Wouldn’t it be something if someone real ly did challenge Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships? What a surprise it would be if that golfer were not Tiger Woods, but Jordan Spieth.
That seems unlikely right now, given that Spieth is coming off a missed cut at the Memorial Tournament and has not been even average at his strength, which is putting. Then again, the young man from Texas does have a knack for turning it on in the majors. Since the start of 2015, he has seven top-five finishes in golf’s Grand Slam events and has won three of them. In that span, no one else has won more than one. Plus, he is only 24, the same age at which Nicklaus had won three majors (Woods had won five by the time he turned 25).
Spieth’s 64 in the final round at Augusta nearly won the Masters and showed he still has big-moment flair. He approaches the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills at an interesting juncture, making the turn from prodigy to prime.
A month short of his 25th birthday, he arrives in Southampton with a big-time track record and an inconsistent game. “It’s been kind of a crazy, an up-and-down kind of rolling scale over the last three or four years,” he said recently. “I’ve just had a lot of experiences, which a lot of guys have over the course of 25 years, within three years. Ups and downs and everything in between. The majority of it is very positive, but it’s also learning to live in the spotlight and what that entails and what to block out, what to embrace. It’s still a learning experience.”
He is learning to deal with the angst that besets just about every golfer at some point or another. That is the question of how the heck to get the ball into the hole. Putting was the cornerstone of his repertoire in 2015, when he won two majors, led in the final day of the British Open and was in the final twosome on Sunday at the PGA. He was seen as the consummate player on the greens, sinking attempts from six to 12 feet at a rate that rarely had been seen.
But his strong point has become an Achilles’ heel. It would be like Noah Syndergaard having to figure out how to pitch without his fastball. Spieth has had to scrape and scramble. Just about each time he has a standout round, such as Sunday at Augusta or his 65 in the third round of The Players last month, it appears as if he has gotten back on track. Every time, the feeling has not lasted long.
After his two days at the Memorial, Spieth was averaging minus-.444 strokes gained in putting, a distant 186th on the PGA Tour. That was despite having said last month at the Fort Worth Invitational, “Each day, it’s getting a little more comfortable, and I believe that they’ll fall soon enough.”
For Spieth, the short game slump is just another thing to which he must learn to adjust, following fame, riches and the memory of a huge hiccup — letting the 2016 Masters slip away with a meltdown on the 12th hole.
“I loathed going to the golf course for a while,” he said. “But I’m certainly not there now. I’m loving what I do. I’m loving all the challenges and the opportunities that I have ahead for the next 20 years.”