With Jordan Spieth winning the first two majors of the year, I am often asked, “What makes him so good?” Spieth’s game seems to puzzle most people as I have had several Tour clients, some of whom have played with Spieth, ask me that question as well. And the typical commentary from announcers and analysts is to the effect of “He’s not great at anything, but he’s not weak at any part of the game either.”
I wanted to give a thorough analysis of Spieth’s 2014-15 season and see what exactly makes the potential Grand Slam winner so good.
For starters, let’s take a look at his scoring metrics (rankings based out of 202 golfers).
The most important statistic with regards to Tour success is Adjusted Scoring Average. Spieth has the lowest Adjusted Scoring Average on Tour. As far as Adjusted Scoring Average goes, Adjusted Par-4 Scoring Average has the strongest correlation of any of the other scoring metrics. In essence, we can see that Spieth’s success is not smoke and mirrors. His weakest scoring metrics is the Adjusted Par-5 Scoring Average where he still ranks 11th. And he does not rank higher most likely due to him not being a bomber off the tee. But, he is still an exceptional player on the par-5’s. Spieth simply makes a ton of birdies and pars and very few bogeys.
Remember when critics said last year that Spieth was “choking” on the weekends? That’s certainly not the case anymore. But the real key to these scoring metrics is his performance in the first two rounds. When it comes to a correlation to total Adjusted Scoring Average, Rounds 1 and 2 have the strongest correlation to Total Adjusted Scoring Average. Rounds 3 and 4 have a significant drop-off in their correlation to a Tour player’s success. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the real “moving day” on Tour occurs on Thursday and Friday and not on Saturday. But, what Spieth does so well is he continues to score better than the field average on the weekend and progresses up the leaderboard or extends his lead.
Driving Effectiveness is based on distance (all drives), hit fairway percentage, average distance to the edge of the fairway, hit fairway bunker percentage and missed fairway – other percentage. It is also based on the level of difficulty of the courses the golfer has played. For instance, if two golfers each average hitting 290 yards off the tee, but Player A is playing courses where the average distance is 275 yards off the tee and Player B is playing courses where the average distance is 295 yards off the tee, Player A is actually much longer off the tee than Player B as the average is the baseline to serve the comparison.
Last season, Spieth ranked 88th in Driving Effectiveness. He had issues with his driver head cracking and not being satisfied with the replacement. We can see that by his Hit Fairway Bunker Percentage and Missed Fairway – Other Percentage that he still has some occasional issues off the tee. Last year he was fourth in Tee Shot Aggressiveness which measures how often a player is laying up off the tee. This year he is still quite aggressive, but not nearly as he was last season and perhaps last season’s regression off the tee had something to do with it.
We are in the infancy stages of understanding performance on straightaway versus dogleg par-4s, but it appears that driving ability and curvature of ball flight has something to do with it. Spieth’s performance on dogleg lefts indicate that he prefers to hit a little draw. And his small dip in performance on straight away par-4s indicates that some occasionally errant tee shots pop up from time to time. But overall, he’s still an elite driver of the ball.
The radar metrics above indicate an upward strike. Based on previous data acquired, I would say that Spieth’s attack angle when he is playing in an event is probably in the +1.5 degree to +2.5 degree range.
This is critical to understand because if his attack angle was flat (0 degrees) he would likely have the same ranking in driving distance (using traditional driving distance measurement of two drives per round) that he has in club head speed (97th). Instead, he ranks 72nd in the traditional driving distance measurement which more accurately reflects how far he hits the ball when he has the driver in his hands. But, since he is aggressive off the tee and does not leave the driver in the bag very often, he is effectively the 42nd-longest player on Tour despite ranking 97th in club head speed.
There are two other key radar metrics that need to be mentioned. For starters, he hits the ball high. All other things being equal, the numbers have shown over the years that the player that hits it higher on Tour will tend to be more successful. The other is that he generates an adequate spin rate with the driver. Typically the leaders in Driving Effectiveness each year generate roughly 2,400 to 2,800 rpm Spin Rate. While everybody wants high launch and low spin, on Tour there is a negative effect from not generating enough spin with the driver. Lastly, Spieth’s miss bias is 54.7 percent to the right. The most effective drivers of the ball tend to have their miss bias within a 55/45 range.
Approach Shot Metrics
I break the approach shot distances into zones. Here are the zones ranked in order of strongest to weakest correlation to Tour success:
- Red Zone (175-225 yards)
- Yellow Zone (125-175 yards)
- Green Zone (75-125 yards)
- 225-275 Yards Zone
For Tour players, the typical Tour event will usually place emphasis on approach shots from 150-200 yards or 175-225 yards. When we start to get into the majors is when we see more of an emphasis on shots from 175-250 yards. As we can see, Spieth is quite strong from every Approach Shot Zone. It is unique that he performs better from the Red Zone and Green Zone than he does from the Yellow Zone. When that happens, that is usually an indicator that golfer’s driver can go awry on occasion and he is having to hit those Yellow Zone shots from more difficult positions and from more difficult lies.
The metrics above show that Jordan’s approach shot game is not smoke and mirrors. He’s exception from the fairway and the best on Tour from the rough. He has gone for par-5s in two shots 57.53 percent of the time. My calculations based on past 10 seasons of PGA Tour data show that a player of his distance off the tee should be going for par-5s roughly 57 percent of the time. So, Spieth is right on the money with his level of aggressiveness on the par-5s.
Short Game Metrics
The Short Game is where Spieth has improved the most since becoming a professional. He had a good short game in his previous two seasons on Tour, but now it is arguably the best on Tour. Combine that with his iron play which I think is the best part of his game, he’s going to make it very hard for him to make any bogeys. He’s simply hitting too many greens, leaving himself with a lot of makeable birdie putts and when he does miss on the approach, he has the short game to hit it close and almost guarantee the par save.
Here is where I find Spieth’s game very interesting. Overall, he’s a decent putter from 5-15 feet, but he’s elite from 15-plus feet. Normally, Tour players do not sustain their ranking in make percentage on putts outside 15 feet for very long. Regardless of their skill level with the putter, most Tour players tend to make a lot of putts outside 15-feet one season, then regress towards the mean the next season. Conversely, they may struggle to make putts from outside 15-feet one season and then progress towards the mean the following season.
The other interesting facet is that usually the putts from outside 15+ feet are birdie putts. But, when we break down Spieth’s putts from 5 to 15 feet between birdie and par+ putts, he is a mediocre birdie putter from that range and one of the very best par putters from that range.
The trend is that good birdie putters tend to have a very aggressive speed and the good par putters tend to be more conservative with their speed. So these numbers indicate that Spieth is aggressive with his speed on putts outside 15+ feet, but more conservative from the 5-15 range. The only other plausible explanation is that Spieth is incredibly clutch with the putter, nailing the bombs for the much needed birdie and drilling those crucial par saves.
What makes Jordan Spieth great?
He’s a great driver, great iron player, has a great short game and is a great putter. He is far more than being “average” at every part of the game. He’s in the top-90th percentile on Tour in EVERY part of the game that is critical to a Tour player’s success.
There’s no reason why he can’t win the Grand Slam. In fact, I think one of his greatest assets is that he has a game fit for almost any golf course that the Tour players. He can play a bomber course like Augusta and win a precision course like Colonial or Harbour Town where the bombers tend to avoid like the plague because they have to lay up off the tee more often. He has gotten by Augusta and Chambers Bay which clearly favored the long hitter, so St. Andrews and Whistling Straits are there for the taking.
If there is a concern about Spieth it would be his putting from 3 to 15 feet. His putting from 3-5 feet has been poor and he has struggled to make birdie putts from 5-15 feet. If he doesn’t quite have it with the par putts from 5-15 feet, I could see him losing a major because he can’t quite get the putter going. But other than that, he has as legitimate of a chance of winning the Grand Slam.
Related: Jordan Spieth WITB 2015
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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