Jordan’s Journey

Three-time major winner looks to resurrect game at Augusta

Mention to any aspiring golf professional you’re going to claim three majors for a total of 11 PGA Tour wins including a FedEx Cup title in your portfolio of accomplishments many would gladly take that and run with it. But for 25-year-old Jordan Spieth it’s not so much as what’s been achieved as when a return to golfing form is likely to happen.

Three-time major winner looks to resurrect game at Augusta
Richard Sellers/PA Wire

After his sensational triumph at The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017 — the spigot to the faucet has been dry — bone dry.  Spieth has been not only winless but actually a virtual non-entity since hoisting the Claret Jug.

Keep in mind, this is the same golfer who tied the all-time low 72-hole mark of 270 when winning the 2015 Masters thereby becoming the second youngest to don the green jacket — records the Texan either shared or just in the shadows with Tiger Woods. Spieth nearly won the year prior in his Masters debut in 2014 before being edged out by Bubba Watson — becoming the youngest ever runner-up. To top matters even further — Jordan nearly added his name alongside of Woods and Nick Faldo — in defending his Masters title in 2016 before his unfathomable meltdown at the par-3 12th hole during the final round.

The 2015 season Spieth demonstrated is clearly among the best in recent times in professional golf. After claiming his Augusta triumph Spieth would win the US Open by edging out Dustin Johnson, nearly winning The Open at The Old Course and battling Jason Day all the way at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. No one, save for Woods, has demonstrated that kind of consistency over a year’s play at all four major events. He would close out the year with a win at The Tour Championship and end with the FedEx Cup as the overall winner.

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Fast forward to recent times and the same golfer is clearly nowhere to be found. Jordan’s last top ten finish came at last year’s Open at Carnoustie in 2018. Here is a golfer who was number one ranked in the world for 26 weeks and has now plummeted to 33rd. 

This season has been a non-starter thus far. At last week’s Texas Open, Spieth started well with rounds of 68 and 68 and was just four shots off the lead going into weekend play. What happened next defines the 2019 season for Jordan. He concluded play with rounds of 73 and 72 for a tie for 30th. Spieth has done similarly at other events this year. At the AT&T event at Pebble Beach he opened with rounds of 66 and 68. He finished with rounds of 74 and 75. The next week at the Genesis Open he opened with a 134 total over the first 36 holes. He concluded play on the weekend with a 151 total. Inspiring? Hardly.

Bumps on the road at the highest of levels in professional golf are not uncommon. But, the drop-off between the Jordan of 2015 and the one attempting to be competitive today is striking for the gap in results generated. Check out his numbers thus far — 203rd for strokes gained off the tee, 111th on strokes gained with his approaches, and 70th for strokes gained putting. This is the golfer who routinely made mega-length putts to snare victories. Who can forget the miraculous bogey save at the 13th hole during the final round at Birkdale? Then the scoring blitz that followed in succession with a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie effort wrestling the Claret Jug away from Matt Kuchar. The constant bombardment of incredible putting — notably the 50-footer for eagle at Birkdale’s 15th — was Merlin-like in its stunning impact time after time.

Fast forward to today — Spieth has looked dumbfounded in missing putts four feet or less from the hole. This is a golfer 172nd on the PGA Tour on three-putt avoidance. Interestingly, Spieth has putted well the first two rounds ranking 3rd and 2nd showing but then the bottom falls out for the final two rounds with an abysmal showing with a 186th and 127th respectively.

In 2017, he was the best iron player on the Tour. In 2016 the best putter. The golfer one sees today is clearly not the same one who had his name mentioned alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in claiming major championship hardware so early in his career.

Spieth has put a positive face on his situation. Realizing continuous hard work and thoughtful deliberations with his long time teacher Cameron McCormick is the only way for him to regain his footing. Returning to the scene of Augusta National can clearly be a motivator. Throughout his short Masters career — Spieth has been a constant force. At last year’s event he began the final round nine shots behind eventual winner Patrick Reed. Jordan closed with a brilliant 64 and save for a missed par putt at the 18th hole would have shot a course-tying round of 63 eventually finishing two shots behind Reed for 3rd. In five previous visits to Augusta, Consider this — Spieth has been out of the top ten just once at Augusta National.

Jordan Spieth has finished no lower than 11th in five appearances at Augusta National
The Open Championship 2018 – Day Four – Carnoustie Golf Links – Jordan Spieth has finished no lower than 11th in five appearances at Augusta National (Jane Barlow/PA)

Yet, make no mistake about it — in golf there are no guarantees. One’s previous form is exactly that — in the past.

All Spieth needs to remind himself is what a similar young  Dallas, Texan named Ralph Guldahl accomplished early in his career. Guldahl claimed the US Open at 26 with a record four round title of 281 and went on to defend his title the next year. In 1939 he claimed the green jacket at Augusta and his stardom looked certain. It was not to be as Guldahl faded inexplicably from the scene — never to return to his former high level of play.

Spieth has a ways to go before being permanently joined at the hip with Guldahl and this week at Augusta can be a fine way to jettison aside all the persistent whispers of “what’s wrong with Jordan.” Very few golfers have ever experienced the kind of triumphs Spieth has garnered so early in his professional career. Getting back to a venue in which his name became cemented in the minds of golfers globally can clearly be a righting of the ship.

Throughout his career the mental side has been Spieth’s biggest strength. The will to overcome — the desire to push beyond boundaries anchored around others — is a testament to his fortitude. This week at Augusta National can prove to be a clear bellwether.

The 1941 movie, “Here comes Mr. Jordan,” was about getting a second opportunity to turn things around. Spieth has a path that can signal to all doubters this Texan is not about to ride out onto the sunset anytime soon.

For Jordan, Thursday’s first round can’t come soon enough.

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