SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Three Long Island club pros walk onto the first tee and along comes a two-time major champion asking if he can join them.
That is no joke, like one of those “A guy walks into a bar” setups.
It actually happened here Sunday evening and it revealed how hard Jordan Spieth is trying to get back on his pedestal.
Spieth has broken par only once in a major round since his meltdown on Sunday at the Masters, so he is determined to change that arc during the PGA Championship starting on Thursday. So there he was, late on Sunday at Baltusrol Golf Club, politely asking if he could tag along with Mark Brown, Matt Dobyns and Ben Polland to continue his work.
He recognized Dobyns, head pro at Fresh Meadow in Lake Success, because both of them played for the University of Texas. But he was just as cordial with Brown, head pro at Tam O’Shanter in Brookville, and Polland, assistant pro at Deepdale in Manhasset. The three are all on leave this week from their jobs as lesson-givers because they qualified through the national club pro championship. All three received a lesson Sunday evening, just by watching Spieth.
“Obviously, I watched him real close. There’s no question about it: He was approaching each green very intellectually, understanding good spots and bad spots, likely pin locations, breaking trends. He had [coach Cameron McCormick] with him, he was really working with his caddie to get to know the place. You could tell he was very focused,” Dobyns said of the golfer who will turn 23 Wednesday, and who is trying to shake off an upper respiratory infection.
“He was not even 100 percent, he was a little under the weather. Still, he was very impressive to watch, the way he worked around the greens. He was able to hit shots around the greens and Brownie and I were just looking at each other and shaking our heads,” Dobyns said. “He has obviously got some interesting mechanics with his full swing that I hadn’t seen up close. And I watched him hit 10 12-footers in a row, in the hole, at different speeds and different lines — like they were three-footers. When you see something like that, it’s really impressive.”
But Spieth will be the first to tell you — despite his two victories on the PGA Tour — he has not been impressive enough when it really has counted this season, especially in comparison to his 2015 season, when he won the Masters in a rout, won the U.S. Open by a shot and came extremely close to winning the British Open and PGA.
“I don’t think I’m a better player this year than I was last year,” Spieth said at his pre-PGA news conference on Tuesday. “I think I’m the same player, that I’ve just been getting a bit too frustrated.”
He is not the only one. It has been a chore to watch him and to play with him. The young man has been playing painfully slowly. “Recently, I’ve quickened my step,” he said. “I’ve gotten back to the kind of gunslinger, the way that I grew up playing. Golf is a game where you smack it, go up to the next one and smack it again and you count them up at the end.”
An observer might say that is what cost him on No. 12 at Augusta: He did not take enough time between smacks after he hit a shot into the water. “We all know how good he is and our expectations of him are pretty high,” said Phil Mickelson, who played a practice round with Spieth on Tuesday. “He’s still performing to that level, but when you get to a certain level, if you don’t win a major, the year is going to be a letdown no matter how you look at it.”
So Spieth is not letting up in his one final chance to prevent 2016 from being a huge letdown.