At the end of the summer in 2015, golf seemed to have its next mega-superstar. Jordan Spieth had just capped off a season where he won two major championships, five total tournaments, the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs and collected more than $22 million in winnings.
And, oh yes, he turned 22 years old during that season.
The world seemed in the palm of his hands, and the records of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and others at the top of the game seemed to be a legitimate target.
Then came the 2015-16 season. Spieth won twice, but his season was most remembered for losing a five-shot lead on the second nine Sunday at The Masters. He still finished the year as the world’s third-ranked player and as part of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup squad.
By mortal standards, that’s awfully good. But compared to Jack and Tiger, and his own example the previous season, it’s kind of pedestrian. It made some of the golf fans actually wonder what Spieth really would be.
Answer: He’s still really good. Spieth won his third major championship last weekend at The Open, holding off Matt Kuchar with a dazzling array of shots in the closing holes.
Now he’s a three-time major winner, back to No. 2 in the world rankings, behind only Dustin Johnson, and seemingly ready to make another huge run.
The Legend Grows
They’ll be talking about Spieth’s back nine on Sunday for years.
After a rough first 12 holes that saw him go from three ahead to tied, Spieth had one of the all-time adventures at the 13th hole. His drive found a terrible spot atop a hill forcing him to take an unplayable lie. By rule, he could move back as far as he wanted from that spot, keeping it between himself and the hole, for his drop.
That led to a drop on the course’s driving range, which had not been declared out of bounds, in part because officials didn’t anticipate a player ever hitting near it.
“And I thought, well, then, that’s a much better location for me to hit the next shot because I can get it much closer to the green and it saves me almost a full stroke from going back to the tee,” Spieth said.
After a long delay, Spieth hit his 3rd shot short of the green, chipped up and made his putt for a bogey 5 that kept him within one shot of Kuchar.
Then came magic. A birdie, followed by an eagle, followed by two more birdies, with multiple long putts converted. Even with how Kuchar had battled, it wouldn’t be enough.
“Boy, this was eventful,” Spieth said. “Seventeen pars and a birdie would have been fine, but there’s a lot of roads to get there.”
A picture circulated this week showing Spieth with several legends from various sports.
Yes, that’s Olympic legend Michael Phelps, GOAT Michael Jordan, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and others.
And Spieth sure seems to have some of that “it” factor exhibited by some of those competitors. And his caddy, Michael Greller, made sure he thought about that during a tough point in Sunday’s final round,
“He said, ‘Do you remember that group you were with in Cabo last week,’ in a picture that I posted,” Spieth recalled. “He goes, ‘You belong in that group.’ We walked off 7 tee box, and he made me come back. He said, “I’ve got something to say to you: He said do you remember that group you were with? You’re that caliber of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you’re in a great position in this tournament. This is a new tournament. We’re starting over here.”
This win went a long way to exorcising the demons from that Masters loss. Disaster struck on the 12th hole that Sunday at the 2016 Masters – two shots in the water produced a quadruple bogey 7, and a tournament seemingly in his hands got away – and people suddenly were questioning whether Spieth could close the deal.
He did win at Colonial a month later, but what he did at Birkdale likely was bigger.
“I thought winning a few weeks later in Fort Worth was huge,” he said. “But I knew that another major would be the one thing that would, I think, just completely, get over the hill.”
Will We See More?
The short answer is yes.
Spieth will likely be the favorite at the PGA Championship in August. It’s hard to believe he won’t be grinding and battling each week during the FedEx Cup playoffs as he aims to join Woods as the only multi-time winner of the FedEx Cup.
A few days short of his 24th birthday, Spieth already is a three-time major champion. And if he keeps going like this, he’s going to show even more that he belongs on the stage with guys like MJ and Phelps.
“This is as much of a high as I’ve ever experienced in my golfing life,” Spieth said. “And I’m going to enjoy it more than I’ve enjoyed anything that I’ve accomplished in the past.”