(And You Can thank Jor­dan Spi­eth for it) BY JAIME DIAZ

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life -

en­tal bar­ri­ers both hold ath­letes back and cat­a­pult them for­ward.

The clas­sic ex­am­ple is the four-minute mile. For 10 years the record of 4:01.3 stood rm, with John Landy of Aus­tralia run­ning within 1½ sec­onds of the record sev­eral times. At one point, a dis­cour­aged Landy sur­mised that he prob­a­bly was not phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble of run­ning un­der four min­utes. Then in May 1954, Roger Ban­nis­ter ran 3:59.4. Forty-six days later, Landy ran 3:57.9.

Such men­tal bar­ri­ers are more tan­gi­ble and eas­ier to tar­get in sports with xed em­pir­i­cal stan­dards of time, dis­tance, height or weight.Yet they ex­ist in ev­ery sport. I think some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing in golf with putting. The ex­pec­ta­tion of mak­ing putts in ex­cess of 10 feet is grow­ing. In fact, the 25-footer is trans­form­ing from a shot in the dark to a scor­ing op­por­tu­nity. Why? One Jor­dan Spi­eth. Spi­eth with a put­ter in his hand is spe-

Wcial. Last year there were too many bombs to re­mem­ber, al­though two were un­for­get­table – the 20-foot curler on the 70th hole at the US Open at Cham­bers Bay, and the 50-footer for birdie on the 70th hole of the Open Cham­pi­onship at St An­drews.

And just to re­fresh our mem­o­ries, Spi­eth put on an­other note­wor­thy dis­play on the grainy, windy, un­du­lat­ing sur­faces at Ka­palua’s Plan­ta­tion course in Jan­uary in tak­ing the Hyundai Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons by eight shots.

The col­lec­tive putting skill on the PGA Tour has been grad­u­ally im­prov­ing. Back in 1989, a study by Dave Pelz found that a six­footer was a 50-50 putt for tour pros. ShotLink shows that the break-even dis­tance is now just un­der eight feet.

There are a few rea­sons. First is the im­proved smooth­ness of the green sur­faces. Sec­ond is that the Dar­winian chal­lenge of keep­ing your place on the top tours in the world won’t tol­er­ate poor short putting. These days, it’s rou­tine for the win­ner of a tour­na­ment to make all but a cou­ple of the 60 or so putts that he faces from in­side 10 feet over four rounds, and some­times he’ll make them all.

At the same time, putting is still con­sid­ered the most capri­cious part of the game. The mar­gin of er­ror is so small, and the vari­ables of break, wind and day-to-day di er­ences in feel make it un­pre­dictable.

But Spi­eth is chang­ing the par­a­digm, ex­pand­ing the zone of ex­pec­ta­tion. Last year, from 20 to 25 feet, he made nearly 26 per­cent, more than dou­ble the PGA Tour av­er­age.

Of course, there’s no guar­an­tee Spi­eth can keep up such a con­ver­sion rate. Through­out his­tory golf has seen some of its great­est play­ers have ex­tended pe­ri­ods of great longdis­tance putting, al­though there were no sta­tis­tics avail­able to mea­sure how great. Arnold Palmer in the early 1960s prob­a­bly made more long putts than any pre­vi­ous win­ning player. In the late 1970s,Tom Wat­son did the same. And Tiger Woods in the late 1990s and early 2000s likely ex­ceeded them both.

Spi­eth, how­ever, is ar­guably the most ad­vanced put­ter for a mul­ti­ple ma­jor cham­pion ever. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­ti­cal an­a­lyst Peter San­ders of Shot­byShot.com, Spi­eth achieves two goals that tend to work in op­po­si­tion. Spi­eth gets his putts to and past the hole bet­ter than his peers, while leav­ing the short­est putt pos­si­ble (he ranked sec­ond on the PGA Tour in ap­proach putt prox­im­ity at 2.0 feet).

In con­trast the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of charged putts that left so many four-foot come­back-

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