Jordan Spieth takes aim at golf’s most prestigious club

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Jordan Spieth takes aim at golf’s most prestigious club

PGA Tour

Jordan Spieth takes aim at golf’s most prestigious club

CHARLOTTE – In measuring the prowess of athletes of any sport, there can be a thin, fine line between very good and great. The metrics that define that line? Well, it can be subjective, as different as the games themselves.

In men’s golf, there are five golfers who competed during the four-major era (mid-1930s on) who stand above all others. Period. The standard is simple: Which players have exhibited overall talents and games complete enough to win at each of golf’s four major championships?

The players who have achieved golf’s venerable career Grand Slam are special, and connected by a rare thread: Gene Sarazen. Ben Hogan. Gary Player. Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods.

“That’s almost like the Holy Grail in our sport, to win all four at least once,” said World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, who owns four majors and two legs of a career slam. “It’s been done in tennis, I think, more times than in golf (tennis boasts eight males who have won a career slam), and that just shows you how difficult it is in our game to emulate that.”

Could Jordan Spieth be the next player to join golf’s most storied list? He has the chance at this week’s 99th PGA Championship. He’d be the sixth face to be etched into golf’s version of Mount Rushmore, and having turned 24 only late last month, the youngest player to accomplish the feat.

“I’m here, so I’m going to go ahead and try,” Spieth said. “But I believe I’m going to have plenty of chances, and I’m young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point.

“Do I have to be the youngest? No, I don’t feel that kind of pressure. Would it be really cool? Absolutely.”

Get used to this drumbeat, as golf has a treat in store in the next 10 months. At the PGA and following two major championships, Spieth (PGA), Rory McIroy (Masters) and Phil Mickelson (U.S. Open) each will have the opportunity to secure the career Grand Slam.

It is rarified air, and the world will be watching.

“Anytime you can add storylines,” Spieth said, “I think it can help the sport a lot.”

Adds PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, “I just think it brings more perspective, more eyeballs, to how remarkable these players are, and to how remarkable their predecessors are, and were.”

Spieth doesn’t have a great deal of experience at Quail Hollow (he played the Wells Fargo only once, finishing T-32 in 2013), but he owns golf’s hot hand, and is hoping to ride momentum from thrilling summer victories at Travelers and England’s Royal Birkdale.

McIlroy, 28, who owns four majors, has made three attempts to finish off his slam at Augusta National. He has finished in the top 10 each time, but has yet to truly contend on a Sunday at the Masters.

He envies Spieth from the standpoint that Spieth gets to jump right back into the fray after winning the British Open just weeks ago; McIlroy went from July 2014 (British Open) to April 2015 (Masters) waiting to pursue his missing piece.

“It’s a very long time, and it plays on your mind a little bit,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s where Jordan doesn’t have to deal with that coming into this week. It’s great to be able to ride on the crest of a wave and just sort of keep it going.”

Mickelson, 47, has won five majors, but famously lacks the one he covets the most, his own national championship. On six occasions (a tournament record) he has finished second at the U.S. Open, doing so for the first time at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999. He missed this summer’s U.S. Open to attend the high school graduation ceremony of his oldest daughter, Amanda, who was born the day after that 1999 U.S. Open. Mickelson doesn’t know how many more shots he will get.

“It’s been kind of my career goal that I set out when I was a kid to try to win all four,” Mickelson said, “because it shows what a complete player you are to play under all those different conditions. I think that’s the real challenge. Each major provides such a different set of challenges.”

Mickelson considers his fifth major victory – the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield – his finest hour as a player, given that he had a poor record in the championship (19 starts, one top 10) before breaking through to win. He has not won anywhere since.

History shows a handful of very good players captured three legs of the career slam but fell painfully shy of collecting that fourth trophy. Like Mickelson, Sam Snead, the PGA Tour’s all-time victories leader (82), never landed a U.S. Open. After winning the 1949 Masters, he had his chances, but lost to Cary Middlecoff by a shot at Medinah in the U.S. Open that summer and was a runner-up one other time. (He’d finish second in four U.S. Opens).

Snead once said in a television interview that had he shot 69 in the final round in each of the 31 U.S. Opens he played, he’d have won nine of them.

Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never were able to add the PGA to their resume. Palmer played the event 34 times and was a runner-up on three occasions. Byron Nelson won three different majors but failed to win either of the two British Opens in which he played.

Hogan and Woods landed their slams the first time they had a chance, each winning a British Open to get the fourth leg. Hogan won at Carnoustie in 1953 in the only British Open he ever played; Woods completed his slam at St. Andrews in 2000. He was six months shy of 25. Woods and Nicklaus are the lone players to own a slam three times over, having won each of the majors at least three times.

Certainly, Spieth and McIlroy, more so than Mickelson, have time on their side. And Zach Johnson, a Masters and British Open champion, could join the One Missing Major club should he win this week. This is worth noting: None of the five players who completed a career slam needed more than three attempts to finish it.

Not that Spieth, making his fifth PGA start, feels anything out of the ordinary as he prepares for this championship.

“They’re all different, those four tournaments,” Spieth said. “So it’d be kind of a cool thing to be able to say that you won all four.

“I don’t feel any pressure this week, whatsoever. If I can go through my career and win four other majors, but one’s not a PGA, is it going to be a disappointment? No. Not at all. But certainly it’s a goal at this point to be able to hold all four.”

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