By the numbers: Irons key for Spieth

By the numbers: Irons key for Spieth

PGA Tour

By the numbers: Irons key for Spieth

This story originally appeared in the July 31 digital issue of Golfweek.

Jordan Spieth was known to be a fantastic putter long before he rolled in his 4-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole at Royal Birkdale, then jarred a 50-foot eagle putt on the 15th to regain the lead, then dropped a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 16 in the final round of the British Open.

The recently turned 24-year-old has won three times this season, and his putting gets a lot of credit for those wins. But it’s the Texan’s improved ballstriking that is setting up his great second half of the season.

Spieth said in his news conference before the British Open that he was aware some parts of this game have improved since his monster 2015 season, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open, while others have not.

“I haven’t been making as many putts as I did that year this year,” he said. “I’ve struck the ball better than I did in ‘15. I’ve actually been in better position. If you took hole by hole, I’ve been in a better position tee to green than I was that year. If I putted the same as ‘15, I’d be having a better year right now. It’s hard to do. I think I was top three, top five in strokes gained: putting in ‘15 and ‘16, and this year we’re just a little down, but we’re close.”

As the chart included with this story shows, Spieth is correct. While his strokes gained: putting and short game averages have dropped slightly, he has improved by more than a full shot in strokes gained: approach the green, going from .145 last season to 1.151. That means over the course of a 72-hole event, Spieth is almost four-and-a-half shots better than the average PGA Tour player from the fairway.

Spieth has never been as long off the tee as some elite players such as Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. He averages 291.4 yards per tee shot this season, which ranks 98th on the PGA Tour, and he hits just 59.6 percent of the fairways (121st). However, when it comes to hitting greens in regulation, Spieth has been a machine in hitting 70.67 percent, which ranks fifth. He has also made a huge jump in proximity to the hole, going from 35 feet 8 inches last season (91st on Tour) to 32 feet 11 inches (third).

As a result, Spieth is giving himself more birdie chances by hitting more greens in regulation, and those chances involve shorter putts on average. But the real key is Spieth is one of the most opportunistic players on Tour. There is a stat called Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage that tracks how often a player makes birdie or eagle after hitting the green in regulation. Justin Thomas ranks first in that category (38.08 percent), and Spieth is second (35.82 percent).

Spieth is still a good putter who has a knack for being clutch, but it is his overlooked iron play that has become the foundation of his game and success in 2017.

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