Home' Australian Golf Digest : November 2017 Contents virtuosos such as Raymond Floyd, Hubert
Green and Luke Donald get short shrift.
But with three Majors at 24, Spieth can be
projected to surpass even Seve.
So in the afterglow of Birkdale and two prior
titles this season, Spieth’s short game should
not only be celebrated but also become a
reference point to shape and improve the top
of the game going forward.
Why? Because too many of today’s top power
players simply aren’t very good around the
green. The easy answer to why no top player
seems to win that often in the post-Tiger era?
Because other than Spieth, among the top-20
in the World Ranking, arguably no one has
the kind of world-class short game that can
consistently save the day when the long game
is off, as it often is for even the very best.
It’s not that Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson,
Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Brooks
Koepka and Justin Thomas (to name a few)
are bad around the green. But none of them
are great. The fact is, we are currently in a
historical dearth when it comes to tour pros
who combine power and touch, the most
time-honoured formula to be the best player
in the world.
Think about the very best of past 40 years,
the players who either won the most Majors
or consistently contended for them. Other
than Nick Faldo and Nick Price (who made up
for lack of distance with superb iron games),
the very best were not only long, they had
supreme short games. The sequence of Tom
Watson, Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Fred
Couples, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger
Woods portrays a style that was similarly in
kind and differed only in degree.
For whatever reason, perhaps the echo
chamber that keeps repeating that power is
indispensable, perhaps a collective lack of
dedication to putting hours in around the
chipping green, few of today’s top players
are known for their short games. And it’s
instructive that it was working on his wedges
that was the most important factor in Dustin
Johnson rising to being the current No.1.
Jack Nicklaus, of all people,
underestimated the short game. As a junior
player, his teacher, Jack Grout, emphasised
learning the full swing. “I didn’t practise
my short game, because I didn’t know what
to practise,” Nicklaus said in 2010. “I never
learned anything.” He was so dominant early
with his ball-striking that he told himself
“I didn’t need one”. But when Nicklaus
encountered serious chipping problems
in 1979, he sought help from old rival Phil
Rodgers and dramatically improved his
wedge play, leading to his winning two Majors
in 1980. Looking back, Nicklaus wishes he’d
tried to master the short game decades before.
“It was foolish of me to believe it was good
enough,” he said.
There’s evidence McIlroy will feel the
same way if he doesn’t devote more focus
to his short game. Too often wasting strokes
and eroding patience with “soft” bogeys
from around the green on what should
be fairly routine up and downs, McIlroy’s
weakness was conspicuous throughout 2017.
Again using Royal Birkdale as a reference
point, McIlroy entered the weekend five
shots behind Spieth, then came storming
out for the third round with three birdies in
his first five holes. But on the par-3 seventh
hole, he pulled a short iron, leaving him with
a downhill lie in high grass to an uphill pin
about 30 feet away. It wasn’t an easy shot,
but one that it was easy to envision Spieth
getting within five feet. But rather than give
the ball a firm bump into the hill McIlroy
decelerated and fluffed the ball less than
halfway to the hole, making a momentum-
stopping bogey. Worse, on the next hole, after
leaving a short approach 10 metres short of
the green, McIlroy mishit a straightforward
pitch-and-run, the ball skidding 20 feet past
the hole. Ultimately, McIlroy had a strong
Sunday to finish T-4, but in terms of the
small margins that determine who wins
Major championships, his short game had
unnecessarily left him too much to do.
Will Spieth’s example swing the pendulum
back, so that the power players will start to
focus on their touch? It should be apparent
that especially in Majors, where Spieth has
now led after 15 rounds of the 74 he’s played,
that he is winning more because he is better at
touch than his peers are at power. And maybe
that, when all is said and done, in the biggest
events, touch is more important than power.
Spieth seems to have a firm belief in where
his advantage lies. “ There are places I can get
better,” he said in 2016. “Ball-striking-wise,
tee ball I can get stronger, I can hit it further.
My short game I want to keep consistent, keep
exactly where it’s at.”
And he went on to say, “You’re going to
make putts, you’re going to miss putts, you’re
going to have off days, on days. I believe it
comes down to when the lights are on, and
you don’t have your best stuff, can you create
your ‘on’ days?”
At least in the recent history of the game,
there has never been a better example of a
player doing just that than Spieth on the
back nine at Royal Birkdale. And his most
consistent creator? The short game.
When his world could have crumbled playing Royal Birkdale’s
13th hole, Spieth found a way to rebound and stay in the game.
Another artful pitch to the 17th
green kept Matt Kuchar at bay.
‘FOR WHATEVER REASON ... FEW OF TODAY’S TOP PLAYERS
ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR SHORT GAMES’
OFFICIAL PROGRAMME OF 2017 EMIRATES
5/10/2017 3:03 pm
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