As Jordan Spieth walked off the 18th green last month at Carnoustie, he had many reasons to be upset.
He had just put the finishing touches on the worst final round of his major championship career, a 5-over 76 that knocked him from 54-hole co-lead to T-9. He also had nearly sliced his right thumbnail in half while digging for his ball in a gorse bush on the sixth hole earlier in the day. And a season that has delivered more than its fair share of struggles Spieth’s way, well, it dealt him another blow.
Yet the 25-year-old, who hasn’t won since last summer’s British Open at Royal Birkdale, was as positive as he’s been all season in the moments after officially surrendering his reign as Champion Golfer of the Year.
“Felt the most comfortable that I’ve felt at a Sunday in a major in my life, in all reality,” said Spieth, who has won three major titles and will take his second crack at the career Grand Slam this week at the PGA Championship at Bellerive.
Before last year’s PGA at Quail Hollow, Spieth felt no sense of urgency to complete the final leg of the career slam and join the exclusive company of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
“I believe I’m going to have plenty of chances,” said Spieth, who tied for 28th at Quail Hollow, “and I’m young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point.”
A year later, Spieth likely still believes the same. In fact, he probably feels more pressure to get back in the winner’s column and prove that improvements in his game that he’s been talking about in recent weeks are more than just words.
Spieth mostly has struggled with a balky putter for much of this season, and he’s battled his ballstriking on a few occasions this year, as well. Back in 2015, when Spieth won five times including two majors, he finished the season ranked ninth in strokes gained putting and fourth in strokes gained tee-to-green. Entering last week’s WGC-Bridgestone, he ranked 177th and 14th, respectively.
“I’ve had different parts of every single part of my game being at kind of a low point in my career, not all at the same time, but enough to where I haven’t really been able to compete,” Spieth said.
Spieth has managed just five top-10s this season. He never has finished a season with fewer than eight. He’s also missed five cuts, equaling that of his first year on Tour in 2013. Too much cut-line golf, as Spieth called it.
His frustrations have affected him mentally, too. He had a rough week controlling his emotions during a missed cut at Memorial. And before the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, Spieth talked about becoming more reserved with the media.
“I think that there have been times I’ve offered too much information that I regretted afterwards, but at the same time, I just try and answer the questions open, honestly and probably should get shorter in the future,” Spieth said. “None of you guys want to hear that, but that’s probably going to be the case.”
For a player who has had a great and open relationship with reporters throughout his career, it came as a shock. But since then, Spieth has appeared more relaxed by the week, on and off the course.
“He’s Jordan,” said Kevin Chappell, who was paired with Spieth on Saturday at the Open. “You know what you’re going to get with him. He’s going to talk to his ball. He’s going to be diligent. He’s such a pro. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s not going to waste shots. He’s not going to make too many mistakes.”
At Carnoustie, Spieth raved about his comfort with his game.
“I believe that my best golf has yet to come, absolutely,” Spieth said. “Even better than ’15, all that, yeah. I believe that going through struggles, you start to realize where your tendencies are and how to compensate for it and turn them into advantages.
“… My game altogether is back.”
Swing. Stroke. Mind.
Spieth might be enduring the most challenging season of his young career. But he can slam the door on his trials in a grand way this week at Bellerive. Gwk