New year, same mission for Spieth


KAPALUA, Hawaii – It’s been less than a month since Jordan Spieth put the finishing touches on 2015 - a historic season by any measure - and began the process of reloading.

Five wins, two major championships and a shot at the single-season Grand Slam through 71 holes at the Open Championship all speaks to Spieth’s dominance last year. Now he faces the daunting task of following up what would be a once-in-a-career year for most players.

At 22 years old, Spieth knows he will be judged by 2015. It’s the way of sports.

“It just seems that you're judging from the previous year in my mind,” he said on Tuesday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “That's the general public, so I give you my perspective as being in the general public.”

But the demands of a “now” public aside, Spieth also realizes that the realities of the modern Tour and a split-schedule create a blurred line between seasons that can be exploited.

For Spieth, there has been little distinction between the 2015 season, which ended with his victory at the Tour Championship in September, and the start of a new campaign.

He’s already posted a top-10 finish this season, a tie for seventh at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November, and admittedly didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on what he achieved in ’15.

“I'm not even thinking of it as a new year. I'm just thinking of we had a three-week break and we're just continuing to hopefully stay at the same level,” Spieth said.

There was time to assess his game and focus on the areas he felt were needing, like his wedge play, which he called “average” in 2015, from 60 to 140 yards.

He and swing coach Cameron McCormick spent the abbreviated offseason devising a plan to improve his wedge game, which will be put to the test this week in Maui.

As for how he plans to improve on that 2015 campaign, which would not exactly qualify as low-hanging fruit, he does have goals for the new year, but is reluctant to give details.

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Getting in contention at the year’s major championships is the most obvious area of interest after giving himself a chance at all four Grand Slam stops last season.

“If I can get there at least a couple times this year again, that means that our plan building up to the majors is working, continuing to work, and then it comes down to each individual event, being able to close them out,” he said.

Although it’s a small sample size, he also has room for improvement over the next two months.

Spieth, who turned pro in 2012, has never won before March as the Tour makes its way through the West Coast swing.

To be fair, it’s not as though Spieth is winless on the West Coast. Last year at Chambers Bay in Washington he won his second consecutive major, which would suggest it’s more about time than place.

His best finish to start the year on the West Coast is a runner-up showing the only other time he’s played in Maui, when he finished a stroke behind Zach Johnson.

On Tuesday at Kapalua, he explained that he “loves the grainy Bermuda” greens on the Plantation Course, which are largely considered some of the circuit’s most challenging putting surfaces.

It’s a nod to growing up in Texas on Bermuda greens, and he admitted that poa annua greens at other West Coast stops are more difficult for him.

“Poa annua throws me off with my speed a little bit. It takes breaks a bit different,” he said. “I've struggled a little in San Diego putting. Here and there I have good putting rounds, but I would say that makes a difference being on comfortable grass versus the normal California tournaments.”

But then getting off the West Coast swing schneid would only heighten the anticipation going into the major championship season, and he seemed to acknowledge the inevitable realities of unrealistic expectations born from 2015.

At such heights, only Tiger Woods in the modern era was able to maintain a level of profound consistency from year to year. Even Rory McIlroy, whose career now includes four majors, has proven himself vulnerable to the occasional swoon when he failed to add to his Grand Slam total in 2013 and '15.

Instead, Spieth has embraced the long view as evidenced by his answer on Tuesday when he was asked how he plans to pull off an encore in 2016.

“Doesn't an encore mean that the show is then over?” he smiled. “I hope I've got like 40 years out here . . . To be honest, I'm not thinking of this as anything different. When you write the date, that's about it in my mind. I think we've just had a little bit of a break.”

It may be a new calendar for the Tour, but for Spieth the mission remains the same.