Hey, did you hear that Jordan Spieth is going for the career grand slam at the PGA Championship this week?
It’s a story that’s fallen under the radar, along with Spieth’s game in 2019. He comes to Bethpage Black not quite having found his swing on friendly Texas turf at the Byron Nelson Classic last week and putting it to the test on a monster of a golf course hungry to devour any player’s mistakes.
Spieth hasn’t cracked the top 20 yet this year — his 21st-place finish at the Masters was his best. Instead, he’s missed three cuts in 13 starts and has been become a bit of a mental mess. He’s always suffered bad swings poorly and he’s admittedly been taking those mounting frustrations home with him.
Now, he says, it’s about shutting out the outside noise and getting back to the player he was from 2015 to 2017 when he won three majors and was on top of the golf world. He hasn’t won since he was a three-time winner in 2017, including the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He hasn’t had a top-20 finish yet this year, with a T-21 at the Masters his best and he’s missed the cut three times in 13 starts.
Spieth has never hid his frustrations well and that slipped out a little during his press conference Wednesday.
“I mean, I didn’t like go away from the game for five years … I just happened to not win in the last year and a half or so,” he said. “It’s just a frustration of wanting to — a desire, a drive, I guess, and sometimes momentarily that can be frustration, but it certainly leads to a drive, a will to want to correct and get back to where I’m contending week in and week out.
“I feel like I’m doing a better job of being patient on the frustration side and kind of letting my game come back in the time that it needs to take.”
That could be tough this week, largely because of the venue. As he was describing the type of major setup that suits his game, it sounded diametrically opposed to Bethpage Black.
“I seem to play better golf in major championships when courses are firmer, quicker greens, and the scores are closer to par than when it’s long, soft and you’ve got to still go low,” he said. “If I’m on, I feel like it doesn’t matter, but if I’m a little bit off, then it’s nicer if it’s on that side of things for me.
“The PGA Championships are set up to be one of the toughest challenges in golf with the best field in major championship golf. Do I think that it sets up well for me? Again, Whistling Straits (where he finished second to Jason Day in 2015) was playing firm, fast. I think it set up really well for me. And then Valhalla (in 2014) was too big of a golf course for me at the time and the way it was playing.”
Spieth never had a textbook swing but he was able to make up for flaws with an incredible putting touch as he displayed at the 2015 Masters and incredible scrambling ability as he displayed at the 2017 Open. Now, his misses have put more pressure on his short game.
“He just doesn’t look comfortable,” said CBS analyst Nick Faldo. “I watch his hip action and his leg action which leads to balance and power and that just doesn’t seem right. That’s why he’s got what we call a two-way miss. He can block it right and pull it left with the driver. That’s usually key at Bethpage.
“The iron shots haven’t been the same. He had this amazing ability to always be flag high. The putting woes have been well documented that he doesn’t have the same confidence because he’s seen an awful lot of misses these last 18 months. All and all there’s a lot going on. He’s not quite ready to just flip the switch and make it all consistent right now.”
Consistency is the word used by Spieth when asked to put his finger on things, putting four rounds together. He thinks it begins with the driver — “kind of a foul ball type thing, he said — where he’s still searching. Last week at the Byron Nelson, he ended up experimenting and it cost him.
“I was trying something Sunday that was kind of a test, and it was kind of a bad decision,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about. I kind of went away from what I was doing the other three rounds to try and bring a big draw back in play to see if it would work. But then I hooked a couple out of play because of that.
“I actually felt like my game was in better shape than I scored. I was just making kind of a dumb decision to start the round to try and bring in a couple more shots, but not going about it the right way.”
The premium here is on hitting fairways, he admits, adding, “if I get a little bit better than last week, I’ll have plenty of opportunities this week to be able to get the job done.”
In the meantime, all he can do is try to stick with it.
“Try to set up to hit my first tee shot tomorrow down the fairway and then try to hit the second shot on the green and then make a putt and figure out how to birdie the next,” he said. “It’s going to be very here in the moment for me.”
He’s certain the moment when he completes the Slam will come eventually.