Tour Confidential: Will Jordan Spieth snap out of his slump in 2019?

January 14, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Jordan Spieth’s slow start to 2019, wonder if he has the putting yips (Hank Haney thinks so), talk proper player-caddie payment arrangments and more.

1. Jordan Spieth made his first start in two months at the Sony Open but missed the cut to kick off his 2019 on a sour note. “For not playing well at all and being on the bad end of the draw, to miss the cut by one is reassuring,” he said afterward. Still, Spieth is coming off his first winless year as a pro, and this wasn’t exactly an encouraging debut. Do you expect Spieth to rediscover his mojo this year?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): Spieth definitely seems a little lost in the wilderness right now. I’d still bet that he wins an event sometime this year, but it’s a bet on his talent overcoming his current struggles.

Sean Zak, assistant editor (@sean_zak):  “To miss the cut by one is reassuring.” Just wanted to repeat that for you guys. What the what? I’m confident that Spieth is a very good golfer, but he’s seemed a bit all over the place mentally the last six to 12 months. It’s an odd thing right now but of course we expect him to rediscover said mojo. That feels obvious.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): Call me an optimist, but there actually was something reassuring about the charge he put on Friday when he was trying to make the cut. He started playing golf rather than playing swing. “I just told myself, Just point, aim, and shoot and stop thinking,” he said. More of that would be good.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: You can’t play world-class golf without being a great putter, and putting was/is more of Spieth’s game than others. He’s in a weird place. Without knowing how weird it’s impossible to say if he can come back.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): When Jordan gets hot, he gets HOT, which is why he has won so much in his young career. There will be ups and downs always, but I guarantee you at some point this year, and probably many points this year, Jordan will be the man to beat. There’s too much talent and self belief there.

2. Before the Sony, Hank Haney said Spieth “visibly has the yips” on the greens. (Our instruction editor Luke Kerr-Dineen performed his own analysis on why Spieth misses so many short putts, theorizing that Spieth gets too rigid.) What say you? Does Spieth have the dreaded y-word?

Ritter: During his major-winning rise to No. 1, putting was Spieth’s strength, and it really is hard to believe we’re having this debate only a few years later. I don’t know if it’s yips, a mechanical thing or something else, but his game has flipped to the point where putting is now his weakness.

Zak: I believe there are levels to the yips. I cannot understand it as a black or white disease where you’ve either got it or you don’t. It’s far more likely that there are yipping tendencies on display, or yippy moments, in Spieth’s game rather than a broad-brush version of that dreaded word. Luke clearly found something interesting in Spieth’s on-green routine, but I’m still hesitant to point to that as a clear reason why he’s struggling inside 15 feet.

Dethier: I was pretty convinced by LKD’s analysis and think Spieth would do well to read it. Spieth is in constant, frenetic motion over long putts. He excels over long putts. He appears to struggle when he freezes over short putts — it’s almost an anti-yip, a lack of motion. Too much time to think.

Bamberger: I would completely agree with that. He’s the opposite of the modern, robotic golfer and putter, right through the bag, until he gets to the short putts. Circa 2015, he looked the same over 40-footer and four-footers. LKD is on to something.

Wood: I haven’t seen the analysis, but I know Jordan is very good from 40 feet, 30 feet, 15 feet, etc., to win an Open Championship only a couple of years ago. It’s an interesting theory, though. Jordan is very athletic and has amazing feel. When he finds the right feels he’ll be normal Jordan Spieth on the greens. He took a long break this offseason to rest up, and it may take a little bit to find his comfort zone again.

Jordan Spieth reads a putt during the first round of the Sony Open.
Jordan Spieth reads a putt during the first round of the Sony Open.

3. Caddie compensation was a hot topic on social media over the weekend after questions surfaced about what Matt Kuchar did or didn’t pay his fill-in local caddie during Kuchar’s winning week at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last year. In general terms, what is equitable in a situation like this? Assuming Tour pros typically pay their loopers 5% to 10% of their haul, do stand-in caddies deserve the same rate?

Ritter: It’d be nice to see a stand-in get the same fee, but since they’re unlikely to do the job as well as the permanent looper, a Tour pro can justify a reduced rate. I think as long as Kooch ultimately paid his caddie whatever they agreed upon at the start of the week, no harm no foul.

Zak: It would be interesting to learn what Kuchar has paid local caddies in the past if and when he’s missed the cut…but let’s leave that aside for now. Kuchar hadn’t won in 4.5 years. He had one top-five finish all year. It’s remarkable that he won with with a stand-in looper. Here’s hoping that Kuchar is right, that this isn’t “a story,” and that there’s something missing in the allegations.

Dethier: For context, I walked several holes with Kuchar and his caddie, El Tucan, that week in Mayakoba. It was clear Kuchar wasn’t leaning on him the way he would a full-time looper. I think something in the neighborhood of 5% makes sense, but I don’t think there needs to be an ironclad rule on this — when in doubt, shell out, right? But in fairness to Kuchar, I think we’re still missing a key part of this story.

Bamberger: I’m not pretending to know a thing about how Kuchar paid El Tucan, but in general: be frugal with yourself and generous with others, unless you’re flush. Then be generous with everybody. Give and get back.

4. Invitations to the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which will be held the week before the Masters, began surfacing on the social feeds of a few excited invitees last week. Given the clout and prestige of ANGC, what kind of impact do you expect this event will have on the elite women’s amateur game?

Ritter: It’s a fresh new way to inspire young girls to play golf and I can’t wait to see it. The event’s impact may be hard to initially quantify, but who knows, someday a U.S. Open winner may say she got serious about golf as a kid after watching this event. The tournament offers nothing but upside for the entire sport.

Zak: It’s absolutely an historic event. I just hope it reaches its potential. I hope it expands to include more than just one day on the hallowed grounds of ANGC. I hope it can stand alone on the greater women’s golf schedule instead of taking place at the same time as a major. I’m stoked it’s getting started, and I totally trust Fred Ridley and his team to nail it.

Bamberger: It can be one of the most positive developments in women’s amateur golf in years. What Augusta does it does well. This whole thing should be first-rate, fun and inspiring.

Dethier: I can’t tell if Zak is being earnest with his last line there, but he hits on a key point: there’s an element of execution involved here that will determine whether it gets to the next level. Help the golf world get excited about it; I don’t think we need much encouragement.

Wood: I CANNOT WAIT. I have a very good friend who plays at the University of Texas, Emilee Hoffman. I met Em when she was a sophomore in high school. Her dad, Jeff, a good player himself, got in touch with me to see if I might help her out a bit with course management and strategy. I spoke with her a couple of months ago and asked about the event, and at the time she was sad, doubting whether she would get an invite or not. Well, this week, she sent me a picture of her invite and said “It doesn’t seem real.” We can get jaded doing this week in, week out, and I’m the first to admit it. Hearing Emilee’s overwhelming joy that she played her way in and earned an invitation was the happiest I’ve heard a person in a long time. It was thrilling to hear, and I only imagine that scene replayed itself in dorm rooms and at family dinners around the world this week. It’s a great idea and it will be an overwhelming success. When it comes to running a golf tournament, Augusta National does everything right, and this is another example. (By the way, I’m heading over to Emilee’s Wednesday with a stack of Augusta National yardage books to get her prep started, and if for some reason I’m off that week, I’ll pay HER to work that event!)

5. In a surprise to few, Padraig Harrington was officially named to captain the European Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits in 2020. Was Paddy the right pick? And what will he bring to a Euro squad that has dominated the event in the last two decades and now has to return to U.S. soil?

Ritter: Selfishly I was hoping for Miguel Angel Jimenez, but Paddy is a great pick. He’s won his majors, done his time as an assistant captain and will no doubt follow the same, tried-and-true European system that has more or less vexed the U.S. for the past 20 years.

Bamberger: They’ve had a bunch of good captains. Harrington will prove, I think, to be among the best. Monty+.

Zak: We’ll see if he’s the right pick, but he certainly checks the boxes in terms of what you’d like: a recent player, well respected by current players, still knee-deep in the professional touring golf world. I don’t think he brings anything to the European team that other captains haven’t had. He’ll bring the media some money quotes, though. We know he’s good for that. He’s already done it, saying Whistling will favor the Euros. Sorry, but that’s just not correct.

Dethier: Our judgment-at-large of Ryder Cup captains seems entirely results-based, so I’m not sure we’ll know until afterwards! He certainly seems like he’ll do a good job, and the Euro side all seemed genuinely excited at the idea. The rest will be determined by putts dropping.

Wood: It was a matter of when, not if, Padraig became a European captain. He is highly motivated and meticulous in preparation. He’ll be a phenomenal captain for Europe, and I hope he has a great week and finishes a close second. I’m sure he wishes the same for us.

6. In GOLF’s anonymous poll of European Tour players (we’ll publish all the results Tuesday), 79% of Euro Tour pros said they would rather have dinner with Tiger Woods than Phil Mickelson (9%) — 12% said they would rather eat alone. With whom would you rather dine, and why?

Ritter: If it’s a working dinner, it’s Tiger because I’d like to be able to share every moment with readers. (You’re welcome, readers.) If it’s a casual, off the record meal, it’s Phil because I think he’d spill more gossip.

Bamberger: I had a breakfast with Phil a few years ago and I’m still trying to process it. Mr. Ritter’s distinctions are salient. If Tiger’s going to actually talk, Tiger.

Zak: If it’s dinner, that means we’re going deep in conversation, so it has to be Phil. He’s the one ready to go deep on golf physics, strategies, bad course architecture, etc. What a treat that would be. I imagine the experience with Tiger to be a bit formulaic. We just probably wouldn’t get very deep. I suppose Ritter said that in a much nicer way.

Dethier: I mean, the answer here is obviously Tiger. He’s one of the most intriguing figures in modern sporting life, and still has a mystique about him that players, fans and writers have been trying to crack for more than two decades. That’s not to say you’d leave the meal wholly satisfied; he’s not exactly an open book. But you’d have to try.

Wood: Luckily I haven’t had to choose, as those team rooms at Ryder Cups and President’s Cups provide us with some of the best entertainment and information, depending on the mood of the evening. Trust me when I say it’s so great to see them and talk with them when their guards are down. They’re fun. They’re smart. They’re generous with information. And when the barbs start to fly, they can both give ’em and take ’em. So, yeah, I’m straddling that fence pretty good in case one of them needs a stand-in for the next “Match.”