For a kid who was piling up success in a seemingly easy manner, much of Jordan Spieth’s world of late has revolved around his ability to deal with the tough times.
Relatively speaking, of course, because he is still the world No. 3 golfer and there are millions of dollars pouring in monthly, so we’re talking a different sort of definition of “tough”. But since all things are relative, here is what Spieth has been dealing with on the eve of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon:
1) His publicised decision to not accept his spot into the Summer Olympics and
2) His game is not where it once was, way back to the summer of 2015 when he was aged 21.
Regarding the former, Spieth said it was gut-wrenching and he knows there are people who will “never understand, but they are not in my shoes”.
Regarding the latter, we are not at the Old Course, where Spieth arrived having won the John Deere Classic the week prior, his fourth triumph of the season. Remember, Spieth had arrived at the Open in 2015 having already won the Masters and US Open, looking to do something that Arnold Palmer in 1960, Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and Tiger Woods in 2002 had failed to do — win each of the season’s first three majors.
Alas, Spieth fell one shot shy of joining a play-off, so he left the Auld Grey Toon a disappointed fourth, the latest superstar to fail in his Grand Slam bid. That he had something in common with such an illustrious trio as Palmer, Nicklaus, and Woods was more than small consolation; it was definitive proof that this young Texan with the animated on-course demeanour and strong sense of perspective was indeed a special talent.
Nothing has changed, either, despite the perception that seems to be hovering like a Scottish rain cloud that Spieth is in the throes of a slump.
“You guys have made me feel like that’s a valley, in all honesty,” Spieth told reporters during his pre-championship press conference. It perhaps was the only moment that caused you to cringe, because the “blame the media” card is one that gets quite tiresome. But as to the sentiment — that his 2016 season may not measure up to his 2015 output but it’s still quite good — well, fair enough. It’s just that Spieth himself gives off negative vibes by his on-course mannerisms that give the appearance of dissatisfaction, so around and around we go.
Disembarking from said merry-go-round for a moment, let’s examine the Spieth picture. He will turn 23 in less than two weeks, he is in his fourth year as a professional and has already won eight times, with two of them majors, and he’s enjoyed a healthy stint at No. 1 atop the world rankings. Sufficiently stout stuff and there are veterans who would love that sort of resume after 20 years, yet what makes Spieth so special is his grasp of the big picture.
He appreciates what he’s accomplished, but he knows he’s capable of doing much more.
So while on one hand he acknowledges he isn’t coming to Royal Troon with the same sort of swagger with which he arrived at the Old Course, neither is he discounting his chances.
“I believe in my ability that if I’m in contention, that I can bring my best stuff and take home the trophy,” Spieth said. “I believe I can close.”
His conviction has been validated, because while others hit it further and strike it more consistently, Spieth possesses the most uncanny ability to score. There is a strong suspicion that while he has won at Augusta National and at a US Open venue, the Open might just provide his best major theatre.
Remember Nicklaus? The fewest of his major wins (three) came at the Open, yet you could make a strong case that links showcased his immense talent best. For 18 years (1963-1980) he was first, second, or third an incredible 13 times, and out of the top 10 just once.
Gaudy stuff and we’re not putting undo pressure on Spieth. No need, either; the kid puts enough on himself. But rest assured, he embraces the Open, links golf, and the mental test that it is.
“Having tasted a year of it, I certainly hope to continue what we had,” Spieth said. “I had a chance to win at the Old Course and that was a unique opportunity. I hope to have a chance at that course again.” He will, but not till 2021. He’s not that patient.
“I hope I have the Claret Jug in my possession before that time. We’re here to try to win this week.”
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