Jordan Spieth enters PGA Championship with grand slam in sight
Jordan Spieth during a practice round at Kiawah Island
Only eight months ago, Jordan Spieth trudged through the vast weeds at Winged Foot, all too aware that they were swallowing him up. With his ball – unbeknownst to him – stuck in a tree, Spieth’s eyes remained fixed to the floor, downtrodden and downhearted, scouring the ground for a flicker of white and an answer. “There’s a lot that’s off,” he admitted afterwards. “I’m not really sure. If I knew, I’d fix it.”
After all, this was hardly unfamiliar terrain. America’s clean-cut poster boy, only the second player to win three majors before turning 24, had long been stranded in a form of purgatory, the momentum of his imperious rise stolen by one of the most chastening slumps in recent history. When Spieth won The Masters in 2015, only narrowly falling short of Tiger Woods’ record, he was heralded as the heir to the throne. Perhaps, with the virtues of hindsight, though, the forebears of collapse were there, even amid a blaze of seemingly carefree success.
After donning the Green Jacket for the first time, Spieth famously delivered a breathless monologue analysing almost all of his 70 shots that day. Even amateur golfers can recognise the maddening dangers of such deep introspection, the temptation to focus on such minute details before standing back and realising your feet are pointing 30 yards left.
Of course, it’s not to say that a riddling mind hasn’t been a cause for invention, too – above all in 2017, when Spieth spent 21 minutes scrutinising an unplayable lie en route to victory at Royal Birkdale – but that there was always a nagging propensity to unravel, which came to fruition so dramatically at Augusta in 2016. It can’t so much be described as an outright weakness, since it is precisely what propelled Spieth to golf’s pinnacle, but a realisation that thoughts often have a way of cannibalising themselves. As P.G Wodehouse once wrote: “Sudden success in golf is like the sudden acquisition of wealth. It is apt to unsettle and deteriorate the character.”
Of course, the reason this is all relevant now is that Spieth has, finally, hauled himself from the fickle jaws. In April, at the Valero Texas Open, he ended a despairing 1351-day drought in his home state. In the heat of the moment, he described the feeling of victory as “monumental”. He might have later attempted to excuse the verdict as hyperbole, but it was another clear insight into his mind, a weight of burden and the toll of trying at last alleviated. The club wasn’t so heavy, his swing all the more smooth, even his putter, at one point the most deadly in all of golf, the next itching and volatile, was back to a steady equilibrium. The following week at Augusta, Spieth was in contention heading into the final round, even after another traditionally ill-fated episode in the pine straw, and he’s drawn a steelier edge from his time in the rust.
“I think it shapes kind of who I am,” Spieth said ahead of the PGA Championship. “I’ve proven to be very human. It’s kind of fun. When I’m on, when I’ve been on in the past, I’ve won tournaments by eight shots out here, and that’s obviously the goal. But the ability to kind of shun off a bad shot and come back the next hole and make a long putt or something like that, just the grind, is enjoyable when you’re kind of on the positive momentum side of it. If anything, I step up confidently and appreciate kind of where I’ve been, and it just makes me even more excited to kind of embrace those shots and pull them off, and that’s an even bigger confidence boost than if I just didn’t have it at all, I guess.”
Such has been the scale of Spieth’s decline that talk of him completing the career grand slam has been all but mute in recent years. Yet, the American arrives at Kiawah Island, a picturesque but wind-beaten behemoth of a course, with history within his grasp. The biggest obstacle to such a feat, other than perhaps Spieth’s own mind, comes in the shape of a similarly resurgent Rory McIlroy, who ended a long drought of his own at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month. It is a fitting duel, with the pair frequently rotating the encumbrance of being golf’s leading star but rarely conspiring to peak simultaneously. After what feels like an age in the doldrums, Spieth is looking up, and the answer has never felt closer.
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