Jordan Spieth savors shot at history

Golfweek File Photos

Jordan Spieth savors shot at history

Professional

Jordan Spieth savors shot at history

Even with a chance to accomplish the career Grand Slam at a younger age than Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth thinks he’s “free rolling” as he stares down the ultimate coronation.

“I’m not really finding any negatives in this,” Spieth told reporters with a relaxed grin before teeing up at Firestone in a warmup to a 2017 PGA Championship that could be something special.

Really special.

“It will be one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the sport,” said Jim Nantz in hyping CBS’ coverage of the PGA Championship. But this is not hype for the sake of hype – Nantz loves his golf history and even traveled to St. Andrews to witness Tiger becoming a champion of all four majors.

Jordan Spieth wears the Green Jacket after his 2015 Masters win.

Serious players, historians and dreamers all would agree winning the modern career Grand Slam is among the greatest individual accomplishments in golf. Even the casual sports fan knows a professional golfer or tennis player who wins each of the majors has done something special. They’ve adapted to different surfaces, deviated from their strengths to win and weathered adversity. Grand Slam winners also are typically lucky at some point along the way.

Maybe he’s too young – just 24 – to worry, but Spieth’s knowledge of golf history has to be strong enough to know the quest to win all four major championship trophies has tormented some of the game’s greatest. Arnold Palmer long lamented never winning the PGA, as did another admirer of the host organization, Tom Watson.

Moments after Lee Trevino held off Jack Nicklaus to win the last PGA Championship played in North Carolina (Tanglewood Park in 1974), he said he was a Masters away from winning the career Grand Slam and would accept Augusta National’s invite, something he’d rejected for several years because of his negative feelings for the club. The Merry Mex regretted later in life that he talked himself out of a better chance at the career Grand Slam.

Then there’s Sam Snead, whose trophy case was one short. He won more PGA Tour events than anyone, swung the club gracefully into his 60s and annually played the U.S. Open over a 40-year span. He finished second three times.

Walter Hagen likely was deprived of Grand Slam status only because the Masters didn’t come around until late in a career that included two U.S. Opens, four British Opens and five PGAs won at match play.

And we all know how absurd the quest can be, given Phil Mickelson’s record in the U.S. Open, arguably his strongest major of the four. Even the most casual fan knows he has six second-place finishes and dwindling hopes of joining the most elite club in golf. While Lefty’s three Masters and his British Open win at Muirfield all were spectacular, the absence of a U.S. Open trophy in the face of so much brilliant play speaks to how arbitrary these things can be.

While the odds are not improving for Rory McIlroy to win a Masters if he can’t settle on a putter, the PGA Championship is probably the major Spieth’s least likely to win, given that his talent lies in the more cerebral qualities accentuated at the year’s first three stops.

Played in August (at least for two more years), the PGA tends to present softer, longer, less architecturally intricate courses where Spieth’s gift for micromanagement enjoys less reward.

2017 US Open-jordan spieth-preview

Jordan Spieth was halfway to the Grand Slam after his 2015 U.S. Open win. (Golfweek File Photo)

If Spieth’s going to be the youngest career Grand Slam winner, this year’s venue isn’t screaming out as a match. A T-32 in 2013 at the Wells Fargo Championship marks his only appearance in Charlotte. Furthermore, as Spieth played the WGC-Bridgestone with the other top 49 players in the world, he won’t arrive the weekend before to scope out the course as he did for his wins at Chambers Bay and Royal Birkdale.

On the plus side, Quail Hollow has seen major updating since every player was last here, and outside of club member Webb Simpson, most of the field will experience the new holes and different turf grasses for the first time. On the plus side, Spieth thrives in crash-course studies, and he’s also better rested these days coming into majors.

He’s also not stressing.

“It’s just a major,” Spieth said in downplaying questions about the chance to complete a career Grand Slam quicker than the two greatest players of all time. “If I’m healthy and playing well, I’ll play in 30 of them. I believe I’ll have plenty of chances to win them, but it doesn’t have to be this year.

“If it’s this year and it happens, that’s great, that’s another life-long goal that we’ve then achieved. But I believe that I’ll do it someday, so if it happens in two weeks or next week, then fantastic, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not going to be a big-time bummer whatsoever, because I know I have plenty of opportunities.”

But only one more chance to do it quicker than anyone ever has.

(Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 7 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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