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Opinion & Analysis

Jordan Spieth’s issues are mental and not technical

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On the face of it, it appears as if Jordan Spieth’s issues this season are entirely down to his trusty putter having turned cold in 2018. That has been the consensus, and up until a few weeks ago, it would have been difficult to argue otherwise. Since then, Spieth has suffered his worst run to date this year, with two missed cuts and a disappointing T42 at last week’s Travelers Championship. However, it’s within these past three weeks that have revealed the most about the state of Spieth’s game and mind at the moment.

Spieth, who ranks 179th for Strokes Gained-Putting this season, has had to deal with constant questioning from the media this year regarding his poor performance on the greens. The Texan’s most devastating club throughout his young career had always been the flat stick, and it has suddenly betrayed him. However, Spieth’s putting has been excellent in the past three weeks. The 24-year-old has gained strokes with the putter in all of his last three events with a deadly combined total of 8.4 strokes gained in this category. Spieth’s upturn in recent weeks with the putter has gone unnoticed, as his long game, which has been hailed all season long, has crumbled in the same period. Spieth sits 13th for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green this season, however, in the past three events he has lost a combined 9.6 strokes to the field.

Meanwhile, another man who has suffered similar volatile changing in fortunes with certain parts of his game this year is none other than Tiger Woods. First, it was his driver holding him back, then his putter, and then at Shinnecock Hills Woods’ irons didn’t fire. Despite the frustration, there is a confidence that borders on certainty among the minds of the golfing world that Woods is going to put all parts of his game together very soon. Despite Jordan Spieth suffering the same frustrations, there is no confidence that he is close to doing the same. The serene calmness that Woods has projected all year is the exact opposite of how Spieth has dealt with the issue. His irritation has been constantly evident.

Jordan Spieth’s frustrations have scrambled a mind that once appeared to be impenetrable on the golf course. Spieth has openly hinted toward this in recent weeks. Last week, he told the media at the Travelers that he had tried to do too much in Round 1 at Shinnecock Hills and it cost him dearly. After a miserable Friday in Connecticut, Spieth pinned the problem down to mental mistakes.

“Unfortunately didn’t stick with the game plan, and it cost me two or three strokes today,” Spieth said. “Just stuff I could control before I hit it. That’s the most frustrating part of today.”

His demeanor on the golf course has given truth to these admissions all year. An already very animated and talkative player on the golf course, Spieth has been more fractious than ever with both caddy, Michael Greller, and spectators alike. Nothing portrayed how the game had gotten well and truly under Spieth’s skin than when the camera panned to him by the side of the 18th green on Friday evening at Shinnecock Hills. Spieth stood with his shoulders slumped against the backdrop of the amber evening sun, shaking his head with a look of both bewilderment and anger knowing full well that he had just thrown away the opportunity of playing the weekend of the U.S. Open.

It was at this point of the year in 2017 that Spieth turned his season around, winning the Travelers before The Open Championship. This year, however, Spieth looks further away from saving his season than at any other point this year. He has played seven of the last eight weeks, which shows his envious single-mindedness and determination to turn his year around, and it feels unjust that this determination has gone unrewarded. The adage of trying too hard resonates very much in this case. Spieth ends this exhausting stretch of golf with more questions than answers than when he began it, and Golf Channel’s David Duval also believes that he is mentally suffering. 

“Listening to him talk about his golf right now, and how he’s feeling and what he’s doing on the golf course, he’s talking about mental mistakes,” Duval said. “He’s been trying to force the issue too much. I think he’s played a little bit too much. I think it’s time for a breather, a chance to regroup and get ready for the summer season.”

Spieth is currently not committed to play before he will defend the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in July, although he may opt to play the John Deere Classic, an event that he has played previously in preparation for The Open. The high expectations placed on Spieth by both the public and himself have led to mental exhaustion and frustration, with his patience tested to the extreme, and recharging his batteries looks the prudent play.

It’s worth remembering that Spieth is 24 years old, a three-time major championship winner and an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour. His impatience is unnecessary, as has been some of the intense scrutiny and criticism of Spieth’s game all year. He has become a victim of his success and a well earned mental reset before the years third major could make all the difference for Spieth’s 2018.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. SaiDaiOh

    Jul 1, 2018 at 3:05 am

    His woes are technical. Jordan’s bad swing just outrun his nerve and athletic talent.

  2. George

    Jun 30, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Desperate Democrats protest marching for open borders to import illegal dago voters… sooo obvious.

  3. jo

    Jun 30, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    “He has become a victim of his success”

    murican’s hoped he’d erase Tiger’s records. A lot to live up to, even for a Texan…/s

  4. Tom54

    Jun 29, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    To me it definitely looks like there’s no confidence in his stroke lately. Lots of fidgeting before and during his stroke. Looks like when he was putting lights out he made a nice stroke pretty much knowing it was going in or scare the hole anyway. I’m sure he will get it back just needs to see em start dropping. Maybe he needs to give his Scotty a rest too, who knows after all that’s golf ain’t it?

  5. Man

    Jun 29, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Didn’t need this article to tell us this. Why state the obvious? We can see and hear it. He’s human.

    • Commoner

      Jul 1, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      They come and they go…more so now than ever. Both talent and money are in huge supply, so changes in the top tier will be more frequent than previous eras.

  6. dlygrisse

    Jun 29, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Didn’t JS get really ill early during the season? I just don’t think he ever rebounded, now is pressing, and golf is REALLY hard when you aren’t organized mentally and physically. Best recipe is some time off, regroup and things will be fine.

  7. The Dude

    Jun 28, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Gianni…do you golf?

    • Gmatt

      Jun 29, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Somehow I think not, it’s so hard to blog and actually play the sport they write about. Maybe he should give it a try someday

  8. Tom

    Jun 28, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    Golf is a very difficult and fickle game, even the best players are not immune from riding the ebbs and flows.

    • gif

      Jun 29, 2018 at 12:01 am

      “feel” golfers are inconsistent because their feel turns into “feeeelings” when their feel fails them emotionally. It happens so many times to all pro golfers.

  9. faq

    Jun 28, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Putting is a mental game. Perhaps he should change his putter like Tiger did. Ardmore?

  10. Mike C

    Jun 28, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    I had no idea he putted so well the last 3 events. I’d say that’s a good sign.

  11. Mike C

    Jun 28, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    I had no idea he putted so well the last 3 events. I’d say they’d a good sign.

  12. 2putttom

    Jun 28, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I like the photo. Looked like me after Wednesday Mens league.

  13. Jamie

    Jun 28, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    The obsessive need to fix his hair immediately after taking his hat off is the tell of what a nutjob he is. Glad he’s young enough to get this fixed.

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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