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Opinion & Analysis

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy: Golf’s new rivalry?

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When Jordan Spieth lost in a playoff last week at the Shell Houston Open–possibly in part due to an ill-timed camera shutter on the first extra hole–it appeared the public had been robbed of the most appealing story from the event before the year’s first major.

Oddly, though, Spieth’s loss was the Masters’ gain.

If the 21-year-old had been victorious in Houston, he would have moved to No. 2 in the world a week before the big event at Augusta. Instead, Spieth placed runner-up and put his energy into a dominant performance at the Masters, an otherworldly victorious showing that allowed him to storm into that No. 2 spot with a force of youthful promise that we haven’t seen so powerful, well, since Rory McIlroy four years ago.

And speaking of Rory, he’s No. 1 and now Spieth’s No. 2. For the first time in McIlroy’s place at the top, he has a younger counterpart one spot behind him.

Rory and Jordan. No. 1 and No. 2. A combined 46 years of age and approximately a billion seasons between them before we should anticipate decline courtesy of Father Time. Are we being handed golf’s new rivalry for the foreseeable future?

It’s a tantalizing vision after the week that just transpired at Augusta. Spieth shook off a disappointing final round last year at Augusta, returning in 2015 to the tune of 18-under, absolutely obliterating a course that had not yielded a 72-hole total better than 10-under since 2011.

On a layout that has long been cast as a bomber’s paradise, he dominated the field without impressive power. Spieth, in fact, ranked 44th in driving distance among the 55 weekend competitors!

And this performance only reinforced a recent trend, as the 21-year-old entered the event coming off finishes of first, second and tied for second, not to mention his two other victories late in the 2014 season.

As for McIlroy, his week wasn’t as impressive, but didn’t exactly make us question his talent. After faltering to at least one big round in every Masters since 2011, the Northern Irishman finally broke the curse, posting a 71-71-68-66 finishing in solo fourth and six shots short of the Career Grand Slam.

Those numbers don’t do his work justice either.

The 25-year-old was 3-over through 27 holes of the tournament and below the projected cut line, and summoned all of his power to produce a final 45 holes that he played in 15-under. In a way, it was reminiscent of what Tiger Woods did in 2007 at Augusta when he briefly flirted with the cutline only to storm back to second place by the end.

In any case, Spieth and McIlroy performed at a high level, and with both now major championship winners in their earlier 20s, it seems based off these recent events that the two are guaranteed to dominate the sport together and fight vigorously for that top post.

But let’s not be premature here.

Spieth’s week at Augusta was as magnificent as his score suggests, and in a way it is actually underrated. His four-stroke triumph appears in the record books as a worthy but less than dominant performance. That’s kind of misleading, considering Spieth did this wire-to-wire, which only adds to the difficulty, and considering this aspect of his four-shot 54 hole lead:

But whatever Spieth says, his month of brilliance has not been his norm, and will likely be an extended peak to his usual play. He could keep up his series of wins and runner-ups for another week or two, but after that he’s likely to revert closer to his (highly enviable) average in the short term. It’s easy to anoint during a player’s peak, less simple to do so when time has passed and the player has regressed to his norm.

There’s also the harrowing issue of length off the tee. As I noted, Spieth pummeled Augusta without using much driving power, instead relying more on an all-around effort that was most potent in his putter. To an extent this is Spieth’s norm. For the past two seasons, he was remarkably average in driving distance on the PGA Tour finishing 80th of 180 in the category in 2013 and 89th of 177 in 2014.

Spieth has made remarkable improvement in club head speed in 2015 and that has shot him up the list to 55th, and his place among the above-average lot in power may be his true spot. Even if that’s the case, Spieth is nowhere near McIlroy’s top five rate in power, and that portends trouble.

Rory certainly has his flaws, his putting can be suspect and his accuracy off the tee can sometimes go awry, but those are defects that can be mitigated through extensive practice. A lack of elite power, though, is unfixable. And barring another pair of significant jumps in club head speed, Spieth will be forever saddled with this disadvantage.

McIlroy, then, will always have the upper hand when it comes to the tools to dominate and possess more leeway to employ flaws while retaining top-of-the-world status. That’s the sizable advantage long hitters profit from.

So maybe there are some reasons to cool off on an incoming Spieth-McIlroy rivalry hype, but that doesn’t mean I believe it won’t come to fruition.

A golfer doesn’t have to be a power hitter to challenge for the top spot; it’s just unlikely, not unprecedented. In fact, Luke Donald, a far shorter hitter than Spieth, kept his reign as the game’s best player for basically a full year. While Spieth’s recent play is probable to be classified as a peak, there’s no reason to believe he won’t reach more peaks in the future or that his average weekly performance won’t improve as he continues to gain experience on the professional circuit.

Spieth also appears to have the confidence and mental acumen to bulldoze any perceived disadvantages.

And how do we even classify rivalry in golf anyway? The distance issue may just be a red herring, as some have classified Woods-Mickelson a true rivalry despite its clear lack of near-equals.

The idea of a Spieth-McIlroy battle seems a foregone conclusion in the afterglow of this year’s Masters.

But let’s hold off for a bit on a definitive answer. Maybe give some time to view subsequent performances rather than handing over full control to recency bias.

I’m optimistic that we will see a robust rivalry between these two young superstars in the time to come, I’m just not willing to stamp it into certainty yet.

Whatever the case, this is an exciting time in golf. Let’s not ruin it by rushing into conclusions.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. JordanJordanJordan

    Apr 15, 2015 at 3:17 am

    A good story for the near future. A nice way to hype us any Europe VS USA stories. The US needed this win!

  2. brian

    Apr 13, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Way to soon to call it a rivalry.

    • Bobby

      Apr 14, 2015 at 11:28 pm

      Spieth is the real deal. Rory barely showed up this weekend. Not only that, Spieth is number 2 in the world. It’s a rivalry.

  3. bunty

    Apr 13, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Wont be much of a contest in hair growing in a few years time

    rory>spieth

  4. Jonny B

    Apr 13, 2015 at 9:16 am

    The “rivalry” won’t be created by the two players, it will be created by the media. It’s articles like these, and quips like the one from Jim Nance at the close of coverage yesterday that create them. I think the players (at least Rory and Spieth) have no interest in rivalries, they just try to be every single person they play against, not a specific one. So their rivals are actually all of their competitors, which makes any rivalry moot.

    Personally, I’d like to see some more trash talking and rivalry on the tour. It would have been refreshing to see Spieth take some digs at others after yesterday’s win, or even make some cocky remarks in general. I think that is missing from golf vs. other sports. Granted, it’s a gentleman’s game. But the humility and the political correctness of every winner week in and week out is why the viewership isn’t growing. People who don’t golf aren’t interested in watching it because it’s not entertaining. I don’t play football, or baseball, or basketball – but I watch because it is entertaining. There are plenty of heroes and villains in those sports, and true rivalries fueled by hatred of other teams and players. You just don’t have that in golf.

    Rory blasted Tiger yesterday by 7 strokes – wouldn’t it have been fun to hear him take some shots at Tiger’s “hurt hand” or something? Or when asked to comment on Jordan’s victory he would have said something like “come talk to me when he has 4 majors” or something like that.

    Wouldn’t it have been great if Jordan would have made some “Tiger who?” or “Rory who?” comment after a record win?

    • Fred

      Apr 13, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      That’s precisely the problem with many of the other sports. Too much drama. Why can’t you just enjoy the game and the excellence displayed by these great golfers? The need for drama queens and extra trash talk is very telling on your part. Go watch soap operas instead of sports. Nothing wrong with a bit of banter and going back and forth in a friendly and fun way, as I do with my friends. But come on man! People have in our modern day have lost touch. They feel this insatiable need to be “entertained” all the time. Just enjoy golf and enjoy life. Stop looking for drama. It doesn’t spice up life. It’s just needless and pointless.

    • Jafar

      Apr 15, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Golf is a good place to get away from “everyone”.

      More people should watch it because they enjoy and understand the game.

      That kind of mentality doesn’t help boxing and it didn’t help Seattle win a Super Bowl two years in a row.

      Trash talk is for people who are too scared to let their skills do the talking. And doing it right after winning guarantees your quick downfall to reality.

  5. Ronald Montesano

    Apr 13, 2015 at 6:28 am

    I don’t know that the #2 ranking point is germane to the question, is this a rivalry? It’s trivial.

    The answer to the headline question is no, but feel free to disagree. Every golfer on every professional tour rivals her/his colleagues, so saying that any one-on-one is more important. To the best of my knowledge, Rory and Jordan have not gone head-to-head down the stretch in any professional tournament, nor has either expressed any outward dislike for the other.

    Sergio attempted to create a rivalry with Tiger in the late 1990s, but that failed due to the Spaniard’s performance. The media loves to create rivalries, as the mere headline tantalizes and creates argumentative discourse. I have no reason to elevate Jordan Spieth above any other, one-time major winner. He’s not even Dave Marr yet.

    • Rich

      Apr 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

      The media criticising the media. That’s funny.

  6. dapadre

    Apr 13, 2015 at 4:08 am

    This Masters brought forth and confirmed the following point for me:

    Golf has a new darling and Im a fan. Like how this kid carries himself in all areas.

    This is not a fluke. His record speaks for itself even before the Masters. Look at his top 10 finishes and other stats and well as wins or near wins. Keep in mind he tore up the Masters after its was Tiger-Proof.

    Distance is WAY overrated. If you can reach Par 5’s in two, whats the issue. Spieth is not a long hitter, TAKEN. but he is NOT short. His iron play and putting is lights out. The scary thing is that this is not the first time he has shown these qualities (strong iron play an putting). What many also fail to realize is that he is not that accurate off the tee. During the Masters he was better than usual, but even when is not he is in contention and that is scary. A player who is always in contention is going to do well.

    That Chamblee is a moron and clearly DOESNT know what he is talking about and his tirade on Tiger is strictly personal. Saw no YIPS from Tiger and for a guy who hasnt competed in while did quite well. His partner in crime Haney is Buthurt.

    That golf is Tee to Green, period.

  7. Nathan

    Apr 13, 2015 at 12:39 am

    I knew who wrote this story just by reading the heading.

    • Kevin Casey

      Apr 13, 2015 at 1:09 am

      I’m going to be optimistic and take that as a compliment. So, thank you, Nathan!

      • Scooter McGavin

        Apr 13, 2015 at 6:41 am

        You shouldn’t take it as a compliment.

        • Jack

          Apr 15, 2015 at 5:51 am

          He’s a college student. The whole world is ahead of him.

  8. MHendon

    Apr 12, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I’ll take clutch putting, well above avg iron play, and avg distance off the tee over streaky putting, above avg iron play, and well above avg distance off the tee any day. In other words its about the putting. I think people confuse Tigers greatness with his distance but really it was his putting. Jordan reminded me of him on the greens today.

    • Kevin Casey

      Apr 12, 2015 at 11:16 pm

      I can see where you’re coming from there. And I don’t think it’s nearly out of the question that Spieth could be as good as or better than McIlroy. It’s just that the greatest players of all time (which McIlroy will be in if he continues on this trajectory) have a high majority of really long hitters.

      It goes to show that not having elite power makes it a lot more difficult to be an all time great. But certainly not impossible! And it’s a lot more impressive to see a guy without elite power on that list, because he has a clear disadvantage that he legitimately cannot fix.

      Spieth dominating a course that really favors big hitters is certainly a good sign for him, I’m just saying that the distance gap between him and McIlroy could be a looming issue. That extra power allows Rory to be less than stellar in other categories and still be at the top, whereas Spieth doesn’t have near as much margin for error here.

      You mention Tiger, and there’s no doubt putting has played a large role in his success. But his power certainly has also. It’s allowed him to dominate despite being absolutely abysmal when it comes to accuracy off the tee.

      I really like Spieth and certainly see a bright future ahead. I’d say he has a more polished game than McIlroy, and if anybody could make that distance gap a moot point, Spieth is near the top of the list.

      Just a looming issue, though, that I’m unsure of. We’ll have a better answer there a few years from now.

      • Jack

        Apr 15, 2015 at 5:57 am

        Spieth has been playing well for a while now, but his putter was just on fire it seemed this tournament. If he somehow maintains it, then he’s going to be a great. Tiger at his prime was awesome with his putter. Doesn’t matter if you drive it really long and then lob it, or drive it fairly long and then PW it. You’re going to score with a great putter.

        He killed it on Par 5’s, and if you can do that, then driving distance is enough. He struggled with it last year, and was pretty decent the year before that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others. 

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.

Step 1 – The Importance of Assessment

Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab

Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns

Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury

Introduction

Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track. 

In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!

– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back

– Poor Posture

– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances

– Weak Core Muscles

Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.

With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.

Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility

1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side

2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side

Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds

2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds

3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side

Step 2.2 – Improving Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.

Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles

1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs

2) Posture Cue – 60 secs

3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side

4) Arm Press – 15 reps

Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.

For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.

In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.

If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App (iOS)
Online Training
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Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)

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Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.

As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.

Here you’ll find the third installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here.

Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)

No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.

Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.

No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.

In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.

Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.

Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.

They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.

Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.

How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?

(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)

Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.

(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)

If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?

It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.

Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.

They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.

 

Artwork by JaeB

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Srixon ZX and TaylorMade SIM2 Max fairways and My top 3 drivers!

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Masters hangover week is here! I have had the new Srixon ZX fairway out on the course and it is underrated as you would imagine. Reshafted the SIM2 Max 3w and it has been super consistent and comfortable. Talking about the top 3 drivers I have been hitting this year.

 

 

 

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