A beautiful mind: Remember Hunter Stewart? He went from top amateur to top number cruncher for PGA Tour pros

“There’s not many stats guys that were No. 1 in the world as an amateur.”

LA QUINTA, Calif. — Scott Stallings isn’t a numbers guy, but when he saw PGA Tour rookies Harry Higgs, Maverick McNealy and Robby Shelton qualify for the 2019 BMW Championship by finishing in the top 70 in the FedEx Cup and he didn’t yet again, Stallings realized those three players shared one common trait: a stats coach.

“I need to know what you did with them that’s going to help me,” Stallings told the man behind the curtain.

Hunter Stewart smiles when this story about how Stallings became one of his clients is relayed to him and says simply, “Scott was pushing it when he shouldn’t and not pushing it when he should.”

To Stallings, who is in his 12th year on Tour, it’s easy to fall into a rut of doing the same things over and over – such as missing the cut at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort’s North Course. That’s before he hooked up with Stewart, who changed how Stallings approached four of the holes, specifically off the tee. 

“When I tell him, ‘Hey man, I hate this hole,’ he says, ‘OK, let’s play around it. Let’s pick our spots to be aggressive.’ At those opportunities, he says, ‘OK, gas pedal is on the right,’ ” says Stallings, who finished T-6 at Napa in September and earned $220,600. “My bread and butter is 150-175 yards and he said, ‘Let’s shoot your best weapon the most times. I’m going to try to give you four more 9-irons a day based on the hole locations,’ and he did. ”

And then Stallings adds this kicker that is as indisputable as some of the information Stewart digs up: “You know what I like about him? There’s not many stats guys that were No. 1 in the world as an amateur.”

A force in amateur, college ranks

If the name Hunter Stewart rings a bell, it should to Golfweek readers. Stewart, 28, was a force to be reckoned with on the amateur and college circuit. He became the first player from Vanderbilt to be chosen Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2015, winning three individual titles his senior season. After claiming the Northeast Amateur that summer, he rose to No. 1 in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking. 

“I don’t think anyone deserved to be No. 1 over me at that time,” Stewart says. “I didn’t think anyone was really better than me in amateur golf.” 

Before turning pro, he went undefeated at the Palmer Cup and earned a spot on the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team, where his teammates included Bryson DeChambeau, Denny McCarthy and McNealy, all of whom have banked millions on the PGA Tour, including DeChambeau, who won the 2020 U.S. Open.

Vanderbilt senior Hunter Stewart took medalist honors at the season-opening Carmel Cup in 2014.

Stewart made eight starts during the 2015-16 PGA Tour season after turning pro, including a T-10 finish at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He seemed to be making a quick adjustment to the play-for-pay ranks, pocketing $137,433 for a week’s work.

“I loved the rush of playing in front of crowds on the PGA Tour,” he says.

But it was a start at the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he shot 73-78 and missed the cut, that left the most indelible impression. 

“I just remember Monday morning (during a practice round) and pulling a drive and having a 6-iron out of U.S. Open rough and thinking, I’m not so sure about this one,” Stewart says. “And that wasn’t even a long hole.”

He began retooling his unorthodox swing in an attempt to hit it farther and higher, a skill set shared by the golfers collecting the most trophies and the biggest checks. He succeeded in adding speed, but he became crooked off the tee. 

“Before long he lost touch where home base was,” says Scott Limbaugh, Stewart’s coach at Vanderbilt.

Hunter Stewart
Hunter Stewart gleans information from ShotLink data that he hopes will help PGA Tour pros gain at least a stroke per event. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports).

In December 2017, Stewart was involved in a skiing accident in Colorado and damaged cartilage in his right knee. He wasn’t able to turn through the ball in the same way and lost clubhead speed. He played PGA Tour Canada for three seasons, earning a total of $72,000, and kept failing at Q-Schools for the Korn Ferry Tour and European Tour. 

“I just couldn’t get off that tour,” he says of the Canadian developmental circuit, the equivalent of Double A baseball. “My game was stale. It got to the point that I showed up at the first event of the season and I couldn’t get motivated.

“In college I found a way, and as a pro I did not,” he says matter-of-factly.

He played two Korn Ferry Tour events in 2019 and received a sponsor exemption into the Barbasol Championship, a PGA Tour opposite-field event played two miles down the road from where he grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, but missed the cut. Stewart concedes he didn’t handle the setbacks well.

“If there is anything I do regret it would be I felt too sorry for myself when I didn’t get it done,” he says. “Instead of being inspired to work harder I definitely sulked too long. That’s not a fun thing to say but it’s the truth.”

Stewart took a hard look in the mirror and knew it was time to find another way to earn a living. An economics major at Vanderbilt, he could have put his degree to use in a variety of ways, but he still wanted to be around the energy of golf at the highest level.

“I love racing, and PGA Tour pros are like really fast cars,” Stewart says. “If I can’t drive really fast, then I want to be on a team that is going fast.” 

So he combined two things he was good at: golf and the strategy side of the game. To Coach Limbaugh, who considered Stewart an extension of his coaching staff during his time as a student-athlete, this came as no surprise. 

“He’s got as high of a golf IQ as anyone I’ve ever been around,” says Limbaugh, who is in his 18th year coaching.

This is a golden age for golf analytics – “Money Ball” for golf – and a cottage industry has formed around it. But as Stallings noted, there hadn’t been a player of Stewart’s caliber to exploit this new arena.

“I have a lot of friends that went into strategy consulting and work for Deloitte and Bain and worked at private equity firms analyzing billion-dollar companies,” Stewart says. “I view myself as a one-man Deloitte for PGA Tour players.”

To see if he could gain traction, Stewart offered his services for free to a few players with a simple sales pitch: What if I could save you a shot a tournament? 

He received enough positive responses that he decided to carve his own niche at the highest level of the professional game. And that’s how he happened to be at the Greenbrier in West Virginia for the kickoff tournament of the 2019-20 Tour season.

Walker Cup 2015
Hunter Stewart (left) and Maverick McNealy of the United States Walker Cup Team at Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club in England. (Photo: Clint Hughes/Getty Images)

Not even Mark Broadie, who studies financial markets and has taught at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University since 1983, could have imagined that “stats guys,” who parse statistics to create better training plans and arm golfers with game plans for each week, would become as important to tour pros as swing instructors and fitness trainers. 

Broadie’s contributions to the language of golf can be heard every time an announcer mentions “strokes gained,” Broadie’s statistical innovation that had its debut in 2011 and was quickly accepted as the most accurate way to measure overall performance on the PGA Tour. Broadie even penned a popular book titled, “Every Shot Counts,” which struck a chord with Stewart.

“Mark Broadie has been the biggest influence on what I do,” says Stewart, giving credit where credit is due to “the Godfather of golf stats.”

Broadie’s statistical approach allowed a golfer to more effectively understand where he gained or lost ground on the leaderboard. And with that math-based approach came new insights on how to attack a course.

“There’s a strategy to everything I do out here,” says Brandt Snedeker. “It’s like a hand of blackjack. The odds change after every shot.”

Snedeker, a fellow Vanderbilt grad, was the first Tour pro to hire someone to crunch his numbers. On the eve of the 2011 RBC Heritage, a numbers whiz nicknamed The Accountant approached Snedeker on the practice green and predicted he would win that week. Snedeker shrugged off the comment until he hoisted the trophy after beating Luke Donald in a playoff. Then he found the numbers ace, Mark Horton, a retired executive for the British grocer Tesco, and demanded to know what was his secret sauce. 

“I said, ‘Explain it to me like I’m an infant.’ He used data and analytics to prove why he thought I’d win at Harbour Town,” Snedeker recalls. “I thought, ‘Why am I not doing this?’ ”

Horton developed a system for mining the data collected every week on ShotLink, the PGA Tour’s real-time scoring system that uses sophisticated devices to track every shot. That data can reveal a player’s strengths and weaknesses, provide structure to practices and evaluate how
a player’s game stacks up with a particular Tour venue.

The first year Snedeker hired Horton to be a full-time analyst, his earnings jumped from $1,602,690 in 2010 to $3,587,206 in 2011. In 2012 he had official earnings of $4,989,739, including his victory in the Tour Championship. On top of that, he cashed a $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup. Horton achieved a similar feat in 2014 with Billy Horschel. Other stats guys soon followed, though few are able to make a full-time living doing it.

Could Stewart be one of the few to do so in this budding business?

‘I loved his approach’

Maverick McNealy remembers the U.S. Walker Cup practice sessions at Frederica in St. Simons Island, Georgia, in the fall of 2014. “The first time I played with Hunter, I laughed so hard my stomach hurt,” he says. “… I loved his approach to the game, his demeanor and how he worked hard but managed to keep it light.” 

McNealy and Stewart paired together in a foursome match as Great Britain and Ireland trounced the U.S. at home by the score of 16½ to 9½. A bond was formed, but the teammates didn’t stay in touch after they turned pro. Which explains McNealy’s response when he bumped into Stewart at the Monday pro-am at Greenbrier ahead of his first event as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Stewart was there on behalf of their fellow Walker Cup teammate Robby Shelton. Stewart sat down and showed McNealy how he planned to help Shelton save a stroke.

“I was blown away,” McNealy recalls. “I was all in from the start.” 

Hunter Stewart
Hunter Stewart (middle) works with Maverick McNealy during a practice round at Torrey Pines ahead of the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

McNealy was an obvious candidate for Stewart to aid. After all, McNealy tracked his own strokes gained data in college, seeking any edge on the field he could find. 

“Mav is driven from the data side. He always wants to know why,” says Travis McCallister, McNealy’s caddie. 

Take, for instance, at the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, where Stewart’s statistical knowledge helped McNealy make birdie to a front left pin on the par-4 12th on Sunday. 

“He said there was a very low make rate from the quadrant to this pin. I hit a couple putts and noticed a subtle slope that I hadn’t before. I knew what the putt does, changed my read by about half a ball and drilled it dead center and ended up finishing eighth,” McNealy says. “That’s a putt I wouldn’t have made if we hadn’t practiced it.”

To those who may look at Stewart and think, ‘Didn’t he give up on his own dream too soon?’, McNealy counters: “The next option for him is such a good option. …I don’t see him moving away from playing as quitting. I see it as him acting on an opportunity and exploiting it.” 

McNealy knows it is no accident that his game has been trending in the right direction and his runner-up finish at the Fortinet Championship suggests it’s only a matter of time before he claims his first Tour title. Just how much McNealy values Stewart’s contribution may have been best summed up when he adds: “I don’t want him to work with too many other players because I want this advantage for myself.”

Hunter Stewart

Hunter Stewart works with Maverick McNealy during a practice round at Torrey Pines ahead of the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

So far, Stewart has a modest stable of players. McNealy and Stallings are his show ponies, but he also works with Matthew NeSmith and recently began a relationship with Tyler Duncan. There are also players on different tiers, such as Vince Whaley, who enjoyed a run of 10 made cuts in a row last season and who utilizes Stewart’s packets that break down how to play a tournament course. 

Stewart attended 27 Tour events in 2021, walking individual practice rounds and roughly 30,000 steps a day with McNealy and others. Once the tournament begins, he catches a flight home and is glued to ShotTracker to glean more information. He complains that TV doesn’t show his players enough. He does most of his prep work at home, generating tournament reports several weeks in advance and assembling 10-12 statistical plays throughout the week based on each of his client’s unique skill sets. 

“I’m just using history to predict the future,” he says. “I’m just saying that
guys who hit it over here, whether intentionally or not, here’s what happens versus over there. There’s a lot of information out there.”

Stewart produces a PowerPoint presentation, giving every hole of that week’s tournament its own slide. Off the tee, he may suggest opting for a club other than driver should there be a significant difference between scoring averages from the right and left rough. When the pin sheet comes out the night before the round, he will send an update. He also produces a tournament recap on Monday, which has a dual purpose. He also views it as an invitation to dig deeper.

“The guys who ask better questions will get better answers,” he says.

NeSmith started working with Stewart last summer. The two grew up playing junior and amateur golf against each other and NeSmith hired him in part because Stewart knows what his game used to look like, where he’s shown improvement, and where he still needs to get better.

“I watch F1 racing and all the drivers have a plan,” NeSmith says. “I didn’t have a strategy based on data on how I should play the course or how I’ve played the course in the past. He has data going back several years. It makes it like I’ve played these courses for 10-15-20 years.”

Stewart uncovered some valuable trends in NeSmith’s data that helped him better understand his tendencies: If he makes a bogey before a birdie, his scoring average is a shot and half to two shots higher. And this: If he makes his first bogey after the fifth hole, it’s usually from taking too aggressive a line and being short-sided.

And Stewart has developed a reputation for being blunt with his students. NeSmith’s strength is his irons, and he recalls Stewart telling him, “The problem is you drive it like garbage.”

“I was like, ‘You’re right but you didn’t have to put it like that,” NeSmith says.

“He’s backing up what he says with facts,” Limbaugh says. “Here’s who you are. It’s not what I think, it’s what I know. When you can come to guys at that level with that kind of knowledge it’s pretty powerful.”

Hunter Stewart (right) poses for a photograph with Maverick McNealy and caddie Travis McAllister at Torrey Pines ahead of the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports).

“You’re crazy if you don’t have someone like Hunter,” says swing instructor Scott Hamilton, whose students include Stallings and Whaley. “For a guy like me, he’s telling me where my player needs to get better. I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s go work on that instead of sitting out here trying to hit perfect 4-irons for an hour when you hit three of them a tournament.’ I really enjoy it because I feel like I’m really doing something for a guy rather than just calibrating them to hit a straight shot.”

Hamilton also recalled that by analyzing Whaley’s ShotLink data, Stewart has been able to detect equipment variables, including a shot pattern for Whaley that defied explanation between 150-175 yards. Stewart suggested checking his 8- and 9-irons. It turned out Whaley’s 9-iron was 1-degree flat and 2-degrees strong. 

Stewart is the first to admit that there’s “nothing sexy” about what he’s doing. 

“I’m not going to say I’m the best at math, because I’m not. I’m not going to say I can code, because I can’t. But the questions that I ask players lead to a discussion that then leads to useful information that will change the way they play the game,” he says. “That’s a lot of the time where the best fruit is. That would never come from someone who can only do data crunching because they don’t know what it’s like to be between a 6- and a 7-iron and need to make a decision. I know what’s going on in the back of their minds.”

But Broadie contends that Stewart is likely an outlier, a golfer that also has a beautiful mind, and that data analytics for golf isn’t a burgeoning second career for former pro golf dropouts.

“If you’re just a former player with no data science skills, I’d be skeptical,” Broadie says.

In five years, how many card-carrying members of the Tour will have someone like Stewart on their payroll? Stewart guesses it already is more than many fans might suspect. 

“Probably half,” he answers. “I never plan to send my stuff en masse. It’s not fair to the guys I work with.”

And what about a comeback? Stewart, after all, is only 28. Couldn’t he use his own information to jump-start his career?

“You’re never going to turn a nickel steak into a prime ribeye,” he jokes. But he does get asked this question all the time. He says he played just six rounds in 2021, including a member-guest at Peachtree Country Club in Atlanta, where he showed he still has game.

“The caddie was asking me if I was nervous. I told him, ‘Shop credit doesn’t move my needle,’ ” says Stewart. “Sure, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be successful out here, but seeing what some of those guys I played Walker Cup with were good at and what I was at that time it makes a lot more sense why I’m standing where I am and they’re where they are. Bottom line: I don’t have an itch to do it.”

But there could be a return-to-golf scenario equally appealing. He has regained his amateur status, and there is an event that he concedes could move his meter: the 2025 Walker Cup at Cypress Point.  

Until then, the one-man Deloitte for PGA Tour players will keep crunching
their numbers.

Correction: Keith Mitchell does not work with Hunter Stewart. An earlier version of this story said Mitchell worked with Stewart, but Mitchell works with Scott Fawcett. 

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In praise of Harry Higgs, the new Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green recordholder and a most memorable day

It slipped by without much fanfare – other than a few tweets – but Harry Higgs set a PGA Tour single-round record on Thursday.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – On this rare day of rest on the PGA Tour, let’s take a moment to revisit a record that was set during Thursday’s first round of the Northern Trust at Liberty National.

It slipped by without much fanfare – other than a few tweets – but since the tournament’s final round was postponed until Monday, let’s reflect on the Strokes Gain: Around the Green record set by the one, the only Harry Higgs.

It was Paul Tesori, caddie for Webb Simpson, who brought attention to Higgs’ heroics from off the green. He tweeted to stats guru Justin Ray asking if gaining 5.92 strokes on the field Around the Green was a record and Ray responded in the affirmative.

So, what got into Harry on Thursday? “I don’t know but I’m going to try to figure it out so he can do it more often,” his brother Alex said.

Adam Scott played in the same threesome with Higgs and a day later still marveled at the black magic act he had witnessed. “He had one of those days where they all go in,” Scott said. “The world is revolving perfectly for you when things like that happen.”

Indeed, they were. Higgs holed three putts from off the green and chipped in for par on another occasion. The fun started happening for Higgs at the 13th, his fourth hole of the day, after he missed the par-5 with his second shot. Using a putter from 50 feet, he holed out for eagle.

“The first one that he putted in from way off the green hit Wyndham’s (Clark’s) coin like 30 feet from the hole, hopped up and still went in,” said Scott.

Of having Clark’s coin on his line, Higgs said, “It was in a perfect spot. Figured I didn’t need him to move it since I was off the green.”

From there, Higgs made run-of-the mills birdies at Nos. 16 and 6 that was offset by a string of three bogeys beginning at 17.

After hitting his tee shot in the water at the fifth, Higgs chipped in with his 60-degree wedge to save par from 34 feet left of the green. Then his TaylorMade Spider putter, which he’s used since playing the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour, took over. First, he made a bomb at the seventh for birdie.

Harry Higgs
The weapons Harry Higgs used to set the Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green record. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

“To call a 79-footer easy is a little aggressive but it broke right and went back to the left and so if you hit it the right speed it’ll just auto correct,” he said.

It may go down as an obscure record but Higgs wiped Patrick Reed’s name from the ShotLink record books (+5.84 in the third round of the 2017 U.S. Open) and etched his own in its place in memorable fashion. Higgs came up 80 feet short of the green at the ninth, his last hole of the day, with his approach to the par 4. No problem: by this point, Higgs was feeling it.

“If that’s as close as you’re going to get to the hole, you might as well try to hole them,” he said.

And so he drained another bomb.

“That was a bonus,” he said of his uphill, walk-off putt to close out a wild way to 2-shoot 2-under 69. “I told myself I have to think like I’m going to hit it off the green to get it all the way there.”

Here’s the thing: Scott said it’s “scary” to think what his strokes gained would’ve been if Higgs hadn’t half-chunked a chip at 17 and failed to chip on to the green from the tall stuff on 18.

“It should’ve, could’ve been even better,” Higgs conceded. “But that’s the story of this lovely game we play.”

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Stats say don’t expect more success from Hideki Matsuyama in 2021

Does winning the Masters typically lead to more success for the golfer who puts on the green jacket? The answer is surprising.

There are four stages to an angler’s career, with the first being that you just want to catch a fish. After that, you want to catch a lot of fish, and then you want to catch a big fish. The last stage is when you want to catch a lot of big fish.

Professional golfers go through similar stages of development, from wanting to win a tournament, to wanting to win lots of tournaments, winning a major and finally winning several majors. By capturing the title at Augusta National two weeks ago, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama has achieved the third stage. At 29, he now has six PGA Tour wins and eight international wins. Those titles now include the WGC-Bridgestone Championship, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Masters.

Matsuyama’s breakout season on the PGA Tour came in 2017 when he won three times and rose as high as No. 2 in the world. He finished that year ranked fifth.

Winning a major championship is great, but winning the Masters is unique because it is the first of the four, so players who win at Augusta still have a significant portion of the season in front of them. If they were good enough to win at Augusta National, conventional wisdom would think they should be able to win more in the months that follow.

But does winning the Masters typically lead to more success for the golfer who slips into the green jacket? Is a win at Augusta National predictive of more success later in that season? Based on the numbers in the table below, the answer is clear: Winning the Masters does not typically lead to more wins later in the season.

The 2020 Masters was postponed until November, so Dustin Johnson’s Masters is not included here, but as you can see, six of the 11 players listed in the table above failed to win another tournament after they won their Masters. As a group, they won just nine tournaments in the seasons after their Masters victories and averaged just over four more top-10 finishes.

Adam Scott, in 2013, was the only player to make the cut in all of his remaining tournaments after winning his Masters. Scott, who won in 2013, and Jordan Spieth, the winner in 2015, are also the only players to win multiple times since 2009 during the same season after they won the Masters.

As he does in most statistical matters, Tiger Woods dominates in post-Masters performances. He has won five times at Augusta, and while he typically played fewer total events than most players, he won at least one tournament every year after winning a Masters. He also averaged four more top-10 finishes.

After taking two more weeks off, Matsuyama is expected to play the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. His best performance there is a T-11, although he did tie for fifth when it hosted the 2017 PGA Championship. He has stated that his next goal is to win a gold medal at the 2021 Olympics, which will be hosted by Japan in August.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only people living in Japan will be spectators at the Olympics this summer, so Matsuyama should get most of the cheers at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, where the Olympic golf events will be played.

Local support and experience on the course could help to propel Matsuyama to Olympic golf, but if history is a guide, we will not see much more success from Matsuyama in 2021.

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Masters: Jordan Spieth’s comeback has a ways to go according to the stats

The 2015 Masters champ has turned things around, but is he close to the level of play that helped him win at Augusta National?

Golfers who are in a slump rarely find lightning in a bottle, suddenly contending after missing cuts, but Jordan Spieth found something on the way to Arizona this winter. After missing the cut in three of his previous six tournaments before the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February, he was in the mix on Sunday and tied for fourth.

Spieth backed up that performance at TPC Scottsdale with T-3 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a T-15 at the Genesis Invitational and a T-4 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Suddenly, after a three-year slump, it felt like the old Jordan was back.

Then, on Sunday, he won the Valero Texas Open, notching his first title since the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Now, heading to the Masters fresh off his first win in more than three years, how close is today’s Jordan Spieth to being the player who won at Augusta National, then won the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay two months later?

Spieth’s performance in San Antonio last week, from a statistical standpoint, was certainly reminiscent of his level of play from 2015 and 2016. He finished third in strokes gained tee-to-green and sixth in strokes gained putting, a lethal combination for his competition.

However, as you can see in the chart below, which shows Spieth’s season-ending strokes gained total averages since 2013, heading into last week’s Valero Texas Open there was still a big difference between today’s Jordan Spieth and peak Jordan Spieth.

Strokes gained total is the average of how much better (or worse) a player performed than the field average over 18 holes, measured in strokes. So, for example, if a player has a strokes gained total average of 0.5, he would typically shoot a half-shot better than the field average over an 18-hole round. That may not seem like much, but over 72 holes, that’s two shots, and that can make a big difference.

In 2015, Spieth ranked second in strokes gained total with an average of 2.154, a massive number that means he was more than two shots better than the average player over 18 holes that season. He ranked in the top five in the stats the next two seasons, but his average dropped in 2018 and again in 2019. Last season Spieth ranked 99th in strokes gained total and was barely above the Tour average.

Through the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Spieth’s strokes gained total average for 2021 was up to 0.768 (45th on the PGA Tour). Obviously, he’s playing at a higher level than last season, but he is still almost one-and-a-half-shots worse than he was at the end of his Masters-wining 2015 season.

So where is Spieth losing those shots? As you can see in the chart below, Jordan’s putting struggled in 2019 and 2020, and his ballstriking numbers, reflected in strokes gained approach the green, also dipped significantly after 2017. This season, those numbers are both improving.

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard, especially against power players like Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. But Spieth is certainly trending in the right direction and starting to blend improved ballstriking and better putting. Now, after a win, he should have extra confidence.

“This sport can take you a lot of different directions,” Spieth said on Sunday evening after being asked about the climb back from his slump. “So I think it’s just most important to embrace when I have moments like this and just really appreciate them. (I need to)  keep my head down, keep the process that I’m doing. Obviously, things are starting to work without feeling like I quite have it all, so that’s a really good sign. (I’ll) take some confidence into next week as well.”

The stats say Spieth’s comeback has a ways to go, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contend this week at Augusta National.

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