callaway’s wedge art maestro, on his favorite designs, WITB

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If you’ve been around GolfWRX for any period of time, you’ve seen Anthony Taranto’s work. The Callaway wedge specialist is tasked with designing some of the coolest wedge decorations in the game.

Taranto did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) yesterday, and The Wedge Art Wizard (as he introduced himself) didn’t disappoint.

Here are a few highlights (edited for spelling)

Remoolg asked: How did you start working at Callaway and get into this specific position?

AT: Back in 1999 Callaway had a job fair for their new golf ball plant Mr. Callaway was opening. I made it though many layoffs and reorganization. I was good at building clubs and I was placed in the pro tour department about 12 years ago. About 4 1/2 years ago I discovered this technique for sandblasting art onto wedges and now here we are.

Loudshorts asked: What’s the most odd art request you’ve put on a wedge and what’s the most common?

AT: Most odd: Probably Michelle Wie’s Harry Potter-themed wedges

I didn’t know anything about Harry Potter at the time so I had to do some research. Accio birdies!
Most common would just be old fashioned stamping of players initials.

Bunny said: Billy Idol, never pictured him as a golfer. What kind of design did he want on his clubs?

AT: He asked for his logo, which is this cool crown with a lightning bolt:

Iamrobert_paulson asked: What wedges are in your bag? Can we see pics?

AT: I’m gaming MD4’s: 45° (46 bent to 45), 50°, 55° (54 bent to 55), and 60°. Design wise: Skull & Crossbones and lots of stars.

Dr. Troutman asked: What is your favorite custom set you’ve ever done?

AT: Putting me on the spot! It might be these that I just recently made. Figured out how to evolve the sand blasting technique and start doing layers. Really happy with how these came out:

You can check out the full AMA here.

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GolfWRX Morning 9: McIlroy going back to 2010 swing? | Jacklin blasts USGA I Baba Booeyism

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Good morning, GolfWRX members. As most of you are signed up for our newsletters, you likely already know that I’ve been sending this little Morning 9 roundup of nine items of note.

In case you’ve missed it, or you prefer to read on site rather than in your email, we’re including it here. Check out today’s Morning 9 below.

If you’re not signed up for our newsletters, you can subscribe here.

By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

 

Good Friday morning, golf fans. The days only get shorter from here, so get out there and play some golf. And if you’re in the NYC area and looking for a fourth, well, consider dropping a line to the email above!
1. A bounceback for Spieth, McIlroy (who’s going back to 2010)
As you may have seen, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, both of whom missed the cut at the U.S. Open, started the Travelers Championship strong. Spieth was tied for the lead a 7 under, and McIlroy was a stroke back at the end of round one.
Most interestingly, however, is this tidbit from McIlroy (h/t Geoff Shackelford via a Reuters report)
  • “I’m trying to get back to the way I swung in 2010, 2011 and it’s sort of hard because my body’s changed quite a bit since then,” the 29-year-old, whose muscular frame now is a far cry from the scrawny teenager of days gone by, told reporters.
  • “The feeling I have now is the feeling I had in the middle of 2009…That’s basically what I did over the weekend. I got a feeling that really resonated and brought me back to a time when I was swinging really well, and sort of went with that feeling.”
2. Another assault on the USGA
This time, it’s Tony Jacklin taking the USGA to task (via bunkered)
  • “Shinnecock Hills has always been a great test over the years, but the USGA have messed it up again..This kind of thing seems to be becoming a habit for them, as the way the course was set-up on Saturday was just ludicrous. It seems like they end up with egg on their face every time and most of the players were disgusted.”
  • “If I’d have been playing and seen the course set-up the way it was, I would have been angry. It was madness. It wasn’t a fair test of golf and the element of luck played a big role in costing some people dearly.”
  • “The whole thing turned into a joke on Saturday and you just hate to see it at that level of the game with a major championship up for grabs. I’m sure the USGA will make their excuses but I just don’t understand it at all.”
3. Baba Booey for Life!
A contentious forum thread turned hot front page article is built around these remark from GolfWRX member Stickner.
  • “For those that think noise while a player hits shouldn’t be allowed, you must also believe that fans should NEVER make noise…A player with a large gallery jars a 70 footer for eagle to take the lead. The crowd erupts! This should not be allowed.
  • “Why you ask? There are other golfers well within earshot of the noise. This could disrupt their game. Why does the nearby player you can see deserve the “courtesy of quiet” but the one 400 yards away that you can’t see doesn’t?
  • “We have all seen players back off because the crowd erupted on another hole. What happens when that eruption happens in the backswing right before the player is about to transition to the downswing? Those boisterous hooligans need to keep their traps shut as this is a gentleman’s game right?
  • “Being quiet while someone plays golf is silly. My guess is that the elitist snobs that played this game a century ago needed a scapegoat when hitting a bad shot and noise became their scapegoat.”
4. Sympathy for the putt-raker?
Luke Kerr-Dineen writes that, while purists, traditionalists, and the media have raked Phil Mickelson over the coals, many average golfers have to sympathize with Lefty’s putt-raking.
  • “Well, isn’t that just a variation of something stupid we’ve all done. Snapped a club or thrown a club or taken your ball and marched home. As much as we love this silly game and all the beautiful moments within, it’s at times completely and utterly infuriating. Often you can laugh it off. Sometimes it drives you a bit mad.”
  • “In light of Mickelson’s apology, it seems more and more like he simply momentarily snapped. In that, it was an act so many people can relate to on a human level. It’s why, when most fans look back on this in the future, it won’t be with disdain. It’ll be with a grin and a shake of the head. We’ve all been there, and we know how it feels. And so does Phil.”
5. Pro golf as a team sport
Ed Myers looks at the supporting casts around top players and asks the chicken vs. egg question.
  • “Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.”
  • “I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”
6. Why don’t you just get on Twitter then?
But really, Michael Bamberger’s occasional roundup of the things he’d have tweeted had he been on Twitter is good stuff.
Here are a couple
  • “Amy had it exactly correct on Father’s Day: Phil had a bad day in the office. Too bad he didn’t acknowledge that after playing on Saturday.”
  • “I miss the old stern USGA. Mike Davis is a truly knowledgeable and caring golf person. He had nothing to apologize for Saturday night. Courses change with the wind, literally and figuratively.”

More of ’em.

7. The curse of Shinnecock Hills
Bruce Buschel of the East Hampton Star files a piece from perspective of, you now, the tribe whose name, likeness, and land the U.S. Open featured.
A taste…
  • “The golf course logo is a different matter. It’s insulting – it’s a cartoon Indian with a big hook nose wearing a war bonnet festooned with an arrow and a putter. Like a kindergarten coloring book circa 1955. So the tribe requested a redesign or a flat-out removal. They got neither. Shinnecocks don’t have much luck when negotiating with the white man, not here, there, or anywhere.”
  • “Many Shinnecock do not appreciate being called Native Americans. They were here long before America was discovered by Leif Erikson, by Christopher Columbus, and by Amerigo Vespucci. First Nation would be more accurate. Indigenous people would suffice. Even Indian is preferable to Native American.”
  • “The Shinnecocks take no glee in the public disasters that have befallen Shinnecock Hills since the tribe was excommunicated, since the indigenous people were removed as caretakers of their own land….No one talks about karma. And no one talks about the Curse of Shinnecock Hills…Someone should.”
8. Well…
If curiosity is getting the better of you, a few shots from Greg Norman’s spread in ESPN’s upcoming body issue are circulating.
9. ESPY voting
Speaking of the Worldwide Leader, ESPN has announced the candidates for best male and female golfer–to be revealed at the July 18 awards show.
And the nominees are…
  • Male...Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed
  • Female...Shanshan Feng, Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, Sung-Hyun Park
You can vote here and here.
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