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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, 2015 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 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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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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