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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, 2018 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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Q2Q: Johnny gets a hand from Claude Harmon III

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In this episode of the Q2Q brought to you bu GolfWRX and Cobra Golf, Johnny and performance coach Nick Starchuk travel to West Palm Beach to see Claude Harmon III at his performance center. It’s a Golf IQ reality smackdown with CHIII breaking down the truth that the Arccos system has shown Johnny.
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Morning 9: Lowry leads | MJ on TW | The Tour’s secret cut-making machines

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

April 19, 2019

Good Friday morning on this Good Friday, golf fans.
1. Lowry leads
AP report…”The Irishman admittedly had started the year off on a strong note with a win in Abu Dhabi in the season-opener on the European Tour. But he simply hadn’t been able to build on that momentum – on either side of the Atlantic — in the weeks following his third career win”.
  • “In fact, Lowry hadn’t broken 70 in four stroke-play events on the PGA TOUR since he missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February. He was a combined 24 over par in those tournaments and had only made the weekend once.”
  • “On a blustery morning at Harbour Town Golf Links, though, Lowry was back in control — firing a bogey-free 65 that earned him a one-stroke advantage.”
  • “Pretty much my whole game felt good,” Lowry said. “… I haven’t had that feeling in a while. So, it’s kind of nice.”
2. Augusta’d!
The Golf Channel Digital Team…”Beginning on the 10th hole Thursday, Spieth played his opening nine holes in 2 over par, with one double – after hitting his tee shot short, into the water at No. 14 – and eight pars. He recovered on the front side with three birdies compared to one bogey.”
  • “For the day, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation but needed 33 putts.”
  • “”I really got Augusta’d out here. What I mean is, I was still putting to the speed of Augusta. I haven’t fully made the transition away from that,” Spieth said after his even-par 71. “And as we are expecting high winds I’m sure the greens will slow down even more to make it fair. I’m really going to need to dial in my speed on the greens. Just tough out there coming off last week to this week, to get yourself to pop it harder than you really want to.””
3. Berger resurgent
Golfweek’s Roxanna Scott…
  • “After taking significant time off late in the year, Daniel Berger has to like what he sees in his game after an opening-round 5-under-par 66 in the RBC Heritage.”
  • “A finger injury forced Berger to take more than four months off after withdrawing from the BMW Championship in September. The 26-year-old Floridian was among a group of five tied for second Thursday, one shot behind leader Shane Lowry. Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, shot 3-under 68 in the afternoon.”
  • “”It’s just been kind of touch and go here,” Berger told reporters after the round at Harbour Town Golf Links. “And finally got a full week of practice where I actually got to play golf every day. That’s just the biggest difference. When you’re going to a golf tournament and you’ve played one round of golf in two weeks, you don’t feel very good. To be able to put the work in and be rewarded it makes me feel like I’m ready to go when I get out here.”
4. Meanwhile, in Hawaii…
AP Report…”Eun-Hee Ji rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 18th with a pitch-in eagle on the par-5 first and shot a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Nelly Korda on Thursday in the Lotte Championship.”
“Ji had a 15-under 129 total to break the tournament 36-hole record by five strokes.”
5. MJ on TW
Golf Channel’s Will Gray rounds up a few MJ quotes from The Athletic and expands…
  • “I took two years off to play baseball, but nothing like that,” Jordan told The Athletic. “I’m pretty sure he questioned himself, whether he could get it back, and he had to put a lot of work in. But he took it head-on. He had to change his game; he had to change his perspective a little bit. To me, it was the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”
  • “I never thought he’d get back physically,” Jordan said. “He didn’t think he’d get back physically. But he did it. No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He’s probably the only person who believed he could get back. To me, that’s a major accomplishment. To me, it’s unbelievable. Mentally, you always think you can. But you can’t answer to what your body has to deal with.”
6. USWO entries
Golf Channel’s Randall Mell…”Rolex world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn topped the list of players qualified for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Wednesday’s close of entries.”
  • “Forty-seven of the top 50 players in this week’s world rankings are qualified for the event, scheduled May 30-June 2 at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). (Click here for the full exempt field)”
  • “Sectional qualifying begins later this month.”
7. Secret cut-making wizards
Shane Ryan, in the course of Tiger’s Masters triumph, got to thinking about the tour’s cut-making maestros, reaching out to Mark Broadie for data…
“Broadie disappeared into his secret temple of statistics (I imagine it looks like the House of the Undying in Game of Thrones), and came out bearing a bounty of figures. For the last two seasons, beginning in the fall of 2017, Thomas and Johnson were indeed the leaders, with Thomas in front by percentage points. But there were a couple surprises in the top ten”
Justin Thomas – 19/20 – 5.0% missed cut rate
Dustin Johnson – 17/18 – 5.6%
Tommy Fleetwood – 16/17 – 5.9%
Bryson DeChambeau – 24/26 – 7.7%
Hideki Matsuyama – 18/20 – 10.0%
Tiger Woods – 17/19 – 10.5%
Emiliano Grillo – 25/28 – 10.7%
T-8. Justin Rose 16/18 – 11.1%
T-8. Rafa Cabrera-Bello 16/18 – 11.1%
Rickie Fowler – 21/24 – 12.5%
“Grillo is the one of that group you might not expect, and there’s a couple more in the next 10, from An to Keegan Bradley to Charles Howell III. The inspiration for this post, Tony Finau, clocked in at 12th.”
8. Talking to a D, C & P finalist
Our Brendon Elliott spoke to Briel Royce, a finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt.
So how cool was it driving Down Magnolia Lane?
  • Briel: “Driving down Magnolia Lane was awesome.  Usually, you do not get to experience the scenic ride unless you are a tour player or a member. Everyone got extremely quiet upon entry. There were tons of security along our slow ride. Seeing the beautiful trees and the Masters Flag at Founder’s Circle in the distance was surreal. Having earned the right and opportunity to drive down this prestigious lane was breathtaking. I would love to do it again someday.”
  • What was the coolest part of your time at Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta National?
  • Briel: “Everything was cool about the DCP. Not too often do you see people taking walks in the morning with green jackets on. We were not treated like kids. We were treated like tour players, like we were members at Augusta. The icing on the cake was when they took us to the practice green and we were putting alongside Zach Johnson and Charl Schwartzel. Everyone was confused when we first got there because we weren’t certain we should be putting on the same green around the pros. Again, we were treated like we were tour players. Where else would I be able to do this? Nowhere other than DCP at Augusta. One of my favorite reflections is having Bubba Watson watch us chip and congratulating each of us for our efforts. He did not need to do that. He took time out of practicing for a very important week in his career to support the DCP players. I think his actions show what the game of golf is about: the sportsmanship, the camaraderie, and support.”
9. Trophy gallery
Here’s something interesting and easily digestible: a look at all the trophies handed out on the PGA Tour this season. Some are…interesting…
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Michael Jordan describes Tiger Woods’ comeback as the greatest he’s ever seen

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Former NBA star Michael Jordan is no stranger to legendary comebacks, but according to the six-time NBA champion, there has been no greater comeback in the history of sport than that of Tiger Woods.

Jordan, who was speaking to The Athletic, talked about the monumental journey which Woods, who Jordan is a close friend of, traveled to reach this point, of which perseverance and self-belief played a significant role.

“I took two years off to play baseball, but nothing like that. I’m pretty sure he questioned himself, whether he could get it back, and he had to put a lot of work in. But he took it head-on. He had to change his game; he had to change his perspective a little bit. To me, it was the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”

Three years ago, Jordan told ESPN that he thought Woods’ best days were behind him,  with the golfer’s ailing back contributing to much of that belief. Mentally, Jordan never doubted the 81-time PGA Tour winner, but the basketball legend admitted his surprise at his friend overcoming his chronic back issues.

“I never thought he’d get back physically. He didn’t think he’d get back physically. But he did it. No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He’s probably the only person who believed he could get back. To me, that’s a major accomplishment. To me, it’s unbelievable. Mentally, you always think you can. But you can’t answer to what your body has to deal with.”

As for what’s next for Woods, Jordan believes the sky is the limit, firing this warning to the 43-year-old’s rivals.

“They got problems. His confidence is only going to build from here. The unknown is the biggest thing. He’s won a Tour event, he’s won the Masters, he’s won a major.”

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