As Jordan Spieth’s name was being etched onto the Claret Jug, whispers spread around the golf world as pundits and fans alike realized the 24-year-old American could win the career Grand Slam with a victory at this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
As with the U.S. Open and British Open championships, the PGA Championship moves from course to course every year, which typically makes an analytic study of how a player should do at a particular site tricky.
However, a newly remodeled Quail Hollow hosted PGA Tour events every year from 2003 through 2016, so the Tour’s ShotLink system has 14 years’ of data on shots hit by pros on the course. Spieth has played Quail Hollow only once in PGA Tour conditions – 2013 at the Wells Fargo Championship – in which he finished tied for 32nd with 69-71-75-73 on the par-72 course.
For the PGA Championship, Quail Hollow will be set up as a par-71 course, with the fifth hole, which had been one of the easiest on the course as a 570-yard par 5, being converted to a 449-yard par 4. The chart on these pages shows Spieth’s 2017 Tour strokes gained averages through July 31, as well as the season-long strokes gained averages of the past 10 PGA Tour winners heading into their victories at Quail Hollow.
Several of the past 10 winners were performing better off the tee heading into their wins than has Spieth this season. Their collective 293.2-yard driving-distance average is also slightly ahead of Spieth’s 291.7. However, the Texan ranks second this season in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
His 1.151 average is nearly a full stroke better than the past 10 winners’ average (.1785), and only one of the last 10 to win at Quail Hollow had a strokes gained: approach-the-green average higher than Spieth: Tiger Woods with 2.068 in 2007.
So if iron play and ballstriking are keys to winning this week’s PGA Championship, look for a confident Spieth to be in the mix Sunday.
“What I’ve been doing in my swing is what I’ve been trying to get to, and it takes a lot of reps for it to be the new norm and for it to be the norm when the pressure’s on,” Spieth said last week. “The shots I hit with my irons down the stretch at the British Open when (the pressure) was heightened, it was raining, it was tough conditions, were exactly what I wanted to do. And when I hit them, I’m like, man, that’s so much better than I remember doing, feeling this way in the past, which is awesome.”
Spieth is not putting as well this season as he did last year, but his strokes gained: putting average heading into this week is higher than all but two of the past 10 winners at Quail Hollow (Lucas Glover in 2011 and Sean O’Hair in 2009 were better).
Spieth still has a reputation as an elite putter, but he has proved he can be successful without being the best on the greens. When he won the Travelers Championship in June, he finished 30th for the week in strokes gained: putting Stars such as Woods, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have won at Quail Hollow, and so have lesser-known players such as Derek Ernst.
Glover won in Charlotte with a strokes gained putting average for the week of 10.371, but O’Hair won averaging -3.291. Anthony Kim ranked second in strokes gained: approach the green for the week when he won at Quail Hollow, but James Hahn ranked 42nd. Spieth’s solid all-around game, with a foundation built on elite play from the fairway and solid putting, should match up well with Quail Hollow.
And just about every other course, too.
(Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 7, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)