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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, 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

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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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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Podcasts

Geoff Shackelford and Louis Oosthuizen join our 19th Hole podcast

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Louis Oosthuizen and Geoff Shackelford join our 19th Hole this week. Oosthuizen talks about his prospects for the 2018 season, and Shackelford discusses Tiger’s setback at the 2018 Genesis Open. Also, host Michael Williams talks about the PGA Tour’s charitable efforts in the wake of tragic events in Parkland, Florida.

Listen to the podcast below on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Honda Classic

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It’s off to Florida this week for the Honda Classic, as the lead up to the year’s first major continues. PGA National has been the permanent home of this event since 2007, and it has proved to be one of the most demanding courses on Tour since then. The golf course measures just under 7,200 yards, but it is the often blustery conditions combined with the copious amount of water hazards that make this event a challenge. There is also the added factor of “The Bear Trap,” a daunting stretch of holes (Nos. 15-17) that are arguably the most difficult run of holes we will see all year on the PGA Tour.

Ball strikers have excelled here in the past, with Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all boasting fine records at PGA National. The par-70 golf course contains six long Par 4’s that measure over 450 yards, and players will be hoping that the wind isn’t too strong — when it does blow here, the course can turn into a brute. Last year, Rickie Fowler posted 12-under par to win the event by four strokes over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland. It was the first time in the last five years that the winning score reached double digits.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rickie Fowler 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 10/1
  • Justin Thomas 11/1
  • Sergio Garcia 18/1
  • Tyrrell Hatton 28/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 30/1
  • Gary Woodland 30/1

Previous champions Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are sure to be popular picks this week, but it’s Justin Thomas (11/1, DK Price $11,300) who I feel offers slightly more value out of the front runners. Thomas has begun the year well, finishing in the top-25 in all four events he has played. The numbers show that his game is getting better all the time. His iron play has steadily improved, picking up more Strokes for Approaching the Green week by week. Last week he gained six strokes approaching the green at the Genesis Open, which was fourth in the field.

At the ball strikers’ paradise, Thomas fans will be glad to know that he ranks fourth in the field for Ball Striking over his last 12 rounds. He is also ranked fourth for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and second in Strokes Gained Total. Comparatively, neither Fowler nor McIlroy rank inside the top-50 for ball striking and the top-40 for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over the same period.

Thomas’ accuracy on his approaches has been sensational lately. He leads the field in Proximity to the Hole for his past 12 rounds, and on a golf course that contains many long par 4’s it should play into Justin’s hands, as he’s been on fire recently with his long irons. He is third in the field for Proximity on Approaches Between 175-200 yards, and second in the field for Approaches Over 200 yards in his last 12 rounds. Thomas has a mixed record at PGA National, with a T3 finish wedged in between two missed cuts, but I like the way his game has been steadily improving as the season has progressed. It feels like it’s time for the current PGA Champion to notch his first win of the year.

On a golf course where ball striking is so important, Chesson Hadley (55/1, DK Price $7,700) caught my eye immediately. The North Carolina native has been in inspired form so far in this wraparound season with four finishes already in the top-5. The way he is currently striking the ball, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see him get his fifth this week. Hadley is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Ball Striking, while he is No. 2 for Strokes Gained Total over his last 24 rounds.

Having taken last week off, Hadley returns to a golf course where he has finished in the Top-25 twice in his three visits. Yet there is a sense that this year he’ll be aiming even higher than that. Chesson is fifth in this field for Proximity to the Hole from 175-200 yards and fourth overall over the past 24 rounds. With that level of accuracy on such a tricky golf course, Hadley will be confident of putting himself in position to claim win No. 2.

My next pick was a slow sell, but with the number so high I couldn’t leave him out. Adam Scott (55/1, DK Price $7,700) has been struggling for some time now. He has slipped out of the World’s Top-50, changed his putter from the short putter to the long putter and back again over the winter break, and he doesn’t have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the FedEx St. Jude Classic last summer. Despite all of this, I don’t feel Scott should be as high as 66/1 with some bookmakers on a golf course where he has excelled. To put it in perspective, Scott is the same price to win this week in a modest field as he is to win The Masters in April.

There are also signs that Scott blew off some of the rust last week in LA. The Australian was 12th in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, which indicates that things might slowly be coming around for a man who is known for his prodigious ball striking. Scott’s achilles heel is the flat stick, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this week. He’s been very poor on the greens for some time now, which must be incredibly frustrating for a man who gives himself so many looks at birdie. But average putters have performed well at PGA National in the past, where it seems that excellent ball striking is the key for having a good week. Scott won here in 2016, and on his two other visits to PGA National in the past five years he twice finished in the top-15. If he can continue to improve his iron play the way he has been, I feel he could forge his way into contention.

My long shot this week is Sean O’Hair (200/1, DK Price $6,800). The Texan hasn’t done much so far this year, but he is making cuts and he arrives at a course that seems to bring out the best in him. O’Hair has five top-25 finishes in his last seven appearances at PGA National, which includes a T11 at last year’s edition. At 200/1 and with a DK Price of as little as $6,800, there is little harm in taking a chance on him finding that form once more this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Justin Thomas 11/1, DK Price $11,300
  • Chesson Hadley 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Adam Scott 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Sean O’Hair 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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