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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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Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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