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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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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