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Opinion & Analysis

Even Jordan Spieth Has A Weakness!

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As the founder of ShotByShot.com, a Strokes Gained analysis website, I have been studying Strokes Gained and the relevant performance statistics for PGA Tour players and amateurs for more than 30 years. In all that time, I have never seen a player that was good at every part of the game. I have made it my business to help players at every level identify their strengths and weaknesses, as improving the latter generally represents the quickest route to consistently lower scores.

This week, I looked at Spieth’s 2017 Tour data through the BMW Championship, and I compared it to the other top-5 players in the FedEx Cup race to the same point in time. The other players, which I’ll refer to this group as “Other-4,” are:

  • No. 2: Justin Thomas
  • No. 3: Dustin Johnson
  • No. 4: Mark Leishman
  • No. 5: Jon Rahm

Off the Tee, Driving Performance?

If there is one weakness in Spieth’s game, it’s his driving. I believe that his quest for more distance, following his loss to Jason Day in the 2015 PGA Championship, has injected a two-way miss off the tee, resulting in more severe driving errors. With the help of my genius programmer, I extracted the two types of driving errors from the ShotLink data that are most frequent on Tour:

  • No Shot: A miss that requires an advancement shot to return to normal play. The average cost of this type of error in 2017 has been 74 percent of a stroke, or 0.74 strokes.
  • Penalty: A miss that causes a player to incur a penalty. The average cost this year has been 1.38 strokes.   

Note: There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball. This most severe miss is relatively rare on Tour and neither Jordan or the Other-4 had one.

As you can see in the charts below, 2015 Spieth, 2017 Spieth and the 2017 Other-4 all had just about the same frequency of driving errors, but the Spieth’s 2017 errors were much more costly (my definition of “cost” is calculated based upon the score, relative to par, recorded on the driving-error hole). As we can see, while Spieth’s frequency of errors has not increased, the severity/cost has jumped significantly: +41 percent over his 2015 average and +55 percent over the Other-4.

Jordan Spieth 2015 vs. 2017 Driving Errors

Spieth 15 vs. 17 Dr errors

*0.48/round is just under 1 driving error every 2 rounds.

 Other-4 2017 vs. Jordan Spieth 2017 Driving Errors

Spieth 17 vs 0ther-4 Dr errorsApproach Shots

This is clearly how Spieth separates himself from the rest and mitigates his less-than-stellar driving. Ranked No. 1 in this Strokes-Gained category, here are some of his impressive approach-shot numbers:

  • Strokes Gained: 0.958/round, Rank No. 1
  • Proximity to the Hole: 33-feet 8-inches, Ranked No. 8, Tour Average: 36-feet 4-inches
  • Greens in Regulation: 70.35 percent, Ranked No. 3, Tour Average: 64.94 percent, Other-4: 67.7 percent
  • Penalties Per Round: The Tour does not publish this, or any such negative numbers, but all players make them. Jordan: 0.18/round (1 every 6 rounds). Tour avg.: 0.2/round (1 every 5 rounds), Other-4: 0.15/round (1 every 7 rounds).

Short Game, Around the Green

This Tour stat includes every shot from within 30 yards of the edge of the green. Jordan is ranked No. 15. The short game is obviously one of Jordan’s strengths. We have all seen it, so I will not go into detail.

Putting

This is an extremely important skill in golf and approximately 40 percent of the game at any handicap level. Actually, it’s more than one skill; it’s two:

  1. The art of holing short putts.
  2. The precise distance control on the long putts.

While putting is a very important part of Spieth’s success, when one looks under the hood, what Jordan does so well is not what we would think. It’s his long-range distance control that separates him from the rest. Further, Spieth’s 1-Putt numbers are VERY AVERAGE.

Note, in the chart below, at each distance up to 20 feet, Spieth is either right at or literally within 1-percentage point of the 2017 Tour average. This is not at all what we would expect from a No. 1 player.

Spieth 1putt vs Tour 2017Again, below, Jordan’s 1-Putt percentages are below the Other-4 until he gets past 16 feet.

Spieth 1putt vs Oth-4 2017Spieth’s long-range excellence serves him well and in two ways:

No. 1: Fewer 3-Putts. Jordan is ranked 9th in 3-Putt Avoidance at 2.03 percent (a 3-Putt on only 2.3 percent of total greens). The Tour Average (3.16 percent) is 56 percent higher! This complements his approach-shot strength. By hitting 13+ greens each round with average proximity of 33.9 feet, Spieth is faced with a bundle of +20-foot opportunities.

No. 2: Fewer “Save” Putts. With fewer missed greens, Spieth is faced with fewer short-putting “save” opportunities, where he enjoys only average success.

Finally, a few points to support Jordan’s distance-control excellence. The numbers below are from a study that I performed for a Golf Digest article: Stats show why Spieth is a great putter (Masters issue 2016). I compared Spieth’s putting to a thorough, distance-control study that I had performed on the No. 1 Strokes-Gained putters for the prior five years (I’ll call them the FIVE #1’s below). Coincidently, it covered all putts from 20 feet and greater in the 2015 season and Spieth beat the averages of the FIVE #1’s in every key measurement.

  • Average Leave Distance: Spieth was the only player under 2 feet at 1.97 feet. The FIVE #1’s averaged 2.31 feet.
  • Percentage of 1-Putts: Spieth: 12 percent, FIVE #1’s: 7 percent
  • Percentage of 3-Putts: Spieth: 5 percent, FIVE #1’s: 8 percent
  • Percentage of Putts Holed or Past the Hole: Spieth: 69.3 percent, FIVE #1’s: 66 percent

What can we amateurs take away from all this?

No. 1: There are two important, but different, skills in putting. Understand and practice both. For more, see my GolfWRX article: Research shows golfers should spend more time practicing short putts?

No. 2: To improve as much as possible, golfers must determine the strengths and weakness of their game, because we all have them. Work to take advantage of your strengths while improving or mitigating your weaknesses.

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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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Dtrain

    Sep 23, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Also JS struggled with his putting early in the year. I’d like to see the poor rounds tossed out and compare JS to the other 4 at say their best 10 events relative to the field.

  2. Ron

    Sep 23, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Make you short putts, get close on the long putts. Brilliant insight.

  3. Joe

    Sep 22, 2017 at 7:35 am

    “Note: There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball.”

    That’s another advantage PGA pros have. Their ball usually hits a spectator or grandstand a lot of the times before it gets into any real danger!! On top of that they got so many eyes on their ball that it’s easily findable. Where us hackers can only spend “X” amount of time looking for it to keep pace of play. Pace of play is irrelevant on the tour if you’re a big name 😛

  4. Andrew

    Sep 22, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Good analysis. Unfortunately there isn’t a fleet of total stations and trackmans surveying and logging my every shot.

  5. Irma

    Sep 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    We didn’t need all this analysis, it’s fairly bloody obvious he’s bad off the tee lol

  6. Frankie

    Sep 21, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    “There is a third type of driving error, Out of Bounds/Lost Ball. This most severe miss is relatively rare on Tour and neither Jordan or the Other-4 had one.” That’s right, just disregard and ignore the fact that Jordan Spieth made a 9 on a par 5 this year by hitting back-to-back tee shots OB right…

    • Henry

      Sep 21, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      If that’s the only time he did that, I don’t think something that happened on .0006% of holes played should matter all that much. Do you?

  7. Speedy

    Sep 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Fake news.

  8. X-out

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Golf statistics are only two dimensional; they lack real-time competitive game perspective.
    IOW, they are misleading because they do not calculate what is happening on the golf course during play. Nobody can do that because the future is not predictable, particularly on a golf course in competition and the playing environment.

  9. Chris B

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    It seems that the fairways hit percent category is now the least important one of all.

  10. Mike

    Sep 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    How is the cost/error of the driving error calculated? Wouldn’t this cost be affected by the decision making/execution of subsequent shots in addition to the severity of the missed drive?

    • henry

      Sep 22, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      you cant calculate something based on a decision that he didnt make, and if whether an outside perspective thought the decision was the right one or not.

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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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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Amazing Session with Performance Coach Savannah Meyer-Clement

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In this week’s episode, we spent some time with performance coach Savannah Meyer-Clement who provides many useful insights that you’ll be able to implement on the golf course.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 RBC Heritage betting preview: Patrick Cantlay ready to get back inside winner’s circle

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Just a two-hour drive from Augusta National, the PGA TOUR heads to Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Hilton Head Island is a golfer’s paradise and Harbour Town is one of the most beautiful and scenic courses on the PGA TOUR.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a par-71 that measures 7,121 yards and features Bermuda grass greens. A Pete Dye design, the course is heavily tree lined and features small greens and many dog legs, protecting it from “bomb-and-gauge” type golfers.

The field is loaded this week with 69 golfers with no cut. Last year was quite possibly the best field in RBC Heritage history and the event this week is yet another designated event, meaning there is a $20 million prize pool.

Most of the big names on the PGA Tour will be in attendance this week with the exceptions of Hideki Matsuyama and Viktor Hovland. Additionally, Webb Simpson, Shane Lowry, Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner have been granted sponsors exemptions. 

Past Winners at Harbour Town

  • 2023: Matt Fitzpatrick (-17)
  • 2022: Jordan Spieth (-13)
  • 2021: Stewart Cink (-19)
  • 2020: Webb Simpson (-22)
  • 2019: CT Pan (-12)
  • 2018: Sotoshi Kodaira (-12)
  • 2017: Wesley Bryan (-13)
  • 2016: Branden Grace (-9)
  • 2015: Jim Furyk (-18)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Harbour Town

Let’s take a look at key metrics for Harbour Town Golf Links to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach is exceedingly important this week. The greens at Harbour Town are about half the size of PGA TOUR average and feature the second-smallest greens on the tour. Typical of a Pete Dye design, golfers will pay the price for missed greens.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.27)
  2. Tom Hoge (+1.27)
  3. Corey Conners (+1.16)
  4. Austin Eckroat (+0.95)
  5. Cameron Young (+0.93)

Good Drive %

The fairways at Harbour Town are tree lined and feature many dog legs. Bombers tend to struggle at the course because it forces layups and doesn’t allow long drivers to overpower it. Accuracy is far more important than power.

Good Drive % Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Brice Garnett (88.8%)
  2. Shane Lowry (+87.2%)
  3. Akshay Bhatia (+86.0%)
  4. Si Woo Kim (+85.8%)
  5. Sepp Straka (+85.1%)

Strokes Gained: Total at Pete Dye Designs

Pete Dye specialists tend to play very well at Harbour Town. Si Woo Kim, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson are all Pete Dye specialists who have had great success here. It is likely we see some more specialists near the top of the leaderboard this week.

SG: TOT Pete Dye per round over past 36 rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+2.27)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.24)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+2.11)
  4. Brian Harman (+1.89)
  5. Sungjae Im (+1.58)

4. Strokes Gained: Short Game (Bermuda)

Strokes Gained: Short Game factors in both around the green and putting. With many green-side bunkers and tricky green complexes, both statistics will be important. Past winners — such as Jim Furyk, Wes Bryan and Webb Simpson — highlight how crucial the short game skill set is around Harbour Town.

SG: SG Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Jordan Spieth (+1.11)
  2. Taylor Moore (+1.02)
  3. Wyndham Clark (+0.98)
  4. Mackenzie Hughes (+0.86)
  5. Andrew Putnam (+0.83)

5. Greens in Regulation %

The recipe for success at Harbour Town Golf Links is hitting fairways and greens. Missing either will prove to be consequential — golfers must be in total control of the ball to win.

Greens in Regulation % over past 24 rounds:

  1. Brice Garnett (+75.0%)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+69.9%)
  3. Corey Conners (+69.0%)
  4. Shane Lowry (+68.3%)
  5. Patrick Rodgers (+67.6%)

6. Course History

Harbour Town is a course where players who have strong past results at the course always tend to pop up. 

Course History over past 24 rounds:

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+2.34)
  2. Cam Davis (+2.05)
  3. J.T. Poston (+1.69)
  4. Justin Rose (+1.68)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (+1.59)

The RBC Heritage Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (24%), Good Drives (20%), SG: SG (14%), SG: Pete Dye (14%), GIR (14%), and Course History (14%)

  1. Shane Lowry
  2. Russell Henley
  3. Scottie Scheffler
  4. Xander Schauffele
  5. Corey Conners 
  6. Wyndham Clark
  7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  8. Matt Fitzpatrick
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Ludvig Aberg 

2024 RBC Heritage Picks

Patrick Cantlay +2000 (FanDuel)

With the exception of Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Tour has yet to have any of their star players show peak form during the 2024 season. Last week, Patrick Cantlay, who I believe is a top-5 players on the PGA Tour, took one step closer to regaining the form that’s helped him win eight events on Tour since 2017.

Cantlay limped into the Masters in poor form, but figured it out at Augusta National, finishing in a tie for 20th and ranking 17th for the week in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. The former FedEx Cup champion will now head to one of his favorite golf courses in Harbour Town, where he’s had immaculate results over the years. In his six trips to the course, he’s only finished worse than 7th one time. The other finishes include three third places (2017, 2019, 2023) and one runner-up finish (2022). In his past 36 rounds at Harbour Town, Cantlay ranks 1st in Strokes Gained: Total per round at the course by a wide margin (+2.36).

Cantlay is winless since the 2022 BMW Championship, which is far too long for a player of his caliber. With signs pointing to the 32-year-old returning to form, a “signature event” at Harbour Town is just what he needs to get back on the winning track.

Tommy Fleetwood +3000 (FanDuel)

I truly believe Tommy Fleetwood will figure out a way to win on American soil in 2024. It’s certainly been a bugaboo for him throughout his career, but he is simply too talented to go another season without winning a PGA Tour event.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, Fleetwood made a Sunday charge and ended up finishing T3 in the event, which was his best ever finish at The Masters. For the week, the Englishman ranked 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 10th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 16th in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is a perfect layout for Fleetwood, and he’s had relative success at this Pete Dye design in the past.  In his four trips to the course, he’s finished inside of the top 25 three times, with his best finish, T10, coming in 2022. The course is pretty short and can’t be overpowered, which gives an advantage to more accurate players such as Fleetwood. Tommy ranks 8th in the field in Good Drive % and should be able to plot his way along this golf course.

The win is coming for Tommy lad. I believe there’s a chance this treasure of a golf course may be the perfect one for him to finally break through on Tour.

Cameron Young +3300 (FanDuel)

Cameron Young had a solid Masters Tournament last week, which is exactly what I’m looking for in players who I anticipate playing well this week at the RBC Heritage. He finished in a tie for 9th, but never felt the pressure of contending in the event. For the week, Young ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 6th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Despite being one of the longest players off the tee on the PGA Tour, Young has actually played some really good golf on shorter tracks. He finished T3 at Harbour Town in 2023 and ranks 20th in the field in Good Drive% and 16th in Greens in Regulation in his past 24 rounds. He also has strong finishes at other shorter courses that can take driver out of a players hand such as Copperhead and PGA National.

Young is simply one of the best players on the PGA Tour in 2024, and I strongly believe has what it takes to win a PGA Tour event in the very near future.

Corey Conners +5500 (FanDuel)

Corey Conners has had a disappointing year thus far on the PGA Tour, but absolutely loves Harbour Town.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, the Canadian finished T30 but ranked 20th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. In his past 24 rounds, Conners ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 3rd in Greens in Regulation % and 24th in Good Drive %.

In Conners’ last four trips to Harbour Town, his worst finish was T31, last season. He finished T4 in 2021, T12 in 2022 and ranks 8th in Strokes Gained: Total at the course over his past 36 rounds.

Conners hasn’t been contending, but his recent finishes have been encouraging as he has finished in the top-25 in each of his past three starts prior to The Masters, including an impressive T13 at The PLAYERS. His recent improvement in ball striking as well as his suitability for Harbour Town makes Conners a high upside bet this week.

Shane Lowry (+7500) (FanDuel)

When these odds were posted after Lowry was announced in the field, I have to admit I was pretty stunned. Despite not offering much win equity on the PGA Tour over the last handful of years, Shane Lowry is still a top caliber player who has the ability to rise to the top of a signature event.

Lowry struggled to score at The Masters last week, but he actually hit the ball really well. The Irishman ranked 1st for Strokes Gained: Approach on the week and 7th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. As usual, it was the putter that let him down, as he ranked 60th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is most definitely one of Lowry’s favorite courses on the PGA Tour. In his six starts there, he’s finished in the top 10 three times, including third twice. Lowry is sensational at Pete Dye designs and ranks 7th in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds on Dye tracks. 

Lowry is perfect for Harbour Town. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 2nd in Good Drive% and 5th in Green in Regulation %. If he figures it out on the greens, Shane could have his first win in America since 2015.

Lucas Glover +12000 (FanDuel)

This is one of my weekly “bet the number” plays as I strongly believe the odds are just too long for a player of Glover’s caliber. The odds have been too long on Glover for a few weeks now, but this is the first event that I can get behind the veteran being able to actually contend at. 

Glover is quietly playing good golf and returning to the form he had after the understandable regression after his two massive victories at the end of 2023. He finished T20 at The Masters, which was his best ever finish at Augusta National. For the week, Lucas ranked 18th for Strokes Gained: Approach and 20th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Over his past 24 rounds, Glover ranks 9th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 13th in Good Drive %. Harbour Town is a short course that the 44-year-old will be able to keep up with the top players on Tour off the tee. He’s played the course more than 20 times, with mixed results. His best finishes at Harbour Town include a T7 in 2008, but recently has a finish of T21 in 2020.

Glover has proven he can contend with the stars of the Tour on any given week, and this number is flat out disrespectful.

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