Jordan Spieth might be the most exciting golfer to watch in the game today. He’s capable of some impossibly good recovery shots, as he wasted no time in showing us on Thursday in his 2023 debut at the Sentry Tournament of Champions …
Spieth has done this, missed a gimme and asked fans to stop talking about gambling in the middle of his stroke within the past two hours. And it’s the first round of the year! At this rate whatever hair Greller has left is going to be white by Augusta pic.twitter.com/UMLNYm2yMG
— Joel Beall (@JoelMBeall) January 6, 2023
But of course, excitement is predicated on a level of unpredictability. Just as he’s capable of pulling off an unexpected recovery, every now and again, he’ll miss a short putt we’d expect him to make, like this two-footer on his 13th hole during his first round at the Plantation Course …
Spieth on a short putt he made vs. the two-footer he missed yesterday.
Can see how interrupted his forward press motion is in the latter. pic.twitter.com/PHo0HJVTbt
— LKD (@LukeKerrDineen) January 6, 2023
Those misses often beg the question among golf fans, why does this happen?
I do think Spieth’s troubles from ultra-short range are slightly overblown. They’re the kind of thing that catch your attention in the broadcast — because he’s Jordan Spieth and it’s a short putt — but in reality, last season he made almost 99 per cent of his putts from three feet or less, and 90 per cent from four feet. That’s below tour average, but only slightly worse than his 99-per cent and 95-per cent conversion from his Grand Slam-chasing 2015 season.
In short, Spieth missing the odd short putt is the exception, rather than the rule. But nevertheless, the margins are thin on tour, and every miss matters. So what’s going on?
Spieth himself has talked openly in the past about what he does well when he makes those short putts. This quote from the AT&T Byron Nelson last year was particularly insightful.
“Those are ones that I just kind of I put good fluid stroke on it,” he said. “I was more outwardly focused than stroke-focused. So that’s really important under pressure.”
He expanded on the same topic the following week, at the PGA Championship.
“There were some putts where I just put some strokes I wasn’t purely confident on like I have been before and hope to be again,” he said. “I missed a couple that I should have made, but from those I learned a little bit. I felt more pressure on those than any other putts throughout the week.”
How to spot it
Perhaps the biggest sign viewers at home can watch for to see if Spieth is feeling confident and fluid is in the immediate moments before he hits a short putt.
Over longer putts, or the short putts he ends up making, Spieth’s movements flow together, as you can see below: He looks at the hole, looks back at the ball, forward presses his hands, then begins his stroke.
So often on the putts he ends up missing, Spieth seems to move less over the ball.
Look at difference in Spieth's forward press between a long putt that he makes (left) and the short one he just missed (right)
Left: Looks at the hole, initiates forward press, goes
Right: Looks down, can see him try to initiate forward press but hesitates. Body looks locked up pic.twitter.com/gy1wRc5MVR
— LKD (@LukeKerrDineen) March 27, 2019
He keeps his legs still and his head down, and the tension that creates results in a subtle interruption in his forward press motion. Each movement doesn’t flow freely into the other — and he ends up missing the putts because of it.
As he says himself, Spieth is at his best when he’s at his most fluid over short putts. Confidence and fluidity; it underlines a simple but essential truth, both for tour players and the rest of us.