Last year, Jordan Spieth posted one of the best seasons in the entire history of golf when winning five times.
Amongst others, victories included two majors, the Masters and US Open, as well as the season-ending Fed Ex Cup. And yet, as impressive as amassing yearly winnings in excess of $12 million is, it could have been even better — given that he also finished one stroke shy of a playoff at the Open Championship and second at the PGA.
While his performances were undoubtedly a welcome shot in the arm for the PGA Tour, (still struggling to find an American to fill the large void left by Tiger Woods), it created an even greater expectation amongst the world’s media that the trio of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy would now go on to dominate the game, given that they had already won five of the previous eight majors.
As foolish as those expectations now look - only one of them can possibly end the season with a major victory — the reality is that we haven’t seen any of them, playing anywhere near their competitive best during the majors this year.
Quite understandably, Spieth’s task has been the hardest because to many the year will be a letdown if he doesn’t win a major championship, given all the hype and expectation surrounding last year’s double major winning season.
That he had, of course, a chance to win at Augusta was remarkable in itself, but his extraordinary capitulation when squandering a five-shot lead after nine holes of the final round spoke volumes for the mental errors that were forced upon him from months of relying on an immaculate short game to mask over the cracks of his out of sync game.
It is those same inconsistencies which are now continuing to prevent him from contending in the manner which we were used to witnessing week in and week out last year.
Last year, Spieth was ranked fourth for strokes gained on the putting green, which means that the putter was a key tool in keeping him competitive. In particular, he was holing out a staggering 27% of his attempts from 15-25 feet range where the average was closer to 12%, and his birdie or better conversion rate on the greens was a tour best 48.08%.
Those stats alone illustrate why Spieth was consistently competing at the top of leaderboards but they are the type of stats that cannot last forever, so its hardly too surprising to see him struggling somewhat this year (giving a few strokes back to the field where last year he was gaining) on the putting greens.
And so, after a string of below average performances in key tournaments this year, should we be too surprised to that he vented his frustrations with the media around their “unrealistic expectations” during the recent Open Championship?
Was he in fact talking about the all of internal pressure he was putting on himself? It seems so, as it ties in with him openly admitting to getting too frustrated on the golf course.
It is hard to come up with your best golf each and every week. Even more so during the major championships, when the fields are so deep. That Spieth has now decided to act decisively on the matter, by way of trying to get greater enjoyment back into his game, speaks volumes for his mental strength.
At Baltusrol we can expect to see him try to execute a simpler game plan, one that is less pensive and more decisive in terms of his decision-making. Staying true to himself, he hopes that a more aggressive approach will lead to greater enjoyment and more “flow”. Ultimately, he doesn’t need to change. He is already good enough but he needs to let it happen rather than trying too hard to make it happen.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved