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Is Jon Rahm statistically better than Jordan Spieth was in 2015?

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I personally feel that pro golf is coming close to reaching a new golden age. While I could appreciate the brilliance of Tiger and Phil Mickelson, the lack of sustained competition from other top players at that time always felt hollow to me. These days we have numerous world class players with incredible golf games who are vying for the No. 1 ranking in golf such as Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama.

The only potential negative issue is that some players may get overrated and overhyped despite not actually deserving it. One could make a case for the 22-year-old Jon Rahm as the young player that is overhyped because he has yet to win a major. However, I think a look at his metrics show that he’s on a path to being worthy of being mentioned among the names I listed above.

Rahm is currently ranked 25th in the world and is only 22 years old. I wanted to compare his metrics thus far versus the metrics of Jordan Spieth’s 2015 season when Spieth turned 23 years old, won more than $12 million and also claimed a Green Jacket and a U.S. Open victory.

RahmVSpieth-2015-metrics

I adjusted the metrics above to more accurately represent both player’s skill. For example, if two players each hit 60 percent of their fairways for the year that may appear that they are equals in terms of tee shot accuracy. However, if Player A played courses where the field average hit fairway percentage was 50 percent and Player B played courses where the average was 70 percent; Player A was actually far more accurate than Player B off the tee.

Therefore, Rahm is driving the ball more effectively than Spieth was in 2015, but the margin is narrow. Rahm hits the ball much farther due to generating superior ball speed and having more of an upward attack angle with his driver. They are roughly the same in terms of accuracy and precision as well as their percentages of laying-up off the tee.

RahmVSpieth-2015-zones

Spieth was clearly better from the Green Zone (75-125 yards) than Rahm is now. However, having examined Green Zone performance from a mathematical standpoint we see that Green Zone doesn’t mean very much in terms of success on Tour. As we see with Rahm, who is one of the worst on Tour from the Green Zone, he’s had a very successful season thus far.

Rahm has the advantage in the Yellow Zone, but Spieth was certainly not poor from the Yellow Zone. And from the most important zone (Red Zone), they are virtually equals in terms of performance.

Overall, I would give the slight nod to Spieth in 2015 over Rahm this season for approach shots. Just like I gave Rahm the slight nod to Rahm over Spieth in Driving.

RahmVSpieth-2015-driving

Spieth was clearly superior in his Short Game compared to Rahm this season. However, Rahm is still a very good Short Game performer. In fact, he was a superior bunker player, but Spieth’s ability from the greenside rough was phenomenal and made him one of the very best Short Game performers in 2015.

RahmVSpieth-2015-Short-game

Spieth in 2015 was clearly the better putter overall. Where Spieth separates himself from Rahm (and the rest of the planet) is his ability to make putts from 15-25 feet. In the end, Rahm is still a pretty good putter of the ball.

This doesn’t mean that I think Rahm will have a season like Spieth’s 2015 season. The bigger difference between the two is that Spieth was into his third season as a professional in 2015 while Rahm is still a rookie. And in the end if a golfer “just falls short” of Spieth’s performance in 2015, they are still going to have an incredible season.

What the metrics do indicate is that Rahm is set to have an incredible season and given his lack of experience, I would expect him to start contending for the No. 1 player in the world very soon.

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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

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Urlcut.Ru

    Apr 13, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Well I really liked reading it. This article offered by you is very effective for correct planning.

  2. Dave R

    Mar 11, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Dumb post ……. NO

  3. Get More Information

    Mar 11, 2017 at 1:21 pm

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  4. Joe Boo

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Irons aren’t even close. Short game’s not even close. Putting’s not even close. Only thing Rahm has over Spieth is driving. Not sure why this comparison is even being considered. Spieth is head and shoulders over Rahm statistically.

  5. xjohnx

    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

    This is some Brandell Chamblee stuff right here. Statistics in golf do nothing but back up great performances. They’ll never predict anything.

  6. Mr. Blue

    Mar 10, 2017 at 10:14 am

    I hate it when statistics are compared like this, useless in my opinion. Who cares if he is better on paper, winning matters. Tim Tebow had almost the worst statistics in the last season he played, guess what, he stilled made the play-offs. “Better” QB’s on paper did not make it. Every tournament/round is different. Paper only looks at percentages, not results, not how and what you had to do to get there. Now I do think we need statistics, but not to compare who is better on paper when it does not really matter.

    • Steve

      Mar 12, 2017 at 1:59 am

      Seriously? They went to the playoffs despite having Tebow at QB, not because of it. Absolutely ridiculous.

  7. The Infidel

    Mar 10, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Rich, great article, loved the analysis.

    What’s the sample size like for each period under comparison, roughly the same year on year?

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 10, 2017 at 9:40 am

      No, it’s Spieth’s entire season versus Rahm’s season thus far. Obviously, not an exact comparison, but Rahm has played in enough tournaments, especially against top competition, to understand what he’s doing so well and how impressive his season is thus far.

  8. Jack

    Mar 9, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Rahm only turned pro in June 2016. So you are comparing half a rookie season to a 3rd year pro golf star. What you are really saying is that Rahm is way better than Spieths rookie season too then. So absolutely he is not overhyped.

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 10, 2017 at 9:42 am

      Yes, Jack. I also mentioned that in the article…Spieth had more experience than Rahm. There has been a lot of talk on social media of Rahm being overhyped, but when you look at his victories and his metrics, it’s not smoke-and-mirrors and he’s just really good. I expect him to get into the discussion of #1 player in the world in the next 2 years.

      • Jack

        Mar 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

        I think we agree that he is going to be a great player. I just think it does him a disservice to compare his rookie half season to Jordan’s best ever (over his short excellent career so far). I mean, even Jordan’s current season doesn’t compare (at least results wise). It’s just a little like a backhanded complement like yeah he’s worse than Jordan’s best year ever up to this point, but he will still be a great player. Ultimately, time will tell, and he is older than Jordan was as a rookie, so that’s a clear advantage, but Jordan has also one of the best young careers of any of the new young “golden age” crop.

        Dustin Johnson is now a wise old man at 32 and number 1 OWGR lol. I think as players get more athletic, the golfer prime is getting closer to other athletic sports. Early 30’s is the peak of talent and mental game. Guys like Jordan Spieth are the exception of course, winning majors etc at a really young age. Mcilroy did the same but hasn’t been able to recapture that magic. It’s amazing how good these guys are and how tough the competition is. I just don’t think it’s possible to have that Jack/Tiger domination again due to the level of competition.

  9. chinchbugs

    Mar 9, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    it’s 2017…

  10. chip

    Mar 9, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    seeing all of those stats actually make me think that Rahm isnt as good as I thought he was….But depsite whatever those stats mean, hes a player and will be contending a lot on Tour.

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 9, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      I’m not quite sure how good you thought he was. First, each of the rankings are based out of 209 players. So, when you rank 13th from the Yellow Zone and 10th from the Red Zone, you’re in the upper-90th percentile in both stats individually and from 125-225 yards in total, he’s in the upper-95th percentile. He’s in the upper-98th percentile in driving and has a quality short game around the green and with the putter. Very few players ever come close to Rahm’s current performance metrics. And he’s only a rookie.

      • chip

        Mar 10, 2017 at 9:42 am

        Youre right. I guess I was focusing on the wrongs stats. Thanks for pointing that out. So he IS as good as I thought he was!

  11. Shannon

    Mar 9, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Spieth actually turned 22 in 2015, not 23. He is 23 now.

    • antonio

      Mar 11, 2017 at 5:05 am

      He is 22. He will turn 23 on November 10th.

  12. mitch

    Mar 9, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    they don’t hand out trophies and checks for paper wins!

  13. Silky Johnson

    Mar 9, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    So the game is played on paper now? Good grief.

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      Not sure where that was said, hinted or implied.

      Performance metrics as a whole correlate to scoring average. Scoring Averages correlate to win. In Rahm’s short time as a rookie, he’s played phenomenal. His performance metrics show that it isn’t a fluke and that they are not too far off from Spieth’s spectacular 2015 season.

      Nobody ever said the game was played on paper. But, if you want to examine the depths of a golfer’s game and see the similarities to other players who had terrific seasons…it may be appealing to some.

    • chip

      Mar 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

      The game is not played on paper, but it is played on the course, and how they score is converted to paper. Do you think scorecards are bs too?

  14. Chris B

    Mar 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

    It’s a bit unfair to compare JR to JS at the moment, Speith had been on tour for 2 full years at that point. Having said that, JR is clearly more powerful but you can’t deny Speiths all round game is crazy good despite never being mentioned as a good ball striker. I think from memory he was 2nd I all round rankings in 2015 behind Mcilroy, can’t be bad.

  15. baba black sheep

    Mar 9, 2017 at 10:48 am

    No.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Book That Almost Wasn’t a Book: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons”

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Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” written by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, continues to be the largest selling golf instructional book in history. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the book, which was first published in 1957.

Sports Illustrated

The story of how the book was published revolves around Sports Illustrated, which was owned by Time Magazine. The weekly magazine launched in 1954 as an experiment to see if an all-sport publication could survive. In 1956, the publication was on the brink of disaster, having yet to find its audience.

This is the backdrop against which Sydney James, the magazine’s managing editor, received a call from Ben Hogan. Hogan had an idea for an article. Would Sports Illustrated be interested?

James promised to get back to him shortly with an answer. And he did, telling him that the magazine would be very interested in collaborating with him, and that he would begin making the necessary arrangements to get the project off the ground.

Texas Three-Step

James explained his plan to Hogan, which was to arrange for the magazine’s most talented writer, Herbert Warren Wind, and top-rated freelance illustrator, Anthony Ravielle, to visit Hogan in Fort Worth to further discuss his idea.

“Would that be agreeable” he asked?

“Yes,” Hogan replied. He would make himself available as needed.

Writer and Illustrator

Herbert Warren Wind, a graduate of Yale University, was not just a writer, but a literary craftsman. He was without question the finest writer of his time, contributing regularly as a columnist for The New Yorker magazine from 1941-47.

For his part, Ravielle was quickly earning a reputation as one of the most talented illustrators in the country. His expertise was drawing the musculature of the human body in life-like detail. And then having the unique ability to convey a sense of motion with the human form.

A Single Idea

A few weeks later, the two met with Hogan at his office in Fort Worth, Texas. They then made their way to Colonial Country Club. And once there, they walked out to a part of the course where they would not be disturbed. And then Hogan began to explain to the two men what he had in mind.

As they listened to his ideas for the article, they suggested that he consider a five-part series. What they proposed was a sequential pattern of lessons beginning with the grip, the setup, the backswing, and the downswing. The fifth chapter would be a summary and review of what had been presented in the first four chapters.

Hogan liked the idea and agreed immediately.

As Hogan began to explain his thoughts on the swing, Wind began to scribble in his notebook, not wanting to miss a single word. (In later years, when interviewing a subject, modern-day reporters would use a tape recorder, but at that time it had not yet been invented.)

Wind would at times stop Hogan to ask a question or to clarify an important point. And when he reached the point at which he couldn’t possibly absorb another thought, Wind gave way to Ravielle, who armed with a still camera, snapped one photograph after another, capturing the various positions that would ultimately mirror Hogan’s thoughts.

During the next few days, Hogan continued to elaborate on his theories about the golf swing and the logic behind them. As they finished, the three men agreed that they would meet again, either at the end of 1956 or after the first of the year.

Scratch Board

After returning to New York, Wind began writing a rough draft of the five-part series. At the same time, Ravielle started working from the photographs that he had taken earlier. He began by drawing pencil sketches that he would later show to Hogan for his approval before moving on to the final version.

The three gathered together again for a week-long session in January 1957. Hogan was extremely impressed with Ravielle’s sketches, believing that he had managed to capture the very essence of what he was attempting to covey to his would-be readers.

The pencil sketches would be transformed a final time using a “scratch-board” technique that Ravielle had mastered. The scratch-board technique created a uniquely vivid picture, which invited the reader to reach out and touch the seemingly life-like image on the page.

Wind’s spirits were buoyed after meeting with Hogan a second time as he wrote, “Hogan had gone into a much more detailed description of the workings of the golf swing then we had anticipated. Moreover, he had patently enjoyed the challenge and had given it everything he had.”

On returning to New York, Wind and Reveille begin working together, side by side, laying out the text, the illustrations, and captions in page form for each of the five chapters.

Seminole Review

As Wind recounted, “When an installment was completed and had gone through the production department, we airmailed photostats of the pages to Hogan, who was in Palm Beach getting ready for the Masters. I would telephone Ben at his apartment at an appointed time each week, and we would go over each paragraph line by line. A session usually took between 45 minutes to an hour.”

During these sessions, as they reviewed the copy, Hogan was insistent that each word and phrase precisely communicate exactly what he intended to say. Wind recalls one example, when he had written “that at a certain stage of the swing the golfer’s weight had shifted to his left side.” Hogan corrected, “Let’s not say left side,” Adding “That isn’t accurate. In golf, there’s no such thing as a player’s left side. At this point in the swing most of the golfer’s weight is on his left foot and left leg.”

Wind found these discussions exhausting as Hogan worked his way through the copy with a “fine-tooth comb.” As wind wrote, “After these protracted checking sessions with Hogan, I did some deep-breathing exercises to relax myself, but I also had the bracing feeling that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be able to detect a smudged adjective or a mysterious verb in the text.”

As they were nearing completion of their work, Hogan asked Wind if he had any suggestions for the series name. As Wind recalls, “I thought for a long moment and then tossed up ‘The Fundamentals of Modern Golf?’”

Hogan mulled it over for a moment and then asked, “How about ‘The Modern Fundamentals of Golf?’” Wind agreed that the reversal in wording was a definite improvement. The series now, for the first time, had both a name and an identity.

The Magazine and the Book

The series was very successful, of course, boosting not only the sales of the magazine but also its circulation. The content of what would eventually become the book appeared in five installments beginning with the March 11, 1957 issue, which in Wind’s exact words, “sold like hotcakes.“

The book was released some five months later in September as a joint venture between Hogan and the magazine.

A Triple Play

Why has the book endured?

The first reason is because of the public’s fascinated with Hogan, not only as player, but as a man. He was a great ball-striker, maybe the best of all time, but there was more to the man than his ability to play golf. He is one of the more complex sports figures in the pantheon of great players. He was a man of secrets who preferred the shadows to the light.

The second reason is the wonderful prose of Herbert Warren Wind, which flows with ease from one paragraph to another, giving the reader at times the feeling of floating on air from one sentence to another.

The third reason is the illustrations of Anthony Ravielle, which describe in dramatic fashion the essence of what Hogan wanted to convey to the reader.

“Five Lessons” was then the collaboration of three men, each one of them the very best in their fields. They were, through luck and circumstance, thrown together in space and time. And maybe once joined together, they sensed the opportunity to create something very special with one purpose in mind — to write one of the best golf instruction books ever. And they succeed.

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