Spieth already looking to improve in 2016


NASSAU, Bahamas – The time for reflection is at hand.

Well, actually, in four days Jordan Spieth will huddle with his team, review 2015 – a season that included five victories, two major triumphs, a PGA Tour Player of the Year title and an historic bid for the single-season Grand Slam – and plot the course for 2016.

He held a similar “Jordan Combine” last year following a season that featured very different results.

Although Spieth failed to win on Tour in 2014, he closed the year with a victory at the Australian Open and a 10-stroke romp at the Hero World Challenge, where he returns this week to defend his title.

Prior to his late fortnight surge to salvage his season in 2014, Spieth’s year was best considered progress for the then-21-year-old. He finished runner-up in the Masters and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but faded on the weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open after opening rounds of 71-63 gave him a one-stroke lead through 36 holes.

Still, when he arrived at last year’s World Challenge he had one Tour title on his resume and, by his own admission, doubts about whether he could finish a tournament like he needed to in order to be a regular champion.

“I had four or five leads going into weekends in 2014 during the PGA Tour season and each time you don't come through, you wonder what's wrong, is it me, is it my game?” Spieth said Wednesday. “You hear the noise of, he's a good player but he can't close and this and that.”

The “noise” this year tells a vastly different narrative, but Speith conceded that there is still room for improvement. Compared to last year, when he said his victories in Australia and the World Challenge taught him how to “close mentally,” the end of another calendar will require a more nuanced assessment.

There aren’t many “how to” books on following up the type of year Spieth had in 2015 and even fewer people who can offer any insight into what might be the appropriate way forward.

Following his victory at the Masters in 2007 Zach Johnson faced a similar quandary. For players like Johnson and Spieth, who are focused on goals and creating well-defined game plans, success can be its own obstacle.

“I learned a lot in ’08,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to get content and get into that maintenance mode. For me, the moment I get content and lackadaisical or even just going through the motions, is the moment when golf is not where is should be.”

It doesn’t seem Spieth, who at 22 enjoys a maturity beyond his birthdate, would fall into bad habits or suffer from indifferent play or practice, but with dramatically increased expectations can also come understandable missteps.

Spieth will end the year ranked No. 1 in the world and the drumbeat to establish him as the man to beat at Augusta National will begin as soon as he arrives in Maui for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions next month. None of that, however, seems to be a concern for Spieth.

Although he said December is the time for assessment, the blueprint to back up 2015 has already began.

“In my mind I can certainly improve in spots of my game,” Spieth said. “It doesn't necessarily mean the results will happen the way they do where you get two majors and five wins. I believe I can get better certainly in different specific parts of my game and I can grow mentally as a player as well.”

Whether those nip/tucks lead to a sequel of his sensational 2015 season is not really the point, Spieth patiently explains, as much as it is arriving at next year’s Hero World Challenge thinking he improved as a player, both physically and mentally.

“If that's the case, wins will fall my way. I hope they come at the same time that they did this past year, but you just never know,” he said.

In that respect, Spieth’s outlook and general game plan is similar to that used by Tiger Woods, this week’s host and the most influential person in his golf career, Spieth said.

While victories are the ultimate goal, putting yourself in contention at the biggest events on a consistent basis is the only way to get there.

“The way that [Woods] was able to get into contention and be in contention and be at that highest mental part of the game week in and week out and major in and major out for 15 years straight ...” Spieth said. “It took a lot out of us this year, and to imagine doing that, which is what obviously is the goal, it's really special.”

As goals go, eyeing Woods’ record is certainly a lofty benchmark to set, but after the season Spieth just completed it’s a good place to start.