In the end, Spieth comes up four shots from perfection

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2015, 2:37 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The pursuit of the Greatest Major Season Ever isn’t supposed to be easy.

“There’s a reason I have a receding hairline,” Jordan Spieth said, “and it's because of that kind of pressure building up and that kind of stress. As much of a thrill as it is, it can wear you down.”

He emptied the tank Sunday at Whistling Straits. 

With one final chance to stamp his major season as the best of all time, Spieth embraced the moment and put on a memorable show at this PGA Championship – crouching and kneeling, begging and pleading, spinning and marching, swiping and fist-pumping, barking and cheering.

It just wasn’t enough.

Spotting one of the hottest players in the world a two-shot lead, Spieth could only watch in awe as Jason Day buried five years of frustration with a near-flawless 67 to bully his way into the major winner’s circle.

“By far the best loss I’ve ever had,” Spieth said.

Spieth lost to the lowest score ever shot in a major, 20-under 268. His own 17-under total is the best score in a major (relation to par) by a non-winner or playoff participant.

Big picture, Spieth's 54-under par cumulative score in the majors is the best all time, eclipsing by one Tiger Woods’ epic 2000 season. His 1,090 strokes in the majors are the fewest ever, five less than Woods' gold standard. And he is the third player since 1960 to finish in the top-4 in all four majors in a season.

Historic by any measure. 

But it wasn't until after the round that Spieth learned of the greatest consolation prize of all: His solo second was enough to overtake Rory McIlroy and ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Ranking, one of his lifelong goals. 

"That will never be taken away from me now," he said.

Neither will one of the two best major seasons of the modern era.   

This week there was considerable debate on where a three-major haul by Spieth would rank in the pantheon of all-time great seasons.

It’s all a moot point now, of course, because Spieth fell short of earning the hat trick, and thus his major season will be slotted behind Woods in 2000 and Ben Hogan in 1953. But the conversation was interesting, and it served as a reminder of how close the 22-year-old came to reshaping our perception of major greatness.



So while it’s easy to mourn what could have been, it’s worth celebrating one of the most impressive stretches of golf we’ve ever seen.  

There was the runaway, record-breaking victory at the Masters.

There was the taut finish at the U.S. Open, where Spieth was fortunate not only to avoid a loss, but also a playoff, after Dustin Johnson’s three-putt from 12 feet. 

And then there was the gut-wrenching conclusion to the Open Championship, where Spieth had a tie for the lead after 70 holes and kicked away a chance to win. No one in the modern era – not Palmer, not Nicklaus, not Woods – has come closer to winning the third leg of the Grand Slam.

All told, Spieth came within four measly shots of the single-season Slam. Only Nicklaus in 1975 (three) was closer.

“You only get four (majors) a year,” Spieth said, “and to have an opportunity to win all of them is so cool.”

Thing is, Spieth could very easily have mailed it in after St. Andrews. He could have showed up at the PGA, punched the clock, recorded another top 10 and been content with his two-major campaign. But his focus shifted to the winning this major, to making the most of this glorious year, the moment his last gasp from the Valley of Sin veered left of the cup. When he returned home to Dallas, he took only two days off and got back to work with swing coach Cameron McCormick. After a rusty start at Firestone, he closed with 66 and back-doored a top 10.

“In our conversations where he confides in me, there was no letdown at all,” McCormick said. “Of course he would have loved to get into the playoff and win that tournament. That’s obvious. But there’s still a lot to play for.”

Here he smiled.

“Jordan is also very good at revising goals once he checks off a box, and he’s set some further goals for the rest of the season.”

The PGA was next on Spieth's list, and with a victory he could have become the first player to sweep all three American majors in the same season.

His bid got off to a slow start, but a 71 in tough conditions kept him in touch with the leaders. No surprise there – he never trailed by more than five strokes after any major round this season. After his putter heated up, Spieth soared into contention with rounds of 67-65 and stirred hopes of even more history. With a back-nine 30 Saturday, he earned a spot in another final group, trailing the star-crossed Day by two.

No player has put himself in position to break through more often recently than Day, but the Aussie showed the kind of audacity Sunday that had been lacking in his other close calls. Wailing away on his driver, he birdied four of his first seven holes to create some separation.

The turning point in the final round came on No. 11, a reachable par 5 of 555 yards. Day belted a drive that practically waved at Spieth’s ball on the way by, bounded down the hill and settled 382 yards away. Walking up to their tee shots, Spieth whirled around and yelled, “Holy s---! You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

Day smiled and flexed his bicep.

A few moments later, he launched a wedge onto the green for an easy birdie, and when Spieth’s weak attempt from 6 feet peeled away at the cup, Day had regained his four-shot advantage.

“It was a stripe show,” Spieth said. “It was really a clinic to watch.”

Day got up and down out from the sand on 12. He stuffed an approach out of a deep fairway bunker to 10 feet on 14, then poured in the birdie putt. And after he gave back a shot on 15, he ripped a 4-iron to 20 feet on the par-5 16th to set up a stress-free birdie.

“Each time he stood and took it back, I had hope,” Spieth said. “And each time after it came off the face, the hope was lost.”

Spieth tried everything. He talked to his ball. Listened to pep talks from caddie Michael Greller. Made a few of the best up-and-downs of his life. Tried to will his ball into the cup.

“To be honest,” Day said, “the kid just doesn’t go away.”

But nothing worked, not this time. 

Spieth’s goal at the start of the day was to shoot 68. That’s exactly what he signed for – and lost by three.

Ever gracious in defeat, Spieth unabashedly praised his fellow competitor down the stretch. When Day made an unlikely birdie on 14, Spieth waited for him by the next tee and said, “I mean, wow, that’s impressive right there.” When Day nestled his long lag putt on 17 to within tap-in range, Spieth locked eyes and gave him a thumbs up. And when it was all over, when Day sobbed in his caddie’s arms and his young family spilled out onto the green, Spieth stood and applauded.  

Later, while waiting in the scoring trailer, Spieth looked at Day and told him, “There was nothing I could do.”

That helps explain why a legitimate run at the single-season Grand Slam only comes around every decade or two. It requires exquisite golf, yes, but also mental toughness, good fortune and timing. So much has to align, and in the end Spieth was four shots from perfection, from the Greatest Major Season Ever.

“I’m tired right now,” he said. “I left it all out there.”

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”