Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Analysis of Jaime Diaz on Jordan Spieth

Here's an article on Golf Digest from Jaime Diaz and his analysis of Jordan Spieth's game and why he thinks that his game will make it tough to sustain for a lengthy period of time.

For starters, I have no real problem with this article from Diaz.  It's not a hatchet job nor is he tying to say something outlandish for the sake of grabbing Web site clicks (or ratings) which many sports writers tend to do.  It's an interesting subject (can Spieth sustain great success?) and he backs up his opinion with some well thought out facts.

The problem is that Diaz is not an educated and trained statistical analyst and it leads to some questionable conclusions from him.  Not to worry, it happens.  I'm more or less happy that people are using metrics which helps popularize a more accurate way of analyzing golf instead of using conjecture, ill-founded theories and myths.

Whereas Woods, for example, borrowed from golf’s tried-and-true formula for being a dominant player -- kill the par 5s, effectively shrinking par 72s to par 68s -- Spieth doesn’t have the power to rely on those kinds of easy birdies. Although he was first on the PGA Tour in percentage of birdie or better on par 4s, and second in that category on par 3s, he was 39th on par 5s.

The 'tried-and-true formula for being a dominant player' is to kill the par-4's...not the par-5's.  And that's exactly what Tiger did in his prime.  Here's a look at Tiger's par-4 scoring average rankings over his prime:

1997: 6th
1998: 12th
1999: 2nd
2000: 1st
2001: 9th
2002: 2nd
2003: 51st
2004: 3rd
2005: 1st
2006: 1st
2007: 1st

This is because Par-4 Scoring average has the strongest correlation to Adjusted Scoring Average than any of the other major scoring metric, far stronger than Par-5 scoring average.  That's because the Tour averages roughly 10.5 to 10.9 par-4's played per round.  Furthermore, par-4 play epitomizes the entire game of the golfer whereas Par-5 play is very much distance off the tee biased.  

Spieth’s way of going consistently low suggests sleight of hand. He’s not long (ranked 78th in driving distance with an average of 291.8 yards), nor particularly straight (80th in hitting fairways), and doesn’t hit a ton greens (49th). But Spieth still managed to finish fourth in strokes gained tee to green, which was even better than his rank (8th) in strokes gained putting.

There is some 'sleight of hand', but it's different than Diaz presents it.

For starters, Spieth is effectively longer than Diaz is giving him credit for.  Diaz is using the old measured driving distance which measures only 2 drives a round.  While it is still a valuable metric, a more valuable metric is Driving Distance - All Drives which are all drives measured by the ShotLink laser.

In Driving Distance - All Drives Spieth ranks 43rd in driving distance instead of 78th in measured drives.  So he is effectively longer because he uses the 'sleight of hand' of not laying up.  And that's part of the reason why he does not hit a ton of fairways; he's not laying up very often.

Also, Diaz's metrics do not consider the difficulty of the courses that Spieth plays when it comes to tee shots.  Spieth ended up ranking 23rd in Driving Effectiveness out of 184 players this season.  So he's not truly long with the driver, but he makes up for it by not laying up on the par-4's and is still a great driver of the ball and uses that driving to dominate the par-4's which is far more important than dominating the par-5's.

To me, Spieth’s best qualities evoke athletes from other sports. At the moment, his putting is eerily good. He led in several putting categories, but the stat that resonates most is his conversion rate of better than 25 percent on putts between 15 and 25 feet -- first on tour by a lot. 
This is Diaz's best argument, but it's marred by misleading terminology.  Yes, Spieth ranked 1st in make percentage from 15-25 feet.  But, leading by 'a lot' is misleading as Spieth made 27.19% of his putts from 15-25 feet while Jamie Donaldson finished second at 26.26%.  That's a difference of only 0.93%.

With that being said, putts from 15-25 feet is often a 'volatile' metric for most Tour players.  Most Tour players that putt well from 15-25 feet will be just as likely to putt poorly from 15-25 feet the next season and vice versa.  However, the top notch and bottom rung putters on Tour tend to have some consistency in their performance from 15-25 feet.  The top notch putters tend to consistently putt well from 15-25 feet and the bottom run players tend to consistently putt poorly from 15-25 feet.  So, one could argue that Spieth is a top notch putter overall and could consistently putt well from 15-25 feet.  On the other hand, my projections show a drop in putts made from 15-25 feet simply because over the years the leader from 15-25 feet has been more around 22%, not 27%+.  

It’s an ability that currently separates him from his peers in the same way NBA MVP Stephen Curry has separated from his.
I prefer to look at Spieth's ability to make such a high percentage of par putts from 5-15 feet and then his ability to make those birdie putts from 15-25 feet.  That's clutch golf.

Magical periods of putting among the game’s very best tend not to last beyond a few seasons, as Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson can attest. Even Woods, who made more bombs over a longer stretch than anyone, has seen his putting decline.

Trevino and Watson were unworldly, all-time great ballstrikers.  Watson had to develop the yips in order to see a 'dropoff' in his play and he still almost won a 6th British Open at the age of 60 years old despite playing with the yips.  And Watson was long.  I don't recall anybody ever claiming Trevino was a great putter.  Everybody that watched Palmer says he was incredibly long and I'm guessing that he was an incredible iron player.  Why?  Because every dominant player on Tour has been a great iron player during their dominance, just like Spieth.  Unless Spieth develops the yips, it's not a fair comparison to put him side-by-side with Palmer, Trevino and Watson.  And I think Palmer and Watson's putting woes were likely due in part to the changes in turf grass on the greens which worked better with the pop strokes that Palmer and Watson had.  That being said, that's pure speculation on my part.

Diaz has something with pointing out to power and longevity on Tour as well as the longer putting performance.  But the 'tried and true way to dominance' on Tour is to strike the ball well and putt well.  If you're super long, you can putt a little worse and be a little more offline.  Even Tiger had clearly his best seasons from 1999-2000 where he drove the ball extremely well.  The latter dominant years under Haney were filled with some awful driving, but he made it up with possibly the greatest era of iron play in the history of the game...and great putting.  

My projections for Spieth are great.  While his club speed is a hair below average, his ball speed is above average.  And he dominates the 'old fashioned' doing everything extremely well (driving, approach shots, short game and putting).  While one could argue him not being able to sustain the putting from 15-25 feet, it's unreasonable to argue his performance in every facet of the game.  He dominates because he is really, Really, REALLY great at every part of the game.  And he's only 22 years old so he's likely to become stronger and develop more club speed over time and probably won't start to see a dip on that club speed until he's about 35 years old.

What will curb his era of greatness is injuries, changing his golf swing and changing his body in hopes of creating more power.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Odds and Ends with Initial PGA Tour Analysis

The 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis e-book is scheduled to come out in December.  With the Tour's 2014-2015 season ending, I've compiled the data and done some initial analysis on Tour.  Here's some things I found.

- Will Wilcox had the easiest schedule on Tour when it came to driving the ball and the hardest schedule on Tour when it came to the Short Game.  Furthermore, nobody in the top-125 on the Money List played in smaller purse size events than Wilcox.  Interesting season for sure.

- Highest smash factor this year?  Ryan Palmer.

- Most aggressive driver of the ball (lays up the least often to their comparable distance off the tee)?  Matt Every.  Least aggressive?  Henrik Stenson (obviously).  2nd least aggressive?  Graham DeLaet.

- Most aggressive par-5 player (going for par-5's in two shots instead of laying up comparable to distance off the tee, hit fairway % and performance from 225-275 yards)?  Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. 

- Least aggressive on the par-5's? Stewart Cink.

- Not one player made a higher percentage of birdie putts from 5-15 feet compared to par putts from 5-15 feet.  Two players came close...Charlie Beljan (0.81% difference) and Andrew Svoboda (0.88% difference).

- The player whose approach shot performance regressed the least when hitting shots from the rough vs. the fairway was Martin Flores.  The player with the greatest regression on shots from the rough versus fairway was Chris Kirk.

- Dustin Johnson had the least amount of Red Zone (175-225 yards) shot attempts per round (4.222).

- Rookie Patrick Rodgers lead the Tour in hang time with the driver at 7.2000 seconds. 

- The play on Tour seemed noticeably better overall this year.  More players bunched up at the top.  Congratulations Jason Day!  You won 5 events this year including a major...but you STILL do not win the Player of the Year award and rightfully so.  That's how good the play was out there. 

My thinking?

I think that the driving as a whole has improved tremendously.  I think driving on Tour went on a downward spiral from around 2004 to 2012 and is now starting to become relevant again.  One can still win an event by hitting it all over the place if they are long enough (i.e.. Rickie Fowler at TPC Boston this year), but the new wave of players hit the ball long and accurately. 

While I have had my criticisms of Trackman/FlightScope, I think it has been beneficial in Tour driving.  Obviously, I can't see the Attack Angles on the Tour's Web site, but I do see other important radar metrics that give a good indication of what is going on out there.  I think we are seeing less players really crashing down on the driver.  We still have our Rickie Barnes' and Trevor Immelman's that appear to hit well down on the driver in competition, but it seems to be far less prevalent than it was 5 years ago. 

And the players are starting to manage their spin rates much better.  When the launch monitors came out and were saying that EVERYBODY should hit up on the driver, it was producing a lot of very low spin rate drivers of the ball.  This season there were more players getting that spin rate in a manageable range of 2,400 to 2,800 rpm's. 

The top 8 players on the Money List had 7 of those players finish in the top-17 in Driving Effectiveness.  You can win these days and drive it poorly, but it's entirely harder to do than it was just a few years ago.

- Who said club speed doesn't matter?

The average club speed at East Lake was 116.1 mph.  For the year, the Tour average is 113.5 mph.  Not just a coincidence that the top-30 on Tour also hit the ball quite far.

-  Over the years, I have discussed the '4 Cornerstones of the Game' which are the following:

Driving Effectiveness
Red Zone Play (175-225 yards)
Short Game shots from 10-20 yards
Putting from 3-15 feet

All a player has to do is finish at the average or better and they are very likely to have a tremendous season.

The players that accomplished that were:

Justin Rose
Jim Furyk
Jordan Spieth
Henrik Stenson
Hideki Matsuyama
Jason Day
Justin Thomas
Bubba Watson
Rickie Fowler
Keegan Bradley
David Lingmerth
John Senden
Jerry Kelly
Ryan Palmer
Kevin Kisner
J.B. Holmes
Kevin Chappell

That's a median earnings of $3,732,664!

However, I decided to see if I could tweak it further and came up with a '5th Cornerstone' to Tour success and changed one of the cornerstones:

Driving Effectiveness
Red Zone Play (175-225 yards)
Short Game Shots from 10-20 yards
Putting from 5-15 feet (was 3-15 feet)
Ball Speed

Here are the players that accomplished that feat:

Henrik Stenson
Ryan Palmer
Bubba Watson
Keegan Bradley
Jordan Spieth
Kevin Chappell
Justin Rose
Jason Day
Justin Thomas
J.B. Holmes
Hideki Matsuyama
Rickie Fowler

Their median earnings for the season was $4,396,250.

Not too shabby.

More to come...



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview with Tony Wright

Here's an interview I did on clubmaker Tony Wright's podcast where we discuss statistics and MOI matching:


Monday, September 28, 2015

Strategy at Whistling Straits with Steve Elkington

Here's a series of videos from Steve Elkington going over how he would play the last 3 holes at Whistling Straits:

What's great about these videos is more of the mentality of Elkington once he figures out the strategy he wants to employ.

For instance, on the 16th hole he has figured out where he wants to aim his drive and he says:

Immediately, that tells me that I don't want to go anywhere else.  That's out (points to the water on the left) and that's out (points to the waste area to the right).  I'm just going to beeline at the green bush up there to play the hole.

Elkington acknowledges the trouble, but has focused solely on the target.  And as Dr. Bhrett McCabe has said 'good focus is when you focus on one thing and nothing else matters.'  Elk has done that by saying 'I don't want to go anywhere else' then he aims and fires at the target.  This beats the golfer that is overly worried about the water, aims well right of the green bush and tries to hit a draw.  The focus is still divided in that situation and usually what happens is the golfer will miss well right.  Elkington sees where he wants to hit the ball and gives himself a good chance to hit a great tee shot.

On the 18th hole he knows his distances, about 290 yards to run out of fairway by aiming at those 3 pine trees.  He then says 'I don't really need to know much more than that on this hole.'  Elk then points to other various parts of the yardage book on the hole...but goes back to all he really needs to concern himself is with the line to the 3 pine trees because that's where he wants to be.

Elkington is one of the best drivers of the ball in the past 30 years on Tour.  And while mechanics and strategy are helpful to great driving, you still need a healthy psychological attitude and focus to drive the ball great and that's what Elk has.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Search for Flatstick Nirvana - Part IV (9.8.15)

Part I

Part II

Part III

Whenever I’m learning something new in golf and trying to improve, I find that it works best if I can determine why I was successful in the past and why I was unsuccessful in the past.

First, I wanted to get into basics of putting. Not only working on some basic principles of the stroke (particularly focusing on the launch direction), but getting a very ‘basic’ looking putter.

I was looking for an Anser style head, with a head weight of 350-360 grams, with a standard offset plumber’s neck along with an alignment line in the flange and a something that was 35 inches long. I also wanted something in a black head.

With that, I purchased a TaylorMade Ghost Daytona Black Tour putter.

The TM Ghost Daytona Black Tour putter is spec’d at 355 grams of putter head weight, but the putter head actually measured in at 357 grams (usually there is a +/- 2 gram tolerance for head weight for OEM’s). I had the lie angle at 71* with the putter being 35” long.

However, looks isn’t the only thing that matters for me, I’m also interested in feel. And that is not only about contact feel, but the heft of the putter and the grip. I was a big fan of the old Wilson 8802 putter I had (once again, it was stolen out of my bag one day and I could never find another replacement that felt like it). What I knew about the 8802 was that it had a head weight of around 335 grams. The shaft, raw and un-cut was about 125 grams and the leather Neumann grip was about 60 grams.

That creates a shaft+grip to putter head weight of about 55%:

(60 gram grip weight + 125 gram un-cut shaft weight) / 335 gram head weight = 55%

Today’s putters have much heavier head weights, but the shaft weight has stayed the same. And if you want the same grip, the grip stays the same. So with that, the Daytona Ghost Tour Black would have a shaft+grip to putter head weight of 51%:

(60 gram grip weight + 125 gram un-cut shaft weight) / 357 gram head weight = 51%

A lot of companies are going to a counterbalancing method and it has worked wonders for some golfers. My issue is that there is too much of the weight being put on the grip end instead of being more evenly distribute thru the shaft. So I was more interested in seeing how a heavier shaft would play out instead of counterbalancing the putter. With that, I decided to take a look at the Nippon putter shaft. They have 2 models, a 136 gram and 149 gram model. I chose the 136 gram because along with the GripMaster USA leather grip (weighs 62 grams), it would get the balance of the shaft+grip versus putter head weight to 55%.

I also decided to purchase the old Ping B61 putter off of eBay. I wanted to remove the head so I could see what the components weighed. Only one problem…the old Ping putters had a ball bearing at the tip of the shaft to keep the shaft in place and I couldn’t remove it. I sent it to the PGA Tour Superstore where they informed me about the ball bearing in place and they couldn’t remove the head either. I was told to send it to Ping if I want the head removed.

I then started practicing more with the Pelz Putting Tutor and found that I was more likely to hit it thru the marble gate with the Ping B61 than the TaylorMade Ghost putter. The problem with the B61 was the following:

-  It felt too light
-  It’s old and a little nicked up
-  It doesn’t have the greatest contact feel

However, it was launching the ball in the best direction. The TaylorMade Ghost putter had a nicer feel and I really like the feel of the leather grip. This led me to conclude that I like a firmer feeling putter grip with some tack to it. Makes sense as I could never get into those spongier grips like Winn or SuperStroke.

And I liked the feel of the Nippon putter shaft. But, I think in the end between how light the Ping B61 putter felt, the Wilson 8802 being only 335 grams in head weight and the hosels of the 8802 and B61 being more towards the heel…I started to see that I performed better with lighter putter heads and the hosel more towards the heel.

I still continued to work with the TaylorMade Ghost putter. And I still had some issues with using that putter and using the Putting Tutor aid. Mainly, I would tend to close the putter face and/or yank the putter head inward right at impact instead of moving the putter head right down the line.

I did notice that my eyes were not over the ball with the putter. I had discussed some of this with golf instructor and friend, Justin Blazer ( and how that affects aiming. I’m not a big fan of making it mandatory to have the eyes over the ball putting. I tend to concur with Geoff Mangum on the eyeballs should be pointing in the same direction as the person’s face. But, I started to conclude that for me and my putting stroke, I was better off having the eyes over the ball. Thankfully, the Putting Tutor has lines that help you figure out if you’re too close or too far away from the ball.

I started to lean the torso over more to get the eyes over the ball and my performance on the Putting Tutor improved quite a bit. The problem was taking it out to the course as I started to hit putts off the toe more often. It doesn’t help that this is the worst time for golf course conditions in the state of Florida because of the humidity and the rain. But, the search for flatstick nirvana continued…


Friday, September 4, 2015 with Scott Fawcett

Here's an introductory video from Scott Fawcett and his service at

Scott was a former mini-tour player who has qualified for the US Open.  He works with many golfers such as Will Zalatoris and US Amateur Champion Bryson DeChambeau.

I talked with Scott at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show and was very impressed with his DECADE Scoring System as the general philosophy matches what I've seen analyzing holes on Tour.  Scott's system can go much more into detail for particular courses than I can and he also appears to have some interesting work being done in mastering the pre-shot routine.

I like his phrase about golf being a game where you are shooting a shotgun, not a sniper rifle.  Unfortunately, most golfers...even PGA Tour players...take the sniper's approach despite having a shotgun in their hand.  If they are not certain they can hit a specific target, often times because the rest of the field is avoiding trying to hit that shot, they will avoid hitting that shot as well.  But, in the end that costs them valuable strokes if in all likelihood they would hit their 'shotgun' into good position.

Recently, I conducted some research that I will be putting in 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis (should be out in December 2015) and what I've found is that this is a game where golfers are predisposed to loss aversion and have to overcome it to create a gain bias.  It's the old "playing to win" versus "playing not to lose."  And I think Scott's DECADE Scoring System gives the golfer the tools to understand how to play to win.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Search for Flatstick Nirvana - Part III (9.3.15)

In part III, I wanted to discuss the actual flatstick because this is what The Search for Flatstick Nirvana is about…finding Billy Baroo.

After starting out with your typical beginner blade style putter, I then purchased the old Ping Anser model.

It’s funny how times change with putters. When the Anser first came into popularity, there were a lot of golfers that eschewed the looks of the Anser design as being ‘ugly.’ Now, every putter manufacturer has their own Anser model. That’s probably where Karsten Solheim’s brilliance has gone most underappreciated, he essentially came up with the majority of today’s putter designs. Outside of the mallet style/high MOI putters, there has been very little in the way of new putter designs from what Solheim created decades ago.

I decided to purchase an Anser style design for now. I wanted something ‘neutral’ in terms of alignment and fitting a putting stroke pattern. So, I wanted 1 alignment line in the flange with a plumber’s neck. I wanted a fairly ‘neutral’ weight (not too light, not too heavy) and was looking for something in the 350-355 gram head weight range. I also wanted something that was 35” long. In the end, I settled on the TaylorMade Ghost Daytona Tour Black putter.

I also wanted to go back to the putters I have used over the years and take a look at the design features that seemed to work for me. As part of my failure as a human being, I pretty much remember every putter I have owned:

Ping Anser (original model)

MacGregor Response ZT

Ping B61

Ping My Day

Ping Zing

Wilson 8802

Ram Zebra

Odyssey putter (old, can't remember the model name, first line of Odyssey putters to come out)

Mizuno Scotty Cameron M-200 The Reason

Tad Moore Custom

Dave Pelz 3-Ball

Ping Anser 2.5

Ping Pal 2

Founders Club Tour Tuned Stand Putter

Cleveland Classic (Zing 2 style model)

Mizuno Bettinardi C-06

Yes! Victoria II

Edel Columbia

Edel Columbia Belly Putter

YAR Golf

Bettinardi Kuchar Model 2 ArmLock Putter

I putted best with the Wilson 8802, the Ping B61 and the Tad Moore custom putter (a friend of mine had it for a week and sold it to me. It was a custom design with a hosel that looked more like Ping B61 hosel.

The plan I usually have is to figure out why I performed well at a certain time in the past and why I performed poorly at a certain time in the past. So, I hope to find out why I putted better with the Ping B61, the Tad Moore and Wilson 8802.