It is always interesting to see how golfers respond the first time they see Bethpage Black, the first time they tee off before the sign that says “WARNING” and recommends the course is meant “Only for highly skilled golfers.” So it will be worth watching this week as the Black welcomes newcomer Jordan Spieth, possibly the most highly skilled golfer of all.
While the Black Course has become familiar to most elite golfers, having hosted two U.S. Opens and a big PGA Tour event, Spieth, 23, never has been in a field there. He was not on the PGA Tour yet when The Barclays visited in 2012, so the sights and sounds will be all new to him.
Spieth is a quick study, having tied for second in his first Masters and won his second. He knows courses from the library of videos on his simulator at home. The Black is not marked by hidden trick spots or complicated greens. With No. 7 a par 5 rather than the par 4 it was for the Opens, the course will play at par 71, inviting red numbers (Nick Watney won four years ago at 10 under).
It is not inconceivable Spieth will make it to the platform for a second consecutive FedExCup title, and a $10-million check, at the end of the four-week playoff. The Black will be as good a place as any to regain the form that had him on a remarkable pace for more than 4½ majors — right up until the 12th hole at the Masters this year.
Having won two major championships and come very close in two others last year, then having led by five at the turn on Sunday at Augusta this year, he set an uneven tone for his season with the quadruple-bogey on No. 12. Most surprising was that at the subsequent major championships, his putting let him down.
“I’ve been putting a lot of time into the rest of my game and maybe that’s kind of shifted a little from the short game,” he said just before leaving the PGA Championship, his most recent competition. “And maybe I just [need to] shift it back that way.”
On top of the putting problems, the pace of his play became slow and his temper occasionally got quick. He waded into controversy when he, like fellow top-shelf golfers Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, decided not to play in the Olympics.
But he was in good spirits at Baltusrol. He stood near the 18th green to congratulate the PGA champion, Jimmy Walker, his friend and fellow Texan. As children gathered for autographs around runner-up Jason Day, who had beaten Spieth down the stretch at the 2015 PGA, Spieth stood among them and held out his own cap, as if asking Day to sign it.
On his way to Bethpage, Spieth will be at the Empire State Building to flip the light switch that will honor the FedEx Cup.
Then, as Spieth has said, he will be ready for a fresh start at the Barclays. He said the Ryder Cup will be like a major for him. He asserted that there is good golf left in his season.
“Just waiting for it all to click,” Spieth said. “I believe it will, soon.”
Maybe that could be the pertinent “Warning” for the field.