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Opinion & Analysis

The stats say Spieth’s collapse at The Masters was no fluke



Before the 2016 Masters, I published my annual column, The 20 Players Who Can Win the Masters, which did not include Jordan Spieth. That drew the ire of a lot of fans, and through 65 holes it looked like I was ready to eat some crow on that prediction.

I originally filtered Spieth out of the top-20 due to his struggles on straight-away par-4s, since there is a correlation between that stat and a player’s performance at Augusta. But just as importantly, his performance from 150-225 yards had dropped, as well. Shots from 150-225 yards are absolutely critical to performance at Augusta, and Spieth’s disastrous 12th hole was due to hitting a 150-yard tee shot into the water.

Spieth didn’t hit the ball particularly well by his standards throughout the 2016 Masters. In fact, Bryson DeChambeau said he felt he outplayed Spieth in Round 1, but Spieth was able to score better than DeChambeau. And throughout the first three rounds, Spieth had quite a few hiccups and was on pace to have the most double bogeys of any eventual Masters winner in the history of the event. But the victory was not to be his.

Here’s a look at Spieth’s current rankings in the key metrics of golf.


Spieth did not drive the ball well at Augusta despite driving it well so far this season. But what we can see this season is a large decline in his iron play. In fact, he ranks 119th in shots from 75-225 yards from the fairway/tee box.

Before I go on, I do need to clear up a couple of the biggest myths in golf.

  1. Jordan Spieth isn’t great at anything; he’s just not bad at anything.
  2. Spieth plays so well because of his short game, and his putting bails him out.

Here’s a look at Spieth’s key metrics in his first three seasons on Tour that should dispel both of those myths.


The decline in his Yellow Zone (125-175 yards) performance and his performance on approach shots from the short grass is what stands out the most.

We know that Spieth started making some changes to his swing last year, so here’s a look at his performances from all of last season to today.

To read the charts: 0 percent is the average for the field in the event. Therefore, anything better than 0 percent is better than the average. Anything less than 0 percent is worse than the average. The dotted line is the trend line to show how Jordan’s performance is trending.


Spieth’s Driving Effectiveness has sustained a flat trend over time. However, his iron play from each of the zones is on a significant decline over time. And it appears to have started right around the 2015 John Deere Classic.

I should remind you, however, that we are talking about the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world who has won two of the past five majors with a worst finish of T4 during that timeframe. And he had held the lead in Masters for 137 consecutive holes before he came to hole No. 12 on Sunday at Augusta National.

I would imagine the swing changes he has been working on were done to help out with his driving, which could be sporadic and have the rightward miss. It just appears that those swing changes have come at the expense of his iron play, however, and that is why I did not have Spieth in my 20 Players That Can Win the Masters list. And that will be what he needs to improve in order to get back to his old ball-striking form.

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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



  1. Freddy

    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Your point would be more convincing if Spieth had never gotten into contention due to his iron play.

  2. Brendan

    Apr 21, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    In my opinion, (which doesn’t carry much weight), Rich did a great job of analyzing Spieth’s issues over the past three years from a statistical standpoint. However golf isn’t a game played between numbers, it is a game played between human players. I think the reason Spieth has been so successful so far is simply due to his mental strength and attitude and the style of his play. He can poke his drives out there relatively consistently and when his irons can do him more good than harm, he really stands out. In reality, his short game is what keeps him relevant, while his mental ability and attitude sets him apart in big spots when others seem to let the moment get to the best of them. He’s a grinder in the fullest sense of the term and I feel that sometimes viewers forget that. Rory, Jason, and other big names are most likely statistically better in most of the areas listed above, but that isn’t what wins tournaments sometimes. Nobody (maybe Rory) comes close to outplaying other great players on Sundays.

  3. Nick Coleman

    Apr 21, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Richie, do you have stats on scrambling or recovery? Jordan recovered from so many terrible situations during the Masters. And are there any stats available on where shots took place (right rough, left rough, etc)? I’m guessing that information isn’t recorded. Although it seems like it wouldn’t be too hard for the PGA to do it, given you can track shots live in the iPad app. I noticed that feature wasn’t available during the Masters, and I missed being able to see just how far offline a shot had gone. My gut is that the “missing” stats to explain Jordan’s inexplicable second place finish is related to A) play in the wind (he’s from Texas, where there’s a lot), B) recovery shots from bad lies, C) mental toughness. He’s great at all three of those. A lot of players start playing badly and never recover. Jordan bounces back quickly from a bad hole.

  4. A golfer

    Apr 21, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Only one stat matters in majors and that is what goes on between the ears. In the last two years Jordan has been the best at it and is the only golfer I have seen since Tiger that can keep it for many years to come. He lost it on one hole, and it remains to be seen how he does from here on out, but I would not be surprised if he wins another major this year …..and more in the coming years.

    • Brendan

      Apr 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Couldn’t possibly agree more. After reading this article I immediatly thought that to myself even before reading one user comment. In my opinion, (which doesn’t carry much weight), Rich did a great job of analyzing Spieth’s issues over the past three years from a statistical standpoint. However golf isn’t a game played between numbers, it is a game played between human players. I think the reason Spieth has been so successful so far is simply due to his mental strength and attitude and the style of his play. He can poke his drives out there relatively consistently and when his irons can do him more good than harm, he really stands out. In reality, his short game is what keeps him relevant, while his mental ability and attitude sets him apart in big spots when others seem to let the moment get to the best of them. He’s a grinder in the fullest sense of the term and I feel that sometimes viewers forget that. Rory, Jason, and other big names are most likely statistically better in most of the areas listed above, but that isn’t what wins tournaments sometimes. Nobody (maybe Rory) comes close to outplaying other great players on Sundays.

  5. theaveragepunter

    Apr 20, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Nice work Rich. Your top 20 for the masters made me some $$. Other posters are right – most readers don’t understand your info and think Sugar Diabetes is a Greek boxer.

  6. Patrick

    Apr 20, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Rich every time you write an article I sincerely believe that 90% of the posters either don’t comprehend statistics or haven’t read the article.
    It’s pretty clear that your a statistician interpreting PGA tour stats.
    You then clearly show the numbers and what strengths / weaknesses they identify.
    And it’s clear, bias or emotion are not statistically measurable. Except by most of the commenters on this board.
    Another substantive, relevant article. No argument here. I love stats and what they represent. I took three units of stats in university. Still don’t think you need that level of knowledge to get your articles. Maybe I’m wrong. Apparently.

  7. N.

    Apr 20, 2016 at 7:16 am

    A lot of you seem to be missing the point of these stats, calling spieths 12th hole a fluke so it was irrelevant and so on.

    If you’re statistically bad from 150yrds and you then dump it in the water on a 150yrd par 3 then this only serves to further prove the statistic.

    Had he been statistically good from that distance then maybe he would have been less likely to be nervous or choke on that tee shot. If you’re ranked 1st on tour from say 150-200yrds id say the chances on you dumping it in the water are much slimmer.

    • CallawayLefty

      Apr 20, 2016 at 8:05 am

      A lot of you seem to be missing the point that the whole argument is that a guy who was #2 in the OWGR and had finished 2nd and 1st in his prior two trips to Augusta should probably have been in the top 20 picks to win the tournament, as proved by the fact that he almost did as such and finished in 2nd. I get it – statistics are cool. But I could probably find a statistical deficiency with every single person in the top 20 of the OWGR. But they appear to overcome them regularly, and a good list of the top-10 to win the Masters would be #1 through #10 of the OWGR. Omitting #2 from your top-20 is just being a sensationalist, and then acting like it was so easy to see his loss coming and that we’re all just idiots/fanboys after what happened at the Masters is just hilarious. I don’t mind the statistical analysis. I mind the over the top gloating in the face of reality.

      • N.

        Apr 20, 2016 at 11:04 am

        In my opinion from a betting stand point, if you are picking a group as large as 20 different people that have a chance of winning you’re just saying that you don’t really have any idea who will. And to be honest with golf, its very hard week in week out to pick winners.

        I would agree with you that not picking speith in the 20 was bold, but he wasn’t in my top 3 picks at the start of the week, although i didnt do much better!

  8. birly-shirly

    Apr 20, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Wow. I think any prediction, including anyone’s top 20 picks for the Masters, needs cut a little slack.

    But to try and argue, with the benefit of hindsight, that you were RIGHT to exclude the chances of the guy who finished second (especially in those circumstances) just seems a little reckless with your credibility.

  9. Mlecuni

    Apr 20, 2016 at 4:55 am

    So Rich, Jordan had one good 2014/15 year with an average yellow zone and good putter. But now is being less efficient in several area (yellow, red and green) and the putter can’t save him anymore / nobody can win only by putting well ?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 20, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Jordan had great years in 2013, and 2013-2014. He was a great ballstriker in his first 3 seasons. He can still perform well and win with his current metrics, but essentially his Short Game and Putting will have to bail him out because at this rate, he’s going to miss GIR and/or have longer birdie putts. As I wrote in this article, one of the myths of Spieth was that the ‘putter bails him out’, but as you can see in his first 3 seasons he was a great ballstriker who putted well and thus why it is a myth.

  10. :-p

    Apr 20, 2016 at 2:41 am

    Them SM6 wedges suck. Totally over-rated. He never should’ve switched from the SM5.

  11. Desmond

    Apr 20, 2016 at 2:05 am

    By his own assessment, Jordan played his B- game at Augusta. Watching him play, most had to think that he was on the verge of collapse most of the week. That it took 66 holes is a testament to Spieth.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 20, 2016 at 9:27 am

      I agree. I thought it was one of the grittiest performances I’ve seen in recent memory. He hit a lot of bad shots and started to have a 2-way miss. And it was one of those things where he would hit some great shots and then an awful shot would show up. A situation where you’re about to go off the rails, but are trying to get the round in before that happens. And even after the 12th hole, he came back fairly strong with birdies at #13, #15 and then stuck it close on #16, but couldn’t convert.

      This article isn’t a knock on Spieth. It’s is to show that his ballstriking has regressed from last year and it was trending downward at a pretty good rate leading into the Masters.

  12. 8thehardway

    Apr 19, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data
    Statistics would have missed a 59-year-old Watson leading after 71 holes at the British Open in 2009 and Jack winning the 1986 Masters.
    Yes, he was almost wrong so let’s get him. He was SO CLOSE to being wrong I can’t stand it; if only I had bet on Spieth I would have been so happy for so many holes – how could he not pick him?

    So here’s the best part of what Richie Hunt gave you, and I know all you ingrates used them – great reasons to trash your buddies’ picks… “You went with Kevin Na? But he hits the low ball… that’s death at Augusta.” Yes, your buddies taunted you for 3+ rounds for going off Spieth but before it started, when they were most vulnerable, you skewered them good and, in the end, Spieth lost and you were right again. Now THAT’s entertainment.

  13. CallawayLefty

    Apr 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    It’s incredible. You have to be the least sincere statistician I’ve ever read. JUST ADMIT IT – YOU WERE COMPLETELY WRONG ABOUT JORDAN SPIETH THIS YEAR AT THE MASTERS. You’re gloating about the fact that you basically picked the field against one guy and it proved to be correct (by the skin of your a$$). Yes, you’re right. The guy you said had no chance to win did not in fact win. He just held the lead for 65 holes and finished in 2nd place due to one fluke hole that a player like him will see about 1 time in his career.

    Let me ask you this – is your argument proved because Jordan Spieth finished in 2nd place, or is it disproved by the fact that Rickie Fowler, Marc Leishmann, and Phil Mickelson (all in your top 10) missed the cut? If you’re ok with picking one example to prove your argument is correct, shouldn’t we all be ok with picking one contrary example (or in this case three) to prove your argument is wrong?

    Really – you picked a list of people that included a substantial majority of the top players in the world (omitting the guy who is arguably the best of all of them), and then one of them won. That’s awesome, but in no way overrides the fact that you’re just trying to grab headlines by saying Spieth had no chance. If a guy who was such a statistical outlier was ONE bad shot away from winning, what does that say about the statistics?

    • Nath

      Apr 20, 2016 at 4:33 am

      Whatever, its all in the numbers, moneyball my friend

      • CallawayLefty

        Apr 20, 2016 at 6:24 am

        Check me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the A’s end up losing to the teams that valued the more traditional subject analysis? The point was that they had to use numbers to find diamonds in the rough. But their only goal was to be competitive with the front runners, not to prove that Derrek Jeeter was all smoke and mirrors. In sports there are people who do things that defy objective analysis. Or maybe statisticians overlook the real statistics that determine what makes a winner. But I will stand by that it’s disengenous to say that a guy who has now finished 2, 1, 2 in three tries at Augusta doesn’t statistically show what it takes to win there. There’s always two sides to the story – including in statistics. And if Richie’s statistics show what a poor choice he is, maybe his performance merits another look at what statistics really are most important. So he sucks from the yellow zone – well he’s finished 2, 1, 2, so perhaps yellow zone scoring is less meaningful, statically speaking, than Richie argues.

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 20, 2016 at 9:36 am

          The core of Moneyball was to help the Oakland A’s find undervalued players because they were a team with a very small budget. A team like the Yankees or Red Sox (at that particular time) didn’t use advanced analytics, but most of their players would have looked favorable according to the statistics. If you look at the all-time greats like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, etc…their stats would line right up with what Moneyball values. The same with many top players from that Moneyball era like Albert Pujols, A-Rod, etc. It’s just that the A’s ownership simply would not pay for those players. So instead they got players for say $250K that were more accurately valued at $2-3 million.

          Advanced analytics is becoming a growing trend in almost all sports. Two teams that use it the most out of any teams in any sports leagues are…Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.

          • CallawayLefty

            Apr 20, 2016 at 10:30 am

            I understand and am obviously puffing a little. I actually find the statistical analysis fascinating and instructive for sure. I just think that you have to OVERLOOK facts to rule Jordan out. I haven’t done statistical research on the Masters in particular. But my guess is there is one or more categories that Jordan did very well in that back up his 2nd place finish (and near win) this year. The problem with a statistical analysis, except one that is very objective, is that it tends to start with a desired result and then find statistics that support it rather than objectively investigating those that do not. I question whether you truly picked apart all objective factors, or whether you just settled on Jordan Spieth being omitted because of the road you were already headed down. I don’t mean that to sound accusatory – I’m actually interested…if Jordan is so bad at something that is so important at Augusta, then what makes him so good at Augusta? Really, there must be numbers to support it.

            • Richie Hunt

              Apr 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

              Historically the winners at the Masters have hit 50+ GIR. This year was a little different because of the wind (which I mentioned with Zach Johnson as being able to change the outcome of the event). Willett hit 48 GIR, Westwood hit 51 GIR. Spieth? 43 GIR.

              I think Spieth was playing with fire for those first 65 holes of the event and again, would have had the most double bogeys of any Masters winner in the history of the event. I think it’s safe to say that his short game and putting really helped propel him at ANGC for those first 3 rounds. The wind also helped because it took away the bombers ability to easily hit an iron into #13 and #15.

              Spieth mentioned during the event that he didn’t feel comfortable with his irons and the metrics show that has been a problem for him going into the Masters.

              • Calling b.s.

                Apr 21, 2016 at 10:21 am

                If I understand this argument correctly, Richie is saying he didn’t pick Spieth as having a chance to win the masters because his stats from 125-175 are bad, and his shot from 150 on the 12th hole validates his argument. I’ll call b.s. on that. It wasn’t the tee shot that cost spieth the victory. It was the embarrassingly fat flip wedge he hit after the drop. We all agree that spieth has an amazing short game. But it was the short game that failed him. That was mental. His loss had absolutely nothing to do with his play from 125-175 yards. Stats are fun. But don’t try to make it out like you predicted spieth’s failure to win with your analysis. You didn’t.

  14. ZQ

    Apr 19, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Please fire this guy.

    • Brad

      Apr 20, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Amen. Richie, just admit your omission of Spieth was inflammatory. Just because he didn’t win doesn’t mean your failure to include him in the TOP 20 was correct. Stats can make any conclusion you want them to make, which is what you’re doing here IMO…..lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  15. Gubment Cheeze

    Apr 19, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Jordan gave a good show and didn’t quit get the winners check. Golfs a tough game and some days you just ain’t got it.

    • MarkB A

      Apr 20, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Seems the haters are gonna just hate. Jordan had a few major mistakes and it is Augusta on Sunday on the back 9. Danny Willet played well and it was a nice win. Last year Jordan was pretty astonishing because he had a real good shot at winning all the majors. I am not a fan boy. I enjoy golf and let the best man that week with the lowest score win.

  16. Roger

    Apr 19, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Jordan began seriously having issues at the world match play, then in Houston…….he looked good through three rounds but darn he seemed to be jumpy and nervous on Sunday.

  17. Cronos

    Apr 19, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I can only assume you’re a troll.

    Spieth was T2, 1, and T2 in his three years at the masters. I’m sure it was all because of a “weak” field all 3 years.


  18. Joe

    Apr 19, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I hope Jordan doesn’t read this. Thanks for the article, it is a good read and interesting. But to my thinking all these stats mean very little, Jordan’s failure was the result of 1 hole, not an accumulation of stats over many holes.

    Stats are just numbers and don’t always give the correct picture. The story here is that he choked/or made a bad swing, it happens. Get over it and move on.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 20, 2016 at 9:42 am

      I disagree. In golf, you are what you are. I don’t believe it’s just one hole. Like I said, he was on pace to have the most double bogeys as a winner in the history of the Masters before the 12th hole on Sunday. If he had not doubled all of those holes, he would have had a larger margin going into 12 and could have still won with that 12th hole.

      Jordan only hit 59.2% of his GIR for the event. Willett hit 67% and Westwood hit 70%. Traditionally, GIR% plays a large role in who wins the Masters and typically the winner hits at least 50 GIR for the event. This year was a little different due to the winds, but I think Spieth was playing with fire.

  19. RoGar

    Apr 19, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Are you serious? Trends, tendencies, and plain old bad luck, are things that just happen. What about weather, stress, and pressure? Really!!! Speith lead almost the whole way, and even after 12 still almost made an epic comeback. If he had won, imagine the headlines then!!! Speith is great for the game, he’s very close to being human…

  20. Johnny

    Apr 19, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Jordan’s quadruple bogey on #12 in the 4th round was a total fluke. As was his 4 putt at #5 (forget what round).

    • Jay

      Apr 19, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      thats a lot of flukes for the #2 in the world….

    • CallawayLefty

      Apr 20, 2016 at 6:45 am

      Doesn’t that turn the statistical analysis on its head? If a guy who has no chance to win at Augusta has finished 2, 1, 2 in three tries, are we sure that the statistics Richie is focusing on are the ones that matter?

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Flatstick Focus

Flatstick Focus: Interview with Joe Legendre – Legend Golf Company



In Episode 26 Glenn is back and we interview the owner of Legend Golf Company, Joe Legendre.

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The 19th Hole Episode 141: The (golf) show must go on!



Host Michael Williams has breaking news on The PGA Merchandise Show going virtual in 2021 from Marc Simon of PGA Golf Exhibitions. Also features John Buboltz with the latest putters and irons from Argolf.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”



The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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