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