Mexico Open at Vidanta

Vidanta Vallarta

The Loop

Jordan Spieth had a record-breaking year. So why is his game in danger of falling behind his competitors?

August 19, 2015

In the aftermath of the PGA Championship, analysts and writers put Jordan Spieth's past year and future outlook into scope. For the latter, the conversation delved into what Spieth could do to improve. The recurring theme: distance.

Spieth has never been accused of being a bomber, ranking 77th on tour in driving distance. Nevertheless, it was jarring to see the driving disparity between Spieth and Jason Day at Whistling Straits. On some holes, that gap was 60 yards.

This sentiment is not an impulsive reaction to last weekend's transpirings at Whistling Straits. If you lit up the Venn diagram relation between the money list and driving distance leaders on tour, the ensuing brightness would put Clark Griswold's house to shame.

Here are the top five players in distance in 2015, followed by their ranking in earnings:

Notably absent is Rory McIlroy. Due to his ankle injury, McIlroy doesn't have enough rounds for his stats to qualify, yet the four-time major winner belongs in this bunch, finishing third in distance in 2014. Also of note is Justin Rose, who's fifth on the money list and in the world rankings. Rose definitely packs a bunch with the big stick, posting a mark of 304.4 yards on the season.

This model would seemingly convey that Spieth needs to add some beef to his tee shots, a point that Spieth concedes.

"I work towards that," Spieth said at the PGA Championship in reference to his competitors' distance advantage. "I've gotten a little bit longer each year, and hopefully can continue to do so.

"The way (Rory) hits, when he's driving the ball well, just like Dustin [Johnson], just like Bubba [Watson], when they're hitting the ball straight with as far they do, they're playing a different golf course. I certainly envy that."

However, not everyone is on board with Spieth's plan. One of the primary critics is David Duval.

"One of the things I'm hoping is he doesn't chase distance in this distance-prejudiced era," said the former No. 1 player in the world and current Golf Channel commentator. "He doesn't need it. He's ascended to number one against a mighty formidable group of players this year. That goes to show that what he's doing is right.

"And he doesn't need to improve. Every golfer wants to improve. Be careful that you don't go backwards in that process. If you figured out a way and you get to number one how do you need to improve? You're the best."

As his wins at Augusta and Chambers Bay have testified, the lack of a long ball clearly hasn't hurt Spieth to this point. One could argue that, had he teed off Thursday morning instead of in the afternoon's tenacious winds, Spieth would have won the Wanamaker Trophy.

And then there's Zach Johnson. With an average of 282.3 yards, Johnson is one of the shortest hitters (157th) on tour. That did not hinder him from leaving St. Andrews with the claret jug.

Spieth and Johnson are the poster childs for the "Drive for show, putt for dough" M.O. But, while Spieth has a tour-low average of 1.69 putts, sitting right behind him are Day and Dustin in the two-three slots. Which makes sense: the farther your drives, the shorter the approach, leading to better odds of sticking it close.

Though Spieth bucked those trends this campaign, it's sustainability is questionable. Moreover, his disadvantage with the driver gives a smaller window for error.

Keep in mind, Speith just turned 22. At that age, added distance is to be presumed.

Unfortunately for Spieth, this attribute is not just expected. It might be imperative for survival.