Pro Golf: The PGA’s Big Three

Jordan Spieth

What an incredible year it has been for the young 22 year old who is the new face of American golf. One major is an incredible year, but two of them is unbelievable.  That wire-to-wire victory at the Masters was the most impressive win of the season, and the most impressive at the Augusta National Golf Club since Tiger won by 12 strokes in 1997.

Spieth in his new green jacket after winning his first major at the Augusta National Golf Club back in April
Spieth in his new green jacket after winning his first major at the Augusta National Golf Club back in April. (Photo from New York Daily News)

Next, he goes to Chambers Bay, Washington and adds a U.S. Open trophy to that Green Jacket, and suddenly you have the golf world buzzing about a potential grand slam.  It wasn’t to be, but he came about as close as you could as he finished just a shot out of the playoff at the Open Championship and was a whopping 17-under-par at the PGA Championship and still lost by three strokes to Jason Day, finishing in solo second.

The kid is for real.  When you add in two other PGA Tour wins at the Valspar Championship and at the John Deere Classic, while also leading the FedEx Cup by a whopping 1700 points when the regular season came to a close, you have yourself the frontrunner for Player of The Year.  I see no reason to think he won’t be contending for majors his entire career.

Jordan Spieth holds up the trophy after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay back in June. (Photo from AP)
Jordan Spieth holds up the trophy after winning the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay back in June. (Photo from AP)

The strange thing about Spieth is that if you watch him play, there is nothing that will really impress you.  He doesn’t hit it a mile like the Bubba Watson’s and Dustin Johnson’s of the world.  He doesn’t drive it straight either as he is ranked outside the top 80 in driving accuracy.  He is even outside the top 40 in greens in regulation.

Yet it is his performance around the green is where Spieth makes his money.  He is the best lag putter on tour since he averages less than two feet from the hole on all first putts.  Many players and experts will also tell you he is the best mid-range putter in the game, and maybe the best ever.  He makes an unreal 28 percent of putts from 20-25 feet. The one area he does struggle with is putting from 4-8 feet, where he ranks only 120th on tour.

What sets him apart on the short putts is that he has started a new trend on tour by looking at the hole and not at the ball.  He says he does it by feel, which might explain why he can sometimes be inconsistent from that range.  If you also throw in the fact that Spieth and Zach Johnson are widely considered to be the best wedge players in the game, you can see how he has been able to play so well in his early career without having that sheer power off the tee.

He leads the tour, as you might expect, in scoring average.  He is also second in birdie or better percentage and is first in par-4 scoring average.  The only thing that really matters though is the score, and the bottom line is he knows how to put the ball in the hole.

His best attribute, however, is his mental game.  Some would say it is Tiger-like.  When Tiger was at his peak, not only did he have the physical game to beat you, but his mental game made other players think they couldn’t beat him.  Spieth is approaching that same mental advantage. The leaders all know when he is lurking.

Not many players you will watch will get more upset with themselves on a poorly executed shot than Spieth, but he plays better after that.  He usually bounces back from a bogey with a birdie the very next hole.  We have seen it time and time again this year. He plays his best when he gets fired up.  That mental strength gives him an edge in the biggest events of the year when the pressure is the highest.

Spieth also has a career in commentating.  The commentators covering the event on TV don’t need to say anything after he hits, because Spieth will tell you exactly how he feels about the shot.  The microphones pick up everything he says.  He is a pro at talking to his golf ball, and most of the time it will listen to him.  Check out this clip from Sunday at the Masters.

Spieth will look to carry the momentum of this season for the ages into the last three FedEx Cup Playoff events beginning in Boston with the Deutsche Bank Championship, and take home the FedEx Cup trophy along with $10 million.

 

Jason Day

He picked up his first career major victory at the last major of the season, the PGA Championship.  It was very well deserved, and well overdue.  This guy has played so well in majors the past three years or so, it was bound to happen at some point.

Jason Day celebrates with the Wanamaker trophy after winning his first major at the PGA Championship in Kohler, WI. (Photo from USA Today)
Jason Day celebrates with the Wanamaker trophy after winning his first major at the PGA Championship in Kohler, WI. (Photo from USA Today)

His season has been impressive to say the least, as he has added three other PGA Tour wins at Torrey Pines in February, the RBC Canadian Open just a week after finishing just one shot out of a playoff at the Open Championship, and he followed up his PGA championship victory with an impressive six stroke victory at the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs being the Barclays Tournament.

The PGA Championship win was an absolute manhandling of the intimidating Whistling Straits, as he finished at 20-under-par, which is a major championship record for lowest score in relation to par.  Every facet of his game was on point as he was unleashing 350+ yard drives regularly, which left him wedges on most holes to be able to control his approaches into the greens. Every putt he struck would at least scare the hole.  It was, as second place finisher Jordan Spieth said, ”A clinic.” Spieth would also go on to say, “There was nothing I could do.”

Unlike Spieth, Jason Day is long…really long.  He is third on tour in driving distance, only trailing Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, so there is nothing to be ashamed of there.  However, nobody hits the ball higher than Jason Day.  This allows Day to carry bunkers over 300 yards on his tee shots. This height, more importantly, allows him to stop his ball on the green better than anyone else on tour.  He has a huge advantage in low winds, but it tends to be a disadvantage in high winds because there will be more time for the wind to affect his ball in the air.  To his credit, he has figured out how to control his trajectory much better as he has aged, which is part of the reason he was in contention at the Open Championship in Scotland where we see gusts of 30+ miles per hour.

With more long drives, it gives Day more opportunities with shorter clubs in his hands on second shots, which is part of the reason he is number one on tour in birdie or better percentage.  He is also top 10 in par-3, par-4, and par-5 scoring average.

Day’s length overshadows his great putting ability.  He is second in putting average, and is second in putting outside of 25 feet.  He also ranks sixth in scrambling.  His putting is the primary reason for his current hot streak.  He has always had the distance and now he is mixing in an extremely confident putting stroke.  He would say after his six stroke victory at the Barclays, “I feel like Jordan Spieth, the way I’m putting.”

Day seems like he has been around forever, but the Australian is just 27 years old and has yet to enter his prime golf years.  Talent-wise, this is a guy that has the ability to win eight or more major championships.  His problem will be Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and a host of other outstanding players.  It’s so difficult to win majors these days, because there are so many more quality players than in any other time in golf history.  Maybe getting over that hump and winning his first major will open the floodgates for Day to rack up a few more in the coming years.  There is no question he has the game to do it.

Day will look to continue his hot streak in the last three events in the FedEx Cup playoffs and pick up a couple more wins. More importantly, he wants to take home that FedEx Cup trophy.  If he does add a few more wins, that Player of The Year vote will be closer than many of us thought after the PGA Championship.

 

Rory McIlroy

It’s too bad that an ankle injury while playing soccer derailed what was shaping up to be a pretty good season.  McIlory had won twice in 2015, one at the Well Fargo Championship and one at the WGC-Match Play event in San Francisco, before the ankle injury.

A picture posted to social media by Rory McIlroy after he injured his ankle playing soccer with some friends
A picture posted to social media by Rory McIlroy after he injured his ankle playing soccer with some friends

It would have been hard to duplicate what he did in 2014 where he won the last two majors of the year, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, while also mixing in one more World Golf Championships win in the middle at Firestone.  That stretch allowed him to open up a massive lead in the official world golf rankings. If Rory had not suffered the injury, he probably would have had a great chance at taking home one or both of the last two majors of the year.  Unfortunately, he missed the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship was his first event back from injury, so it was hard to expect him to really contend.

When Rory is at the top of his game, he is the most dominant golfer in the game today.  He truly has everything.  He is able to hit the ball so far even though he is only 5’ 9’’ and is listed at 160 pounds.  It’s crazy how he gets it out there.  That distance allows him to have many wedge opportunities, which will make for closer approaches.

He also hits his long irons high and that allows him to stop the ball more quickly on the greens.  When he is really on, his putter is dialed in.  He is almost the opposite of Jordan Spieth, where Spieth is an amazing mid to long putter, McIlroy is a great short range putter and he seems to make every clutch putt he needs.

This is a guy who has won four major championships, and two of them by an incredible eight shots each.  He is also very young at just 26 years old and has yet to reach his golfing prime years.  He could very easily reach double digit major championships and get close to Tiger Woods at 14 majors.  Like I said before, with all these great young players, winning majors will be a tough task.

Rory McIlroy celebrates with Wanamaker trophy after taking home his fourth career major at the 2014 PGA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo from al.com)
Rory McIlroy celebrates with the Wanamaker trophy after taking home his fourth career major at the 2014 PGA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo from al.com)

McIlroy will try to cap off his season on a positive note by possibly adding a couple more wins, and of course that FedEx Cup trophy he has yet to attain in his career.

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