Jordan Spieth took the golf world by storm in 2015, when as a 22-year-old, he won five times on the PGA Tour, had ten top-3 finishes, and finished in the top-4 of all four majors, including wins at the Masters and the U.S. Open.
With that success came comparisons to Tiger Woods, who also dominated the PGA Tour at a young age. However, while Spieth is clearly one of the best golfers on the PGA Tour today, there is evidence that the success he had in 2015 was a bit of a fluke and is unlikely to be repeated.
Here is a look at the relationship between driving distance and scoring average over the last two seasons and where Spieth’s last three seasons fall (continued below; orange line is the trendline).
Spieth has never been a long hitter and on the PGA Tour, there is a general trend that the farther you hit the ball, the lower your scores will be. It is no guarantee, but the rest of the game does become easier if your second shots are always closer to the hole.
In 2014 we started to see that Spieth was one of the better scorers on the PGA Tour, especially for somebody who only drove the ball 289.7 yards on average.
But in 2015, things got wonky. Spieth improved his driving distance a little bit, to 292.3 yards, but his scoring average improved more than a stroke per round, from 70.0 to 68.7. That was clearly an outlier, a scoring average that we shouldn’t expect with those driving distances, even among the better golfers.
Then, this season, Spieth once again got a little longer off the tee, with an average drive of 295.2 yards. But his scoring average fell to 69.5.
While many look at Spieth’s 2016 season — 2 wins, 4 top-3s, and no majors — and wonder what went wrong, it actually looks like this is the real Jordan Spieth. If we just compare 2014 to 2016, this season is exactly what we would have expected if 2015 never happened. That is, we see a golfer who got longer with the drives and improved his scoring to be among the best golfers in the game.
The problem is, that 2015 season throws everything off, including the expectations. Once we get a few more data points for Spieth, we will probably see that his place among the best on the Tour today is safe. But at the same time, we may never see another season like 2015 from him. He just doesn’t hit the ball far enough to consistently score that low.