Jordan Spieth’s Iron Play Fuels Early Success
At the end of 2016, Jordan Spieth used statistical analysis to identify his iron play as an area that had trended downward in 2016. Spieth was still one of the best in the world in 2016 – winning twice and narrowly missing out on his second straight green jacket – but the approach play that fueled his historic two-major season in 2015 went missing. Spieth ranked 11th best in the PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained: Approach stat in 2015, but only 87th in 2016 (the lowest of his four seasons on tour).
Digging deeper, we can see Spieth mainly declined in 2016 on approach shots outside of 125 yards (short iron & long iron shots), while surging on medium and lag putts (putts from 12-30 feet and 30+ feet).
The graph above shows where a golfer stands versus the rest of the PGA Tour in each statistical area. A player who is +1.00 standard deviations is better than about 85% of the tour, while someone who is pushing +3.00 standard deviations (like Spieth’s medium putting) is producing all-time great numbers. The graph also shows the direction that each element of the player’s game has moved since the previous year. So Spieth has declined in the areas highlighted orange and improved in the areas highlighted green.
Four tournaments into the new year and Spieth’s approach game focus is really paying off. While he’s made modest advances in two areas of putting and driving (and actually slipped around the greens), his iron play has improved enormously. Of all players with at least 30 short iron shots played from Kapalua onward, Spieth ranks 6th best on tour. He ranks 2nd best on long iron shots using the same criteria. So far, Spieth’s iron play has looked much more like the 2015 vintage, which is bad news for the rest of the tour heading into the meat of the season.