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Why Jordan Spieth didn’t win the 2016 FedEx Cup

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It was an exciting finish to the 2016 FedEx Cup Playoffs, with Rory McIlroy emerging victorious from a three-man playoff that included Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell. It’s hard not to root for and appreciate McIlroy. I predicted that his recently improved putting, which helped him win the second leg of these playoff, would not continue. That much I had correct; it didn’t.

Rory’s putting was the worst part of his game this week, producing a negative strokes gained (0.107) and ranking him 13th of the 29 players in the field. Rarely do we see a player win an event with a negative strokes-gained number. Well done, Rory! Let’s hope for the Team USA’s sake that he saves some of that mediocre putting for the Ryder Cup.

My prediction to win the FedEx Cup was Jordan Spieth, who missed the three-man playoff by 12 strokes (I’m also a Jets fan). As you can see below, Spieth’s average daily score was 70, while the three players who tied for the lead at 12-under par averaged 67. When I compare Spieth’s strokes-gained numbers to 12-under group, 85 percent of the difference (2.55 strokes per round) came from Spieth’s long game: driving and approach shots.

Figure_1

Everyone has an off week, but it is my personal theory that Spieth’s long game has suffered ever since he committed to hitting the ball farther. At the end of last season, he abandoned the extended, square-face follow through that featured the chicken wing left elbow for a quicker release and rotation of the club head. The result is greater club head speed and distance, but also reduced accuracy and inconsistency. I had picked Spieth largely because I felt he had worked this way through this difficult change and was seeing greater consistency in the early rounds of the playoffs. Not so in this final week.

The PGA Tour’s strokes-gained analysis shows exactly how each of the four major parts of the game contributed to the totals, but it is very difficult to drill down to the actual cause of the strokes lost or gained in the 650+ PGA Tour stats that support these specific strokes-gained numbers. At ShotByShot.com, we look at the game somewhat differently and enable our subscribers to record the specific errors that so often tell the real story. I provide relevant Tour stats to support my points below, but highlight in RED the additional data that we are able to extract from the Tour’s ShotLink data that are NOT published by the Tour.

Driving     

Figure_2

Note below that Spieth averaged 17 more yards off the tee this year at the Tour Championship than when he won last year, which is a meaningful increase. It could be the result of course conditions, but I doubt it. Note also that he was less accurate (fairways hit). Far more important than fairways hit or not is the relative severity of a golfer’s misses. Among Spieth’s missed fairways were five No-Shot Driving Errors, which are drives hit out of play that require an advancement shot to return to normal play. This was the same number as as the 12-under group combined.

Last year at the Tour Championship, Spieth had only one of these errors, which cost Tour players approximately 0.75 shots each.

Approach Shots

Figure_3

Obviously, Spieth’s approach accuracy was not nearly as good as last year. He hit one fewer GIR and was 2.5 feet farther from the hole – not a big deal at the 30+ foot distance. It is important that Spieth incurred one approach shot penalty (on the 200+ yard, island par-3). He had none of these in his 2015 win.

Short Game

Figure_4

Spieth has always been lauded for his short-game expertise, and it was evident in his 2015 victory at the Tour Championship where he ranked fifth in strokes gained: around the green and first in proximity around the green. Note that he was a very meaningful 2 feet closer to the hole than the 12-under group and his own performance. Of greater significance than the 2-foot proximity were his three errors. These were short-game shots (two chips/pitches and one sand shot) where he failed to get the ball onto the green and needed FOUR or more strokes to hole out. These three errors alone cost Jordan 2.8 strokes over what he would have scored if he simply hit the shots onto the green and 2-putted. Again, one cannot find these errors in Spieth’s Tour stats.

I will be interested to see what Jordan decides to work on in this offseason. I would wager that it will be further refining his new, longer, long game and perhaps rededicating himself to his short game. He certainly has the talent and the drive to do it and I expect him to be back on top in 2017.

For a complete strokes-gainenalysis of your game, log on to ShotByShot.com

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

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. European fan

    Sep 29, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Rory may SAVE some of his mediocre putting (that I doubt the best player in the USA will not get back to his prime in putting) BUT I really think he won’t SAVE Team USA from losing to Europe.

    Anyway good luck America!

  2. Robert

    Sep 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Great article Peter. I love analyzing numbers because it tells the whole story with facts and not assumptions.

  3. Topic_Monitor

    Sep 29, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Please refrain from using any vulgar language

  4. Jimmy Banks

    Sep 29, 2016 at 1:44 am

    time to ban MSmizzle…enough already.

  5. tom-tom

    Sep 29, 2016 at 12:48 am

    280 yrds straight down the fairway day in and day out will beat 320 yrds avg with 50% in the rough!
    J.S. short game and putting would have statistically made him a better defender of the FedEx cup and possibly added two more wins this season. IMO.

  6. Jim

    Sep 28, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Because he’s using & being fit for crappy driver(s). Wake up Jordan. Get the Driver off the gear contract and there are a dozen better heads to choose from. Right shaft in a 10° bonded head & he’ll be fine

  7. golfraven

    Sep 28, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Jordan lost it due his attitude and Rory won just because of it. Jordan was likely counting all the cash he could win while Rory just got out there and grabbed it. Some luck involved but there were some moments of genius as well. Rory had to put three times to close it off, he surely will do better this week.

  8. desmond

    Sep 28, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    I’m waiting on all the instructors on youtube to analyze Jordan’s swing … probably already up for months, years, but need last week’s critique. He can scramble around a golf course almost like no other, but it would be great if he did not need to so often — equipment? swing?

  9. dapadre

    Sep 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

    If RORS gets to be an even decent ‘constant’ putter, I mean like a B, B+ putter, the rest can simply forget it. From tee to green NO ONE matches him, NO ONE, once on the green is his crutch. It surprises me actually how well he has done with with putting. Thats what made Tiger unbeatable he had the long game, the godly short game and he could do anything with the flatstick. If Rors gets there, hell will break loose.

    • matzi

      Sep 28, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Well couldn’t you say the same about Adam Scott? Every week he’s like leading in tee to green. Just never been a great putter.

    • Jackson Galaxy

      Sep 28, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      Same thing applies to DJ and Bubba. It’s easier said than done.

  10. Greg V

    Sep 28, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Jordan working on the chicken wing? I don’t see a change.

    Sometimes you just got to dance with the one that brought you.

  11. desmond

    Sep 28, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Still, Rory’s SG putting for the week was better than his season -.107 v -.207. It was not terrible.

    In your column last week, I took Rory, you took Spieth. It happens. Perhaps Jordan needs a new Driver and evolve his stroke a bit more — too many two way misses this year.

    • Peter

      Sep 28, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Good call Desmond! I hope you had some $ on it – Thankfully, I did NOT.
      You are also right about the 2 way misses.

      • desmond

        Sep 28, 2016 at 12:44 pm

        Blind squirrel effect – I’m not good at picking. lol.

  12. Matt

    Sep 28, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Doesn’t matter what he works on. the real question is does Rory continue to work on putting becuase if he gets “good” at that no one has a chance.

  13. EJ

    Sep 28, 2016 at 9:04 am

    Jordan is an average to above average ball striker, and a streaky insanely hot putter. Once the putter goes cold ( for him) it shows his weakness. Kind of like a guard shoots 3. When on, they are deadly. When off then are just an average player.

  14. cgasucks

    Sep 28, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Why can’t guys like Spieth be totally content with their swing that gave them so much success only to change it just to approach the green with a shorter club? As a Canadian, Mike Weir is Canada’s version of Spieth, accurate, with a great short game but not the longest on tour. He changed his swing for a few extra yards and look where he is now.

    • cody

      Sep 28, 2016 at 9:03 am

      weir dropped off due to a neck injury. it is well documented.

      • Ian

        Sep 28, 2016 at 9:38 am

        from swinging too hard.

      • cgasucks

        Sep 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

        Yeah..but he changed instructors a few times (and even dabbled in Stack and Tilt). Physically he’s fine now but I don’t see him making any top 10s or making any President’s Cups teams lately…

    • Peter

      Sep 28, 2016 at 10:08 am

      There are so many stories of how the lure of more distance has ruined a successful player. After Ian Baker-Finch won the British Open he tried to get more distance and totally lost his game.

  15. AJ

    Sep 28, 2016 at 8:21 am

    “I will be interested to see what Jordan decides to work on in this offseason. I would wager that it will be further refining his new, longer, long game and perhaps rededicating himself to his short game.”

    So work on his long and short game… not much else to work on is there? LOL

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans betting preview

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The PGA TOUR heads to New Orleans to play the 2023 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. In a welcome change from the usual stroke play, the Zurich Classic is a team event. On Thursday and Saturday, the teams play best ball, and on Friday and Sunday the teams play alternate shot.

TPC Louisiana is a par 72 that measures 7,425 yards. The course features some short par 4s and plenty of water and bunkers, which makes for a lot of exciting risk/reward scenarios for competitors. Pete Dye designed the course in 2004 specifically for the Zurich Classic, although the event didn’t make its debut until 2007 because of Hurricane Katrina.

Coming off of the Masters and a signature event in consecutive weeks, the field this week is a step down, and understandably so. Many of the world’s top players will be using this time to rest after a busy stretch.

However, there are some interesting teams this season with some stars making surprise appearances in the team event. Some notable teams include Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, Collin Morikawa and Kurt Kitayama, Will Zalatoris and Sahith Theegala as well as a few Canadian teams, Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin and Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners.

Past Winners at TPC Louisiana

  • 2023: Riley/Hardy (-30)
  • 2022: Cantlay/Schauffele (-29)
  • 2021: Leishman/Smith (-20)
  • 2019: Palmer/Rahm (-26)
  • 2018: Horschel/Piercy (-22)
  • 2017: Blixt/Smith (-27)

2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans Picks

Tom Hoge/Maverick McNealy +2500 (DraftKings)

Tom Hoge is coming off of a solid T18 finish at the RBC Heritage and finished T13 at last year’s Zurich Classic alongside Harris English.

This season, Hoge is having one of his best years on Tour in terms of Strokes Gained: Approach. In his last 24 rounds, the only player to top him on the category is Scottie Scheffler. Hoge has been solid on Pete Dye designs, ranking 28th in the field over his past 36 rounds.

McNealy is also having a solid season. He’s finished T6 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T9 at the PLAYERS Championship. He recently started working with world renowned swing coach, Butch Harmon, and its seemingly paid dividends in 2024.

Keith Mitchell/Joel Dahmen +4000 (DraftKings)

Keith Mitchell is having a fantastic season, finishing in the top-20 of five of his past seven starts on Tour. Most recently, Mitchell finished T14 at the Valero Texas Open and gained a whopping 6.0 strokes off the tee. He finished 6th at last year’s Zurich Classic.

Joel Dahmen is having a resurgent year and has been dialed in with his irons. He also has a T11 finish at the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass which is another Pete Dye track. With Mitchell’s length and Dahmen’s ability to put it close with his short irons, the Mitchell/Dahmen combination will be dangerous this week.

Taylor Moore/Matt NeSmith +6500 (DraftKings)

Taylor Moore has quickly developed into one of the more consistent players on Tour. He’s finished in the top-20 in three of his past four starts, including a very impressive showing at The Masters, finishing T20. He’s also finished T4 at this event in consecutive seasons alongside Matt NeSmith.

NeSmith isn’t having a great 2024, but has seemed to elevate his game in this format. He finished T26 at Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass, which gives the 30-year-old something to build off of. NeSmith is also a great putter on Bermudagrass, which could help elevate Moore’s ball striking prowess.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 LIV Adelaide betting preview: Cam Smith ready for big week down under

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After having four of the top twelve players on the leaderboard at The Masters, LIV Golf is set for their fifth event of the season: LIV Adelaide. 

For both LIV fans and golf fans in Australia, LIV Adelaide is one of the most anticipated events of the year. With 35,000 people expected to attend each day of the tournament, the Grange Golf Club will be crawling with fans who are passionate about the sport of golf. The 12th hole, better known as “the watering hole”, is sure to have the rowdiest of the fans cheering after a long day of drinking some Leishman Lager.  

The Grange Golf Club is a par-72 that measures 6,946 yards. The course features minimal resistance, as golfers went extremely low last season. In 2023, Talor Gooch shot consecutive rounds of 62 on Thursday and Friday, giving himself a gigantic cushion heading into championship Sunday. Things got tight for a while, but in the end, the Oklahoma State product was able to hold off The Crushers’ Anirban Lahiri for a three-shot victory. 

The Four Aces won the team competition with the Range Goats finishing second. 

*All Images Courtesy of LIV Golf*

Past Winners at LIV Adelaide

  • 2023: Talor Gooch (-19)

Stat Leaders Through LIV Miami

Green in Regulation

  1. Richard Bland
  2. Jon Rahm
  3. Paul Casey

Fairways Hit

  1. Abraham Ancer
  2. Graeme McDowell
  3. Henrik Stenson

Driving Distance

  1. Bryson DeChambeau
  2. Joaquin Niemann
  3. Dean Burmester

Putting

  1. Cameron Smith
  2. Louis Oosthuizen
  3. Matt Jones

2024 LIV Adelaide Picks

Cameron Smith +1400 (DraftKings)

When I pulled up the odds for LIV Adelaide, I was more than a little surprised to see multiple golfers listed ahead of Cameron Smith on the betting board. A few starts ago, Cam finished runner-up at LIV Hong Kong, which is a golf course that absolutely suits his eye. Augusta National in another course that Smith could roll out of bed and finish in the top-ten at, and he did so two weeks ago at The Masters, finishing T6.

At Augusta, he gained strokes on the field on approach, off the tee (slightly), and of course, around the green and putting. Smith able to get in the mix at a major championship despite coming into the week feeling under the weather tells me that his game is once again rounding into form.

The Grange Golf Club is another course that undoubtedly suits the Australian. Smith is obviously incredibly comfortable playing in front of the Aussie faithful and has won three Australian PGA Championship’s. The course is very short and will allow Smith to play conservative off the tee, mitigating his most glaring weakness. With birdies available all over the golf course, there’s a chance the event turns into a putting contest, and there’s no one on the planet I’d rather have in one of those than Cam Smith.

Louis Oosthuizen +2200 (DraftKings)

Louis Oosthuizen has simply been one of the best players on LIV in the 2024 seas0n. The South African has finished in the top-10 on the LIV leaderboard in three of his five starts, with his best coming in Jeddah, where he finished T2. Perhaps more impressively, Oosthuizen finished T7 at LIV Miami, which took place at Doral’s “Blue Monster”, an absolutely massive golf course. Given that Louis is on the shorter side in terms of distance off the tee, his ability to play well in Miami shows how dialed he is with the irons this season.

In addition to the LIV finishes, Oosthuizen won back-to-back starts on the DP World Tour in December at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Mauritus Open. He also finished runner-up at the end of February in the International Series Oman. The 41-year-old has been one of the most consistent performers of 2024, regardless of tour.

For the season, Louis ranks 4th on LIV in birdies made, T9 in fairways hit and first in putting. He ranks 32nd in driving distance, but that won’t be an issue at this short course. Last season, he finished T11 at the event, but was in decent position going into the final round but fell back after shooting 70 while the rest of the field went low. This season, Oosthuizen comes into the event in peak form, and the course should be a perfect fit for his smooth swing and hot putter this week.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work? Part 1

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Of all the clubs in our bags, wedges are almost always the simplest in construction and, therefore, the easiest to analyze what might make one work differently from another if you know what to look for.

Wedges are a lot less mysterious than drivers, of course, as the major brands are working with a lot of “pixie dust” inside these modern marvels. That’s carrying over more to irons now, with so many new models featuring internal multi-material technologies, and almost all of them having a “badge” or insert in the back to allow more complex graphics while hiding the actual distribution of mass.

But when it comes to wedges, most on the market today are still single pieces of molded steel, either cast or forged into that shape. So, if you look closely at where the mass is distributed, it’s pretty clear how that wedge is going to perform.

To start, because of their wider soles, the majority of the mass of almost any wedge is along the bottom third of the clubhead. So, the best wedge shots are always those hit between the 2nd and 5th grooves so that more mass is directly behind that impact. Elite tour professionals practice incessantly to learn to do that consistently, wearing out a spot about the size of a penny right there. If impact moves higher than that, the face is dramatically thinner, so smash factor is compromised significantly, which reduces the overall distance the ball will fly.

Every one of us, tour players included, knows that maddening shot that we feel a bit high on the face and it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s not your fault.

If your wedges show a wear pattern the size of a silver dollar, and centered above the 3rd or 4th groove, you are not getting anywhere near the same performance from shot to shot. Robot testing proves impact even two to three grooves higher in the face can cause distance loss of up to 35 to 55 feet with modern ‘tour design’ wedges.

In addition, as impact moves above the center of mass, the golf club principle of gear effect causes the ball to fly higher with less spin. Think of modern drivers for a minute. The “holy grail” of driving is high launch and low spin, and the driver engineers are pulling out all stops to get the mass as low in the clubhead as possible to optimize this combination.

Where is all the mass in your wedges? Low. So, disregarding the higher lofts, wedges “want” to launch the ball high with low spin – exactly the opposite of what good wedge play requires penetrating ball flight with high spin.

While almost all major brand wedges have begun putting a tiny bit more thickness in the top portion of the clubhead, conventional and modern ‘tour design’ wedges perform pretty much like they always have. Elite players learn to hit those crisp, spinny penetrating wedge shots by spending lots of practice time learning to consistently make contact low in the face.

So, what about grooves and face texture?

Grooves on any club can only do so much, and no one has any material advantage here. The USGA tightly defines what we manufacturers can do with grooves and face texture, and modern manufacturing techniques allow all of us to push those limits ever closer. And we all do. End of story.

Then there’s the topic of bounce and grinds, the most complex and confusing part of the wedge formula. Many top brands offer a complex array of sole configurations, all of them admittedly specialized to a particular kind of lie or turf conditions, and/or a particular divot pattern.

But if you don’t play the same turf all the time, and make the same size divot on every swing, how would you ever figure this out?

The only way is to take any wedge you are considering and play it a few rounds, hitting all the shots you face and observing the results. There’s simply no other way.

So, hopefully this will inspire a lively conversation in our comments section, and I’ll chime in to answer any questions you might have.

And next week, I’ll dive into the rest of the wedge formula. Yes, shafts, grips and specifications are essential, too.

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