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Opinion & Analysis

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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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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