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Opinion & Analysis

Even Jordan Spieth Has A Weakness!

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As the founder of ShotByShot.com, a Strokes Gained analysis website, I have been studying Strokes Gained and the relevant performance statistics for PGA Tour players and amateurs for more than 30 years. In all that time, I have never seen a player that was good at every part of the game. I have made it my business to help players at every level identify their strengths and weaknesses, as improving the latter generally represents the quickest route to consistently lower scores.

This week, I looked at Spieth’s 2017 Tour data through the BMW Championship, and I compared it to the other top-5 players in the FedEx Cup race to the same point in time. The other players, which I’ll refer to this group as “Other-4,” are:

  • No. 2: Justin Thomas
  • No. 3: Dustin Johnson
  • No. 4: Mark Leishman
  • No. 5: Jon Rahm

Off the Tee, Driving Performance?

If there is one weakness in Spieth’s game, it’s his driving. I believe that his quest for more distance, following his loss to Jason Day in the 2015 PGA Championship, has injected a two-way miss off the tee, resulting in more severe driving errors. With the help of my genius programmer, I extracted the two types of driving errors from the ShotLink data that are most frequent on Tour:

  • No Shot: A miss that requires an advancement shot to return to normal play. The average cost of this type of error in 2017 has been 74 percent of a stroke, or 0.74 strokes.
  • Penalty: A miss that causes a player to incur a penalty. The average cost this year has been 1.38 strokes.   

Note: There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball. This most severe miss is relatively rare on Tour and neither Jordan or the Other-4 had one.

As you can see in the charts below, 2015 Spieth, 2017 Spieth and the 2017 Other-4 all had just about the same frequency of driving errors, but the Spieth’s 2017 errors were much more costly (my definition of “cost” is calculated based upon the score, relative to par, recorded on the driving-error hole). As we can see, while Spieth’s frequency of errors has not increased, the severity/cost has jumped significantly: +41 percent over his 2015 average and +55 percent over the Other-4.

Jordan Spieth 2015 vs. 2017 Driving Errors

Spieth 15 vs. 17 Dr errors

*0.48/round is just under 1 driving error every 2 rounds.

 Other-4 2017 vs. Jordan Spieth 2017 Driving Errors

Spieth 17 vs 0ther-4 Dr errorsApproach Shots

This is clearly how Spieth separates himself from the rest and mitigates his less-than-stellar driving. Ranked No. 1 in this Strokes-Gained category, here are some of his impressive approach-shot numbers:

  • Strokes Gained: 0.958/round, Rank No. 1
  • Proximity to the Hole: 33-feet 8-inches, Ranked No. 8, Tour Average: 36-feet 4-inches
  • Greens in Regulation: 70.35 percent, Ranked No. 3, Tour Average: 64.94 percent, Other-4: 67.7 percent
  • Penalties Per Round: The Tour does not publish this, or any such negative numbers, but all players make them. Jordan: 0.18/round (1 every 6 rounds). Tour avg.: 0.2/round (1 every 5 rounds), Other-4: 0.15/round (1 every 7 rounds).

Short Game, Around the Green

This Tour stat includes every shot from within 30 yards of the edge of the green. Jordan is ranked No. 15. The short game is obviously one of Jordan’s strengths. We have all seen it, so I will not go into detail.

Putting

This is an extremely important skill in golf and approximately 40 percent of the game at any handicap level. Actually, it’s more than one skill; it’s two:

  1. The art of holing short putts.
  2. The precise distance control on the long putts.

While putting is a very important part of Spieth’s success, when one looks under the hood, what Jordan does so well is not what we would think. It’s his long-range distance control that separates him from the rest. Further, Spieth’s 1-Putt numbers are VERY AVERAGE.

Note, in the chart below, at each distance up to 20 feet, Spieth is either right at or literally within 1-percentage point of the 2017 Tour average. This is not at all what we would expect from a No. 1 player.

Spieth 1putt vs Tour 2017Again, below, Jordan’s 1-Putt percentages are below the Other-4 until he gets past 16 feet.

Spieth 1putt vs Oth-4 2017Spieth’s long-range excellence serves him well and in two ways:

No. 1: Fewer 3-Putts. Jordan is ranked 9th in 3-Putt Avoidance at 2.03 percent (a 3-Putt on only 2.3 percent of total greens). The Tour Average (3.16 percent) is 56 percent higher! This complements his approach-shot strength. By hitting 13+ greens each round with average proximity of 33.9 feet, Spieth is faced with a bundle of +20-foot opportunities.

No. 2: Fewer “Save” Putts. With fewer missed greens, Spieth is faced with fewer short-putting “save” opportunities, where he enjoys only average success.

Finally, a few points to support Jordan’s distance-control excellence. The numbers below are from a study that I performed for a Golf Digest article: Stats show why Spieth is a great putter (Masters issue 2016). I compared Spieth’s putting to a thorough, distance-control study that I had performed on the No. 1 Strokes-Gained putters for the prior five years (I’ll call them the FIVE #1’s below). Coincidently, it covered all putts from 20 feet and greater in the 2015 season and Spieth beat the averages of the FIVE #1’s in every key measurement.

  • Average Leave Distance: Spieth was the only player under 2 feet at 1.97 feet. The FIVE #1’s averaged 2.31 feet.
  • Percentage of 1-Putts: Spieth: 12 percent, FIVE #1’s: 7 percent
  • Percentage of 3-Putts: Spieth: 5 percent, FIVE #1’s: 8 percent
  • Percentage of Putts Holed or Past the Hole: Spieth: 69.3 percent, FIVE #1’s: 66 percent

What can we amateurs take away from all this?

No. 1: There are two important, but different, skills in putting. Understand and practice both. For more, see my GolfWRX article: Research shows golfers should spend more time practicing short putts?

No. 2: To improve as much as possible, golfers must determine the strengths and weakness of their game, because we all have them. Work to take advantage of your strengths while improving or mitigating your weaknesses.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Dtrain

    Sep 23, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Also JS struggled with his putting early in the year. I’d like to see the poor rounds tossed out and compare JS to the other 4 at say their best 10 events relative to the field.

  2. Ron

    Sep 23, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Make you short putts, get close on the long putts. Brilliant insight.

  3. Joe

    Sep 22, 2017 at 7:35 am

    “Note: There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball.”

    That’s another advantage PGA pros have. Their ball usually hits a spectator or grandstand a lot of the times before it gets into any real danger!! On top of that they got so many eyes on their ball that it’s easily findable. Where us hackers can only spend “X” amount of time looking for it to keep pace of play. Pace of play is irrelevant on the tour if you’re a big name 😛

  4. Andrew

    Sep 22, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Good analysis. Unfortunately there isn’t a fleet of total stations and trackmans surveying and logging my every shot.

  5. Irma

    Sep 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    We didn’t need all this analysis, it’s fairly bloody obvious he’s bad off the tee lol

  6. Frankie

    Sep 21, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    “There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball. This most severe miss is relatively rare on Tour and neither Jordan or the Other-4 had one.” That’s right, just disregard and ignore the fact that Jordan Spieth made a 9 on a par 5 this year by hitting back-to-back tee shots OB right…

    • Henry

      Sep 21, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      If that’s the only time he did that, I don’t think something that happened on .0006% of holes played should matter all that much. Do you?

  7. Speedy

    Sep 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Fake news.

  8. X-out

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Golf statistics are only two dimensional; they lack real-time competitive game perspective.
    IOW, they are misleading because they do not calculate what is happening on the golf course during play. Nobody can do that because the future is not predictable, particularly on a golf course in competition and the playing environment.

  9. Chris B

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    It seems that the fairways hit percent category is now the least important one of all.

  10. Mike

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    How is the cost/error of the driving error calculated? Wouldn’t this cost be affected by the decision making/execution of subsequent shots in addition to the severity of the missed drive?

    • henry

      Sep 22, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      you cant calculate something based on a decision that he didnt make, and if whether an outside perspective thought the decision was the right one or not.

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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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