Taking a deep dive into what went wrong with Jordan Spieth in the 2018 PGA Tour season
The three-time major champion didn't win for the first time since 2014
Jordan Spieth is not graded on the same curve as his peers. You know this, I know this and he knows this. The three-time major winner appears to be a generational talent, and generational talents are expected to win PGA Tour tournaments every single year.
Spieth didn't win in 2018, and his closest call was actually a wild long shot. He shot a 64 in the final round of the Masters and despite a near miracle final round, he finished third behind Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler. His year got worse from there. Spieth only had one more top 10 the rest of the season -- a T9 at the Open Championship, where he played in the final pairing on Sunday -- and never really sniffed a win.
"It was a building year," Spieth reasoned at this week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. "I look back at last year as something that I think will be beneficial for me in the long run. I really believe that. I know that's an easy thing to say looking at kind of the positive in a negative, but there were tangible, mechanical things that I needed to address, and I was able to throughout the season.
"Unfortunately, I had to play so much, like I said, towards the end that I couldn't really get it intact. So I stepped on the first tee knowing that I was playing a C-game instead of figuring where my game is at through the first couple rounds."
It's easy to look at his wins (0) and top 10s (5) and assess that it went a little sideways for somebody as talented as Spieth, but I wanted to dive a little deeper and look exactly where it went wrong. So I took a look at his stats from three seasons. First, his historic 2015 season where he won five times including two majors. Then his 2017 season where he won three times including a major (this is sort of a realistic benchmark for him, I think). Lastly, his 2018 season. No wins, no majors.
Jordan Spieth Strokes Gained
Off the tee
Approach the green
Around the green
What we see is probably what we all thought we'd see. Spieth stunk with the putter. In 2017, he ranked No. 39 on the PGA Tour in putting, and he dropped nearly 100 spots this season. While his approach shots and work around the greens didn't help, it was his putter that really held him back from being competitive.
"It wasn't the strong suit of my game," Spieth said. "... I wasn't sure exactly what it was. A lot of it was mechanical. A bit of mental because of the mechanical, but ... when I'm kind of back into the same positioning, the same look, the same timing, same stroke feel that I've had for the last five, ten years, minus a bit last season, then my confidence is probably as high as anybody's on the greens. (Last year's putting stats were) certainly not ideal, to answer your question, last year's putting stats. But necessary for elongated peak performance going forward."
However, Spieth also noted this week that it's actually the rest of his game that he's been pouring time into. He felt that even though the stats showed a marked decline in putting, it was his iron play and driving that got worse as the year went on, whereas his short game got better.
"I think if you look at the trend, say second half of the season on, my short game started to get better but the long game progressively fell," Spieth said.
"I knew I had more work to continue on the short game, but needed to address a bit of the long game as well. To be honest, my rookie season I think was my best statistical driving season. I think I ranked in the top 15 in strokes gained off the tee. I hit it five yards further now, yet have not sniffed a top 15 in that category. That's a goal."
It's a worthy goal. The best drivers (and best ball-strikers) on the PGA Tour are traditionally among the highest earners and win the most tournaments. Spieth won't be doing any of that, though, if the putting doesn't get at least a little bit better.
Spieth started the year ranked No. 2 in the world, and since then he's fallen to No. 13 -- one spot ahead of Tiger Woods (who started the season ranked No. 656). All it takes is one tournament, though. One event that clicks everything back into place. He knows that as well as anyone.
"I can look at '14 into '15 and sit there and say, 'You know, the second I get disappointed in dropping whatever seven, eight spots in a world ranking, by August of the next year I was back to No. 1 in the world off one season.' That can happen again. You know, it's quickly how things can kind of turn and change when you get a little momentum."
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