May 09, 2022
By Justin Ray, Twenty First Group, PGATOUR.COM
- Jordan Spieth (2010) and Scottie Scheffler (2014) both made their PGA TOUR debuts at the AT&T Byron Nelson. (Getty Images)
This week, a pair of highly ranked, inextricably linked Texans will tee it up in the event where they each debuted on the PGA TOUR, years before they became household names.
In 2010, Jordan Spieth, then 16 and the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champ, gave the hometown crowd in Dallas a glimpse of what awaited in the years to come. Not only did Spieth make the cut at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but he also stood inside the top 10 through 54 holes before ultimately finishing T16.
Four years later, another reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion from the Dallas area, Scottie Scheffler, made his first PGA TOUR start at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Not only did Scheffler, then 17, make the cut, but he also made a hole-in-one in the third round and finished T22.
Both players would be named All-Americans at the University of Texas. In 2012, Spieth led the Longhorns to an NCAA team championship. Scheffler led Texas to a runner-up finish four years later. Spieth won a Green Jacket in his second Masters appearance. Scheffler did so in his third. Spieth ascended to world No. 1 in just 79 PGA TOUR starts – Scheffler got there in his 75th start, with a win in their old college town of Austin.
|U.S. Junior Amateur champion||2009, 2011||2013|
|PGA TOUR debut||2010 AT&T Byron Nelson||2014 AT&T Byron Nelson|
|College||University of Texas||University of Texas|
|Best NCAA team finish||Won, 2012||2nd, 2016|
|First Masters win||Second start||Third start|
|PGA TOUR starts before OWGR No. 1||79||75|
Both players arrive this week having won their last stroke-play start – Scheffler at Augusta National, Spieth the following week at the RBC Heritage. Both will be among the favorites at next week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where Spieth will try to complete the career Grand Slam, and Scheffler can become the first to win the season’s first two majors since – who else – Spieth in 2015.
Let’s take stock of both players’ games entering their hometown event, the AT&T Byron Nelson.
On the morning of Feb. 13, Scottie Scheffler was arguably the best American without a PGA TOUR win. He was locked in a four-way tie for third place entering the final round of the WM Phoenix Open, two shots behind 54-hole leader Sahith Theegala.
Less than two months later, he had not only rattled off four PGA TOUR wins, he had become the emphatic No. 1 in the world - and a Masters champion on top of that. Scheffler is the first player to leave Augusta National with a Green Jacket and four wins already in that PGA TOUR season since Arnold Palmer in 1960. While Scheffler’s switch to veteran caddie Ted Scott deserves its due credit, analytically there have been some marked improvements that helped lead to his massive success this season.
Scheffler was an above-average iron player last season, ranking a respectable 83rd on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach and 45th in greens in regulation. His performance has skyrocketed in both of those statistics this season: Scheffler is up to fourth in greens-in-regulation and 27th in Strokes Gained: Approach. The world No. 1 is gaining more than three times as many strokes with his approach play per round than last season – up from 0.15 to 0.50.
A good amount of that can be credited to increased precision with his scoring clubs. From 50 to 125 yards away this season, Scheffler is averaging 3 feet closer than he did in 2020-21. That adds up to a 130-spot jump in that statistic, from 157th into the top-30.
On the greens, the improvement has been even more drastic. Scheffler was ranked 107th on TOUR last season in Strokes Gained: Putting – just about breaking even with the field in that statistic. This season, he’s gaining 0.59 strokes per round on the greens, ranking 20th on the PGA TOUR. From 10-15 feet, Scheffler has jumped from 160th in the rankings to 10th.
|SG: Approach||SG: Putting|
|Difference per 72 holes||+1.40||+2.26|
Scheffler’s performance with the driver this season has actually diminished some – a drop in accuracy has led to a significant decrease in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. But his enormous leaps with his irons and putting have completely masked that numerical dip, giving Scheffler ample fuel for one of the best runs in recent PGA TOUR memory.
Improvement off tee driving Spieth
Over the last several seasons, Jordan Spieth has struggled with bouts of wildness off the tee. But improved accuracy and perhaps a more aggressive strategy are leading to gains in that part of Spieth’s week-to-week game.
Spieth ranked well outside the top 100 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee in both 2019-20 and 2020-21. While a good portion of that was due to his wildness off the tee (he ranked 181st and 180th those seasons in fairways hit), one could surmise that a hesitancy to pull driver as often also contributed to those lower Strokes Gained numbers.
|Distance; all drives||292.6||295.1||310.5|
|Distance; all drives (rank)||54th||45th||10th|
|SG: Off-the-Tee rank||165th||135th||39th|
This season, Spieth is averaging a stout 310.5 yards on all tee shots on par 4s and par 5s, 10th-best on the PGA TOUR. That’s an increase of more than 15 yards (295.1) and 35 ranking spots (45th) over last season. This, despite clocking in with identical clubhead speeds each season, 114.59 mph in both 2020-21 and 2021-22. This would suggest that Spieth is choosing to hit driver more frequently, taking a more aggressive approach off the tee.
Spieth’s moderate improvement in driving accuracy – from 54% to 58% of fairways hit – is not nearly as big a leap as he has taken in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee numbers. Spieth is ranked 39th in that stat this season, after sitting between 135th and 176th from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
After the RBC Heritage last month, Spieth memorably said, “I won this golf tournament without a putter.” He wasn’t that far from the truth: Spieth ranked 60th in the field for the week in Strokes Gained: Putting at Harbour Town, the worst rank by a PGA TOUR winner in six years. For him to unlock his best self this summer, that facet of his game will undoubtedly need to get better: Spieth currently ranks 186th out of 210 qualified players in strokes gained on the greens per round.
Both stars should be compelling viewing this week in their home state of Texas.