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Analyzing Jordan Spieth’s weekend troubles

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This past weekend, Jordan Spieth had a share of the lead at The Players Championship going into Sunday before shooting a 74 and finishing tied for 4th. This brought up discussion of Spieth having “collapses” on Sunday, and sparked my interest in seeing what was giving the young superstar issues on the final day. In the end, I found some interesting pieces to the puzzle along with some very typical trends of players that have a tendency to struggle on the weekend.

For starters, his poor play in final rounds has been greatly exaggerated. Here is a look at Spieth’s rankings in scoring average by round, out of 199 players:

Photo 1

Round 3 has given Spieth more issues than Round 4 this season. Here is a look at his scores by event, and I highlighted the weekend scores where he shot greater than 72.

Photo 2

The numbers show that Spieth’s Round 4 “collapses” are overblown. In fact, if he was able to perform better in Round 3 this year, he likely would have come away with at least one victory in 2014 and performed much better in at least three different events.

What we do see is that Spieth is a terrific golfer in Rounds 1 and 2. This is critical to any golfer’s success in events, as there is a very strong mathematical correlation to playing well earlier in an event and having success in that event. For the Tour, it is very clear that Round 1 scoring average has the greatest correlation to success on Tour. That is followed directly behind Round 2 scoring average. There is then is a large drop off when we look at the correlation between success on Tour and Round 3 scoring average. And Round 4 Scoring Average has the lowest correlation to success on Tour of all of the scoring averages by round.

Recently, I took a look at this for state amateur events that were at least two rounds in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas, and the same correlations occurred. Playing well early gives golfers the best chance to win the event. And too many golfers, be it amateurs or professionals, try to play too conservatively early in events in order to ease their way in. This is why Spieth has been so successful this year despite his weekend struggles. He gets himself off to good starts and puts himself in a good position to win the event.

Despite Spieth’s Sunday struggles being exaggerated, I did find some parts of his game that are very typical of Tour players who have issues with performance on the weekend. Here’s a look at Spieth’s key metrics this season versus last season:

Photo 3-1

What is interesting about Spieth is that while his 2013 metrics were outstanding, he is actually a better short game player and putter this season. But, his driving has badly regressed and this is the most common trend of Tour players that tend to play worse on the weekend compared to Thursday and Friday. Here’s a look at Spieth’s driving metrics:

Photo 4

Spieth’s accuracy and precision off the tee is the biggest reason for his decline in his driving effectiveness and it is a common trend of golfers who tend to have issues playing on the weekend. But, it is also important to take note of his distance metrics.

First, his 2014 rankings are based out of 199 players while his 2013 rankings are based out of 180 players. Here is how his distance rankings compared the past two seasons:

Photo 5

Measured drives are the old fashioned way to measure distance where the Tour uses two holes to measure the drive for each round. This is a fairly important metric, as it is usually done on holes where 95 percent of the golfers will hit driver on that hole. Distance on “all drives” is measured with a laser from ShotLink. When we combine these metrics, we can get an idea of how aggressive the player is off the tee because the rankings should be pretty much the same.

For Spieth, he ranks much better in the All Drives category than the Measured Drives category. This indicates he is fairly aggressive off the tee and does not lay up very often. However, I have some concerns with his distance on “measured drives.” It has dropped noticeably from last year, which indicates he is not hitting it as far when he is pulling out the driver. With that, I want to take a look at his radar metrics to see what the possible changes are this year:

Photo 6

It appears that Spieth may be trying to hit his driver with more of an upward attack angle, because his launch angle and max height are up while his spin rate is lower. The other thing I noticed is that he went from having a rightward-miss bias to a leftward-miss bias. None of these radar metrics are “bad” per say, but I feel it has created a different ball flight and he is struggling to adjust to that.

If there is a large concern for me, it is that typically the most effective drivers of the ball on Tour have kept their spin rate between 2,400-and-2,800 rpm. For Tour players, spin rates that are too low can cause accuracy issues, and Spieth is lowering his spin rate instead of increasing it a bit. Perhaps it is all being done to increase distance off the tee, but he is actually hitting his measured drives shorter this season and is so much less accurate off the tee that he is nowhere near as effective off the tee as he was last year.

And his accuracy issues off the tee have spilled over into his approach shot play. While he is still a very good iron player, his regression is largely due to having less approach shots from the short grass.

Photo 7

So, Spieth’s skill on approach shots has not really changed as much as he is leaving himself with shots that have a higher degree of difficulty.

Lastly, while Spieth has putted well overall this year, there is a key putting metric that he has struggled with that is common in golfers that regress on the weekend:

Photo 8

The reason for Spieth ranking well in strokes gained-putting is that he is a very good putter from 5-to-25 feet. His weakness putting is from 3-to-5 feet. So on the weekends, his struggles with accuracy off the tee are not helped by his inability to consistently make those knee knockers.

I don’t believe that Spieth should be given the “choker” label. As the first set of metrics show, he has actually played pretty well on Sundays this year and Saturdays have been much more problematic. Spieth was not very good from 3-to-5 feet last year, and that will likely be a more difficult issue for him to resolve since he has yet to prove that he can putt well from that distance. However, the bigger issue is with his driving and whether it is a swing mechanics issue, an equipment issue or both.

Spieth should look to get his launch monitor data closer to last year, because he was actually longer with the driver in 2013 and far more accurate which made him a far more effective driver of the ball.

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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, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. leftright

    May 14, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I will say one thing about my observations of the sports world in the last 4 decades…the armchair quarterbacking is getting out of hand. People who can’t bust an egg commenting on Jordon Speith’s golf game. The only choke they know about is what they do on a 2 foot putt on a $5 nassau bet or the snap hook when the going gets tough on the local muni. When I was 20 I was chasing tail and even though I was a scratch golfer…I didn’t care. No one that is a member of WRX has earned the right to even comment on Jordon Speith’s golf game. Admire it and shut up.

    • Jadon

      May 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

      haha love this, too bad this is the internet. It would be fun to watch Jordan win a hometown event this week.

  2. Tommy

    May 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I’m a huge Jordan Spieth fan, but I understand why people think he’s choking. In both the Masters and the Players, his play fell off significantly AFTER he took leads early in the final round. Or rather, his play levels off. And in both cases, he hasn’t bounced back well from perceived bad breaks where he’s hit the shot he wanted to but the result wasn’t good.

    I wouldn’t call it choking so much as learning how to handle himself in those situations. His issues have just been magnified by the high profile of the events.

    Even in his win at the John Deere, he never had the lead during the final round, I don’t think. And he won in the playoff when others missed very makeable shots.

    I’m hoping he figures it out, and he should have plenty of chances to.

    • Nick

      May 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      I think its just a maturity thing. Dude is 20. It’s a rare breed that doesn’t have to work hard to manage that pressure. No doubt he’ll be in the winner’s circle soon.

  3. Clarence von Aspern

    May 14, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Jordan’s problems on Sunday’s round were simply related to his aggressive approach shots taking aim at some difficult pin placements and recovery shot/club selection when he missed the green. He’s only 20 and is absolutely on his way to becoming a dominate player. He’s moving in the right direction … look out Tiger!

  4. mitch

    May 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Awesome stats! Although Jordan Spieth is wonderful talent, he doesn’t possess the power nor world class skills to warrant anyone to think that he will be a multiple winner year in and year out on tour. Statistically speaking he doesn’t have an attribute that has the wow factor like a Dustin Johnson or Fred Funk. That said, he is still young and in theory barring any injuries or major hiccups can become a great player. When you watch Rory, you knew there was something special about him, Jordan doesn’t come across as that special someone, at least not yet…

    • Mike

      May 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Wow factor as in, “Wow, Dustin, I can’t believe you hit an iron OB to lose The Open Championship.” Or, “Wow, Dustin, you didn’t even read the rules sheet to know that was a bunker?”

      Maybe you are thinking of Paulina. BTW, I never knew Fred Funk had a “wow” factor. Fill us in, please.

  5. Dave

    May 13, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Interesting analysis. I also think it’s crazy to label him a choker. Such a talented kid. Regarding scoring stats, your analysis compares his scores relative to himself in other rounds, and it does appear he’s avoiding blow-ups in the final round, but it doesn’t really show if he’s performing in the final round relative to the competition. I’d be interested to see how his final round scores compare to the average (or other metric) score of those who eventually finish in the top 20, top 10, top 5, or even the winners of each event. Might not tell a story at all, but could possibly show if he is being outplayed be the competition instead of “collapsing”…

  6. somesun

    May 12, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Just another case of making the numbers tell a fantastic story. Though you make the case for poor driving, and poor putting from 5ft and in, it seems he ranked quite highly in these areas in the players championship.

  7. Norm Platt

    May 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Good article Rich. There’s a saying in sports that numbers don’t lie. Spieth has done very well for the short time he has been on tour. Because golf is a game of mistakes/misses it appears Spieth is still on a learning curve. I come from a pro hockey background where you are able to see the development of elite young players from about 18 or 19.
    I still think that Spieth is probably growing/adjusting to his body and in the next couple of years when his growth stops he will not only get stronger but get more comfortable with his frame.
    Players like Michelle Wie and now Lydia Ko are good studies. Ko is clearly an elite athlete who will probably grow a bit more and get much stronger. Michelle Wie was smart to go to school and let her body “rest and recuperate” from being on tour too early. And you can see the changes in Rory McIlroys frame over the last two years.
    Tiger Woods is the obvious most “enhanced “frame who went from a ecto/meso frame to almost exclusive mesomorphic frame. Hence the joint stress injuries from being so strong for an ectomorphic frame.
    As Spieth matures and becomes more adjusted to the tour there’s a strong possibility he will be rewarded with some wins rather than close top 5 finishes. This is assuming he will improve physically over the next 5 years.

  8. Jadon

    May 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Wow, very interesting information. It might be time to put a new driver in play, ditch the 910, and get those spin numbers up. I remember hearing on golf channel that he was working with his coach to add some distance with the driver in the off season. It looks like he did pick up some club head speed but any club manufacturer (except for taylormade lol) will tell you that accuracy is much more important than distance.

    As for the “choker” label, that’s a joke. This kid is a stud. I can’t wait for him to win a big one and silence that garbage and it won’t be very long if he keeps playing as well as he has been. Insane talent for a 20 year old kid.

  9. 4pillars

    May 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Lets hope he reads this abd takes action, rather than accepting the lable of choker.

  10. Jedidiah

    May 12, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Cutie

    • John Butler

      May 14, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Statistics or not, we seem to be forgetting that Jordan is 20 years old. Think of our mental state when we were that age. In my case and probably some of yours, it was “Cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women”.

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Morning 9: Rory: I’m not joining LIV | Masters ratings | Nelly: We just need a stage

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By Ben Alberstadt with Gianni Magliocco.

For comments: [email protected]

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans, as we gear up to this week’s RBC Heritage.

1. Rory: I’m not going to LIV

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach…McIlroy said neither he nor his agents have ever discussed a potential deal to lure him to the LIV Golf League, which is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

  • “I honestly don’t know how these things get started,” McIlroy told Golf Channel while on the practice range at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina, the site of this week’s RBC Heritage. “I’ve never been offered a number from LIV, and I’ve never contemplated going to LIV. Again, I think I’ve made it clear over the past two years that I don’t think it’s something for me.
  • “It doesn’t mean that I judge people who have went and played over there. I think one of the things that I have realized over the past two years is that people can make their own decisions for whatever they think is best for themselves, and who are we to judge them for that? But personally, for me, my future is here on the PGA Tour, and it’s never been any different.”
Full piece.

2. Masters ratings down

Yahoo’s Jay Busbee…”Ratings for the full Masters week are now out, and 2024’s version ranks as the lowest since the COVID-impacted years of 2020 and 2021. There was a brief moment when four players shared the lead at the 2024 Masters, but Scottie Scheffler took care of business quickly enough and strolled to what qualifies as an “easy” Masters victory — a four-stroke triumph that wasn’t in doubt for most of the second nine.”

  • “Perhaps as a result, Sunday’s final round averaged 9.59 million viewers on CBS, according to Sports Media Watch, a 22.8% decline from last year’s 12.06 million. Scheffler’s win two years ago averaged 10.17 million viewers. Worth noting: Sunday’s final round was down 20 percent against last year’s victory by Jon Rahm, but last year’s final round fell on Easter Sunday, which created a significantly higher out-of-home percentage of viewers — 21 percent in 2023, as opposed to 9 percent this year.”
Full piece.

3. Chevron gets purse boost

Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…“Chevron’s commitment to the LPGA went a step higher on Tuesday with the announcement of a purse increase to $7.9 million in 2024. The move brings the tour’s first major in line with the purses of other championships. The U.S. Women’s Open purse of $12 million paces the tour, with the KPMG Women’s PGA second at $10 million. The AIG Women’s British Open purse checks in at $9 million while Amundi Evian is $6.5 million.”

  • “Chevron, which moved the event away from Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, to Texas, last year, has increased the purse by $4.8 million since assuming title sponsorship in 2022. The company has committed to title sponsor the event through 2029.”
Full piece.

4. Shipley on “notegate”

Alex Myers for Golf Digest…”So what was up with “notegate”? During his hilarious spot with McAfee, Shipley reiterated there was no note from Woods, and that he was only looking at the moderator because he was so confused where the question was coming from:

  • “I looked over at the moderator like ‘Who the hell is this guy?'” Shipley says in the clip. “Because it just didn’t happen. I was so confused and so shocked in the moment.”
Full piece.

5. Nelly: We just need a stage

Iain Carter for the BBC…”Korda is the first American to win four consecutive tournaments on the LPGA since Lopez won five straight 46 years ago. This astonishing streak made the then rookie front page material for Sports Illustrated.

  • “Korda’s feats have yet to transcend the golfing village, and perhaps that suits her as she “tries to stay in my bubble”. But the American Solheim Cup player does recognise that more could be done to tell the increasingly compelling story of women’s golf.”
  • “I feel like we just need a stage,” she told reporters here at Carlton Woods just north of Houston. “We need to be put on TV.
  • “I feel like when it’s tape delay, or anything like that, that hurts our game. Women’s sports just needs a stage. If we have a stage we can show up and perform and show people what we’re all about.”
Full piece.

6. Photos from the 2024 RBC Heritage

  • Check out all of our galleries from this week’s event!
Full piece.
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Photos from the 2024 RBC Heritage

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GolfWRX is on site this week at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island for the RBC Heritage. Plenty of golfers who competed in the Masters last week will be making the quick turnaround in the Lowcountry of South Carolina as the Heritage is again one of the Tour’s Signature Events.

We have general albums for you to check out, as well as plenty of WITBs — including Justin Thomas and Justin Rose.

We’ll continue to update as more photos flow in from SC.

Check out links to all our photos, below.

General Albums

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See what GolfWRXers are saying and join the discussion in the forums.

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Morning 9: Aberg: I want to be No. 1 | Rory’s management blasts ‘fake news’ reports

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By Ben Alberstadt with Gianni Magliocco.

For comments: [email protected]

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans, as we look back at the Masters while looking ahead to this week’s RBC Heritage.

1. Shane Ryan: Appreciate Scottie’s greatness

Golf Digest’s Shane Ryan…”This is what’s called generational talent, and we haven’t seen it in almost 20 years. Steve Stricker read the tea leaves when he picked Scheffler for the 2021 Ryder Cup—a decision that was richly rewarded—and starting in 2022, he was off to the races. The only hiccup was a few putting woes last year, but even that only served to highlight how remarkable his ball-striking had become—instead of winning, he was finishing third. When he fixed the putting, with help from a new coach and a bit of equipment advice from Rory McIlroy, he soared yet again to the top of the game, but this time he seemed more indomitable, more inevitable, more brilliant.”

  • “The sustained success of the last three years has officially made him the best professional golfer since Tiger Woods, a conclusion supported by analytics, the eye test, and every other metric you could dream up. With fewer majors, he has nevertheless leaped past Spieth, McIlroy, and Koepka in terms of pure ability. He doesn’t have their legacy, yet, but if we’re talking about peak performance, he’s already surpassed them.”
  • “He’s so much better than everyone else, which is a sentiment that is both commonplace—I saw it on Twitter over and over again—and revelatory. It’s the thing you say because there is nothing else to say. You’re left with the wild truth, which words can describe but never capture.”
Full piece.

2. Aberg: I want to be No. 1

The AFP’s Simon Evans…”The 24-year-old finished second, four strokes behind winner Scottie Scheffler, after carding a final round 69 but he certainly won many admirers among the patrons at Augusta National and beyond.”

  • “And his performance has filled Aberg with self-belief.”
  • “Everyone in my position, they are going to want to be major champions. They are going to want to be world number one, and it’s the same for me, that’s nothing different,” he said.
  • “It has been that way ever since I picked up a golf club, and that hasn’t changed. So I think this week solidifies a lot of those things are there, and we just need to keep doing those things and put ourselves in positions to win tournaments, ” he said.
Full piece.

3. Homa’s honest answer on double bogey

Golf Channel staff report…”But Homa’s tee shot at No. 12 bounded off the putting surface and into a bush. After a healthy search, Homa found his ball and had to take an unplayable lie. He made double bogey, effectively ending his bid at a maiden major title.”

  • “Homa tied for third, seven shots back of Scheffler. Asked about what happened on the fateful 9-iron, Homa offered two replies.”
  • “The honest answer is, it didn’t feel fair. I hit a really good golf shot, and it didn’t feel fair. I’ve seen far worse just roll back down the hill,” he said.
  • “The professional answer is, these things happen.”
Full piece.

4. Harbour Town ahead

RBC Heritage field notes, via Adam Stanley of PGATour.com…”Scottie Scheffler is, for now, set to tee it up at the RBC Heritage. He was clear to say that if his wife, Meredith, would go into labor during the Masters, he would head home to be with her, so it’s safe to assume that same rule will stand at Harbour Town. Scheffler has not shot an over-par round all season and has three victories (and one runner-up). He made his debut at Harbour Town last year and finished T11… Matt Fitzpatrick looks to become the first golfer to go back-to-back at the RBC Heritage since Boo Weekley in 2007-08. Fitzpatrick, a playoff victor last year, has two top-10 finishes this season. He has just one missed cut at Harbour Town over the last six years and he finished fourth in 2021 to go along with two more top-15 results in a three-year span (T14 in 2018 and 2020)…”

  • “Jordan Spieth is hoping to continue his run of fine play at Harbour Town after a playoff loss last season and a playoff win the season prior. Spieth has five top-25 finishes at the RBC Heritage in seven starts… Justin Thomas earned a spot in the field after remaining in the top 30 (he’s No. 30) in the Official World Golf Ranking despite a missed cut at the Masters. Thomas, who finished T25 last season at Harbour Town, has two top 10s on the season… Ludvig Åberg, who is tops in the Aon Next 10, will head to Hilton Head for the first time. Åberg has had a fabulous 2024 campaign thus far with four top 10s (including two runner-up results) and is knocking on the door for a victory… Hideki Matsuyama was the only eligible player who did not commit to the RBC Heritage, while Viktor Hovland – after a missed cut at the Masters – withdrew from the field on Saturday.”
Full piece.

5. Reed’s caddie’s needle

Our Matt Vincenzi…”After a particularly bad drive during his third round on Saturday, Reed’s caddie, Kessler Karain, also his brother-in-law, made a snide but factual comment to Patrick.”

  • “Your driving has cost us a lot this week,” Karain remarked.
  • “Reed didn’t disagree and told reporters after the round that there was nothing good about his round…
  • “A reporter then asked: “It’s a good thing he’s a family member, right?”
  • “Yeah, exactly. I’d probably be dragging him up that last hole,” Reed said. “I swear.Just what you want to hear as you’re looking at the ball in the tree, and he goes, ‘You need to drive it better.’ Thanks, Kessler. I appreciate it. Great words of wisdom. Drive it better.”
  • “This may be the last major for Reed for a while, as the 33-year-old has not been invited nor qualified for next month’s PGA Championship.”
Full piece.

6. LIV wants Hovland next?

Ewan Murray for the Guardian…”Rising speculation that Viktor Hovland will be the next high-profile golfer to be coaxed to the LIV tour will increase the need for Ryder Cup Europe to apply a simple qualification process for golfers on the Saudi Arabian-backed circuit.”

  • “LIV is forging ahead with plans for 2025, which include new events and the recruitment of more players from the PGA and DP World Tours. The rate of turnover is likely to be increased by the number of golfers who had three-year contracts when joining LIV, which will expire at the end of 2024.”
  • “Chatter on the range at the LIV event in Miami this month and again at the Masters largely surrounded Hovland, the world No 6 who starred for Europe in the defeat of the United States in Rome last year. Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, who also played in that team, have subsequently joined LIV. Hovland missed the cut at the Masters and promptly withdrew from the PGA Tour’s $20m stop in Hilton Head this week.”
Full piece.

7. Rory’s management: LIV reports are ‘fake news’

Brian Keogh for the Irish Independent…”A report that Rory McIlroy was on the verge of an $850million move to LIV Golf has been slammed as “fake news” by his management.

“Fake news. Zero truth,” McIlroy’s manager Sean O’Flaherty said in an email.

London financial paper “City AM” reported today that sources have told them that McIlroy “could” join LIV Golf

The paper reported that “two separate sources have told City AM that they believe a deal is close. It is claimed that LIV Golf chiefs have offered world No2 McIlroy an eye-watering $850m to join, plus around two per cent equity in the competition.”

Full piece.
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